When the West Africa Regional Manager of South African Tourism (SAT), Thekiso Rakolojane, talks about his love for Nigeria Jollof rice and Chicken pepper soup, you see that smile which accentuates his baby face. The astute marketer with more than ten years experience with South African Tourism talks about his love for Manchester City, the task before him here in Nigeria and West Africa in general on increasing traffic to South Africa as a destination of choice. Here is an excerpt from the interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE of Vanguard Nigeria.

I have been in this industry for 10years now, all 10 of them has been in South Africa Tourism, which is half of my entire working life. The first few years of my working in Tourism was in the tourism grading council, which was responsible for the quality standard of all our facilities in South Africa, including Hotels and guesthouses.

As a matter of fact, that was my introduction into the West African market. I started coming here since 2014 to talk to the West African trade strictly around Nigeria, to talk to them about the quality of accommodation in South Africa.

I come on the break of a very successful work that has been done by the team and my predecessor. If you look at our awareness alone, we are performing quite successfully, we have what we call our brand checker, which checks our brand’s performer in the market across the globe, and the West Africa market is performing in about 98percent.

On his perception of the South Africa tourism brand in Nigeria

That would be the South African tourism and South Africa as a destination, however, the big challenge we have, the people are very much aware of all of them, because we do a lot of marketing in the media space, and because of other variables like the Visa challenges people to have traveled to South Africa.

We discovered that the perception about the destination is pretty very low, and for me, these are some of the areas that we need to work on. So, we want to make sure that while people are aware of us, they should also be positive about us as a destination.

For me as a marketer, I borrowed from the experience that I have with America’s destination as an example. It is quite rigid to get an American Visa, however, you would find that people, regardless of the challenges that they have in traveling to America, people put extra effort to get there anyway.

So that means the destination itself is currently with you.

I believe that working with people like you and sharing positive information about the destination, we can get there. Sharing the proximity of South Africa to Nigeria as an example, this should be one of the things that help overcome the barriers, because we all experience the barriers, and I think most importantly, the barriers themselves are now receiving the kind of attention that they need.

On the issue of visa

The issue of visas really is not a challenge that is exclusive to us in South African tourism but also West Africa. It’s actually a challenge that is so important to us that it’s actually receiving presidential attention. I do know that there is a task team that has been put in place to look at specifically Nigeria, India, and China in terms of ways and means of how the current visa challenges can be addressed.

In the interim, while the micro issues are being looked at in terms of addressing the issue of visa challenges, we do have particular people who have the competency and have been tasked with the responsibilities of overseeing the visa process which in this case is the Consular General as well as the high commissioner. So the way we engage or rather the way we approach the current issues that are been experienced by our partner is by ongoing engagement to show you how important it is.

As a matter of fact at my very first meeting when I got into the market was to go visit the Consular General just to understand where we are in terms of the issue of visas and to share also with him some of the operational challenges that have been brought to our attention by our partners just so that there is an ongoing sharing of information between us. One thing that we are committed to including the consular general is the ongoing engagement with our trade partners with the view of resolving these issues because this market has a high influx of applications.

And for the longest of time, there has been this despairing view in terms of the efficiency in which the processing happens, where we can get to a point where we can standardize the process. What that standardization looks like I’m not at liberty and me not sure how that is going to be but I know that eventually, we will get to a position where we can find a common way of solving this.

On his primary focus for the Nigerian market

We want to encourage Nigerians to buy the packages that are available through our partners, there are very diverse things that could be done in South Africa, because every time you go to South Africa, there is always something new you experience, so my job is to encourage Nigerians to visit South Africa as frequent as possible, so much so that you get to see as much as you can.

So we work with our partners to make it much easier for people to travel whether for business, events or holiday.

On what should expect from his office

One big thing is that we are in a partnership, they and we are one, so if they experience challenges, we experience challenges, it is a mutually beneficial relationship. And as we work together, it is quite important that we engage in constant and ongoing engagement around how best we get people to travel to South Africa, and we address those challenges as a collective.

On his experiences here in Nigeria

It’s been a very positive experience. Since I came to Lagos, I would love to believe that I have immersed myself into life here in Lagos. I look forward to building a consistent relationship with the various stakeholders because our role in this market is to create a demand for our destination, we rely on our partners, the likes of the media, to share this information to the public so that people can be interested in coming to our destination.

On his target for South African Tourism

So I will say to you that in the market we have about Fifty-Five Thousand Nigerian going to South Africa, which is about Five Thousand Lesser for our Target.

Annually we aimed to bring about Sixty Thousand Nigeria to South Africa, As not meeting that target is not because of our own doing, it is because of the multiple variables that happened.

You know I told you about the perception people have about access to our destination. My goal is to change that perception, to help Nigeria have positive perception about South Africa and that perception can only change if people are having positive experiences in South Africa If people are reading Good Story about South Africa If people are seeing good images about South Africa.

If we have people traveling to South Africa and Experiencing South Africa and Meeting Welcoming and Warm People that will bring about a diversity of experiences and when they go back they will encourage other people to go to South Africa.

That becomes for me now the objective I want to achieve because if we can increase the positive perception around about our destination, it will ultimately increase the number of people that travel, so that is the goals I have set to myself,

Have you ever taken the time to taste Nigeria Food?

I fell in love with Nigeria Food about eleven years ago, Specifically, I love rice, the Jollof Rice is one of my Favourite and the Chicken Pepper soup.

Initially, I was exposed to the fish pepper soup in the mainland, I remember the time it was one of the best things I have ever had, In my mind, there was only fish pepper soup until I realize there is actually Chicken, Assorted Meat, and Goat meat.

Honestly, my favorite remains the Chicken Pepper Soup, I enjoy that a lot, the Jollof Rice with my chicken, As you can see I am a chicken man, I love Chicken a lot since I have been here that’s all I have been eating.

How do you relax?

I love Soccer, soccer is my favorite sport. In South Africa, I support Kaizer Chiefs, While in Premier League I support Man city, As you can see, we are quite on the right side.

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 1717 posts

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