Bangu Masisi Takes The Reins of South African Tourism
Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
Bangu Masisi, the newly appointed U.S. country manager for South African Tourism, has her work cut out for her. After an extraordinary 20-year upward trajectory, in which South Africa more than tripled its arrivals numbers since its emergence as a democratic country in 1994, the country’s tourism industry hit its first serious slump in 2014 in the wake of the Ebola scare.
South Africa had even escaped the tourism slump that usually hits countries after a major international sporting event such as the 2010 World Cup. But Ebola, even though the epidemic took place closer to Europe and the U.S. than to South Africa, hit hard.
“Ever since the scare of the West African Ebola came we definitely fell,” said Masisi. “The numbers were actually dwindling. But this says to us that we have a lot of education to do to the normal American consumer.”
Masisi has a 12-year history with South African Tourism, starting in 2004 as country manager for Australia, and then headed SAT’s Netherlands office from 2010 to late 2015.
This year she takes over the reins in New York from Virginia Dionisio, who headed the office on an interim basis as acting country manager after the departure last year of Sthu Zungu, the previous country manager, who was country manager from 2007 to 2015.
Zungu left to start her own consulting company, Zuzutho Consulting, based in New York City. Dionisio remains part of the SAT team in her previous role as trade relations manager for the U.S. and Canada.
Stepping into a new position in a new country, one that is enormously competitive and hard to break into with any marketing message, Masisi has faith in her U.S.-based team.
“My starting point would be I have a sense that I have a very good team, very solid,” she said. “They have had a very good basis over the years. At this stage I don’t see me changing anything that much. All we can do together with the team is to enhance our efforts of the past and try to address the challenges that we actually have now.”
One of South Africa’s top selling points now for Americans is the buying power of the dollar.
With the recent devaluation of the South African rand, and the reduction of fuel prices worldwide, the price advantage for Americans traveling to South Africa has never been greater.
“For any American wanting to travel to South Africa, it is value for money,” said Masisi, “especially now more than ever, even without the rand having fallen down recently. It has always been a value-for-money destination, and this is the best time for any American traveler to go.”
Of course the country is known for safaris and that remains its top attraction for Americans who have never visited South Africa before. But once they have visited, they discover for themselves the country’s greatest feature: its people.
“People will not understand until they actually go to South Africa and experience it for themselves,” said Masisi. “I just believe the color of South Africa is beautiful, because of our diversity. That actually lends us something unique that none of the other countries have.”
Masisi says she likes a challenge.
“I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into the market,” she said. “It’s a new market for me but I am in a good position and a good space because I have a very good, solid team. We can go from here and we’re really looking forward to coming up with some creative promotions with our partners to inspire more people to travel to South Africa, because there is an opportunity and there is definitely room to grow."
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