Destination marketing: lessons for Zimbabwe

This article by Andy Kozlov appeared in the January 2012 issue of the Hello Harare! magazine

Did you ever ask yourself why your husband goes to London on business trips? Or why he never takes you to Paris, although you’ve been talking about it since that first time when he took you to a restaurant in Sam Levy’s? God forbid, I am not implying that he has a small house somewhere in Kuwadzana. What I would like to share with you is my thoughts on destination branding and how this fancy-phrased strategy shapes the way we plan our holidays and, in fact, our lives.

Why is it that a romantic trip for two often has its end in Paris and not in Mandalay (Rudyard Kipling’s famous “on the road to Mandalay”) or Batumi? (Can’t think of any poems by Kipling or any other English author about this tourist destination in Georgia).

Think about it: was South Africa spending millions on preparation to the World Cup to just find itself with a bunch of world-class stadiums and airports or it was a long-term investment alongside the ‘rainbow nation’s’ re-imaging efforts?

Currently, there are 204 states in the world and each of them is competing for people’s minds, luring you to come and spend your holiday budget, or invest in a local business. Understanding this, governments are spending millions on destination branding campaigns, and, so far, few succeed. To get effective result, a nation needs much more than a thirty-second jingle played on and on over CNN.

A nation that plans to undertake a deliberate branding activity must realize that the key to branding is creating trust — of doing something consistently well over time — with minimum or no disruptions in quality and delivery of the goods or services.

Truth be said, each of 204 states already has a brand. The trick is to learn how to manage it. Brand awareness consists of brand recognition (eg: recognize a country, Tanzania) and brand recall (recite from memory the brand in a product category. eg: Brazil for carnivals or Marcopolo luxury coaches). A nation must create brand awareness through repeated exposure and burning the brand in the minds of the brand message recipients for later recall.

According to Simon Anholt, a nation branding expert, there are three areas that people want to be reassured about when forming their opinion of a country: technology (people like modern countries, modern countries with some history that are able to compete in the modern world), education (people think in very personal practical terms these days: shall I go there, work, study there, receive decent educational qualification in the English language that is valued internationally), environment (people tend to disrespect countries that disrespect the environment).

Africa was one of only two continents to record economic growth during the recent global downturn and its growth rate is likely to exceed 5% this year, according to the Harvard Business Review. The number of households with discretionary income is projected to rise by 50% over the next 10 years. As businesses that operate in Africa become more successful and their employees grow weary of the usual recreation destinations like Europe and South Africa, more and more middle-class Africans will opt to spend their vacation budgets on the next-door resorts. The element of discovery is a major factor here.

With a growth of 6% of the tourism sector, the continent hosted 50 million visitors in 2010 (the year of South Africa’s World Cup). In the coming years, hundreds of thousands of African travelers will be looking for an unconventional answer to the “where to go” question. The nations that will be smart to tap into this flow are going to profit on a scale never seen before. According to the UN Steering Committee on Tourism for Development, tourism spending contributed $10 billion to the world’s least developed countries in 2010 alone; while nearly 17 million travelers sought out new and unique international destinations. These numbers are a drastic shift from a decade prior, where the numbers came in at $3 billion and and 6 million travelers, respectively.

I have a feeling that you, our dear Hello Harare! Reader, are also asking yourself where to go this year for a vacation. Valentine’s Day is around the corner and you might also be wondering where to take your beloved. Somewhere fresh and new, hmm?

Would you consider western part of Africa as one of your options? Odds are high that your opinion of Nigeria or Ivory Coast is as high as your idea of Bangladesh and Belarus. This is exactly what prompted Gordon Triegaardt to found Traveltroll Africa, a Joburg-based tour operator that specialises in tours to West Africa. According to Triegaardt, “West Africa is what East Africa was ten years ago but without the animal pool.”

I am going to say something that has, probably, long been on the mind of many – we’ve had enough of safaris and game parks. We long for diversity, and so do the tourists that consider Africa as an option for their vacations.

Going back to Triegaardt’s creation, West African “countries are in the infancy stage of tourism development and yet have the infrastructure to grow tremendously, and they are developing and growing daily. It’s safe, it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s beautiful and the people are warm and friendly.” I learned about what Traveltroll does leafing through Horizons, a British Airways in-flight magazine, on my way from Harare to Jozi, quite a way from West Africa, yes?

Some nations get so smart that they start to advertise foreign destinations as their own. Another Joburg-stemming entrepreneur Mervin Senior, owner of Mbizi Park and Lodges (off the Airport Road in Harare), is being critical of South African advance on the continent and suggested the following for Zimbabweans to take destination marketing in their own hands.

To illustrate his position he paints the following picture of Mt.Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “Your nearest port of departure is Nairobi, advertised straight into your face: “Come to our beautiful mountain Kilimanjaro, Kenya.”

Reflecting on Zimbabwe: “You look at the advertising of Vic Falls (VF). Where do you think it

Simon Anholt, a nation branding guru

is?..South Africa.” World Cup promo campaigns had it simple – come to see Victoria Falls when in South Africa for the World Cup! “Now instead of allowing people to fly from London to Victoria Falls or from Jo’burg to VF or from wherever to VF-this should be banned. They should land in Harare or Bulawayo. They should build a new airport at Kariba so that people could go to VF, to Lusaka in Zambia. I think that that airport has to be built by both Zambia and Zimbabwe and share VF.”

Hello Harare!‘s Joseph Bunga recollects that it was exactly the case: people travelled through Harare to get to VF.

Soon there is going to be another tourism player taxing on the tarmac of the international airport in Harare. Emirates Airlines, the largest airline in the Middle East, operating over 2,400 passenger flights per week, will fly to Harare via Lusaka from its Middle East hub in Dubai, starting February 2012. Read about it in our next issue.

You can write to Andy Kozlov on


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