Victoria Falls Regional Tourism Association – marketing the KAZA region as a destination

The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA- TFC) lies centrally in the Kavango and Zambezi river basins where Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia converge. The entire region is a conservation and tourism hub that includes northern Botswana’s most desired destinations, the Okavango and the Makgadikgadi pans.

The Victoria Falls Regional Tourism Association provides cohesive marketing for this region to attract the tourism economy that supports an estimated 2 million people. Echo TRAVEL speaks to the Association’s CEO, Jillian Blackbeard to learn more about the organisation.

What is the Victoria Falls Regional Tourism Organization and how did it begin?

We are a new organization. I was asked to form the association in January responding to private sector feelings regarding stories in the international and local press that were affecting the perceptions of our travelers that some private sector occupancies were declining. We are a unique organization, entirely funded by the private sector and in contrast to other tourism organizations, focused on the region rather than a specific country.

The association wanted to concentrate on the way that people often travel, throughout a region instead of just one country. It was very important to look at a country as part of the region. The private sector wanted controlled and guiding mechanisms for the destination marketing. Private sector input was important. Some of the largest tourism companies in the region are members.

We also cater to the small and exclusive tour operations and activities including restaurants and crafters. We have integrated suppliers who support the tourism industry and obviously benefit from more visitors. Suppliers are important to the growth of the economy in tourism; this assisted attracting associate members such as conservation activities and NGOs.

We build the destination as a cohesive whole to create a positive picture across every single aspect controlled by the private sector. By the 27th of February when we were presenting our strategy, travel restrictions were just announced and there was very little money from our membership organization.

How has the organization coped with declining tourism numbers due tom Covid 19?

We were challenged. Members closed their operations, staff furloughed, and salaries reduced. No income means you cannot maintain operations. Everyone was in crisis. Fortunately, we have strong global relationships with PR companies and communication and digital specialists. Though Covid 19 meant less money could be directed towards marketing tourism, we felt that retaining a presence on the global market and keeping the destination in people’s consciousness was important to capture the rebound economy.

Emphasis was placed on not cancelling their holidays but postponing them instead. Our association brings together competitors and we have amassed USD 160,000 worth of pro bono work in the past 2 to 3 months from different international organizations and it has been heartwarming to see this support. Covid 19 is tragic, though it has allowed us as a sector to rethink our businesses. When tourism recovers, we will be looking to eliminate the unnecessary.

What is the digital destination solution?

This is a multi-faceted destination marketing approach. Digital tools and digitization in general will increase in the travel sphere. We knew we would need an interactive website with direct booking platforms for our members; it needed to inspire travelers to see and value our destination, to educate trade.

Our social media strategy is running on “Africa’s Eden” across social media communicating with consumers directly. We partnered with itinerary destination platform, WETU where people who want to build multi stop itineraries use these platforms reducing the need for brochures. People can be more informed, and the platform has 280,000 itinerary requests per month and in the past they only served products like hotels but not destinations as a whole. This destination portal will follow with other destinations as well.

We partnered with Online Travel Training, a huge database of travel and trade agents around the world who log on to a platform to learn about destinations, in order to get certified. We work towards a digital destination magazine, with local firm Botswana Unplugged which will create the first edition for us. We have also worked with Gerald Malebe from 3D Media and they provided the digital video that inspired this whole collaboration. We work with Hills Belford one of the largest PR companies for travel-based PR in the UK and the others are US based Green Team Global and Rethink Travel.

We collaborated with Break the Ice Media to put together, free of charge, a virtual travel trade show where our members could exhibit and network with global traders. The key to digital is using what your members already have for the purpose of the destination. I believe these relationships will go forward for a long time to come and the efforts can be duplicated for other destinations even for new destinations who want to build from scratch.

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