By Doug Gollan
Veteran elite travelers know that “The Big Five” refers to lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinos.
If you wonder why giraffes and zebras aren’t included, or why the list itself isn’t longer, it’s because the expression originally referred to the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt. Now, it is more often used as a checklist of sorts for safari-goers.
South African Tourism, however, wants to give the phrase new meaning. Speaking during a lunch at The Modern in New York City, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced that the phrase will now become a question, as in, “What is your Big Five?”
With South Africa well-known for its superb safaris and lodges, Van Schalkwyk wants to broaden the interest in his country, specifically highlighting cultural tourism, conventions and incentives, and food & wine (South Africa had three restaurants on Elite Traveler’s World’s Top 100 Restaurants—La Colombe, Rust en Vrede and Le Quartier Français Tasting Room). While “safari will continue to be the backbone,” van Schalkwyk believes getting the word out there about the very long list of other things to do will help the country gain both new visitors and strengthen its already impressive 70 percent repeat rate.
The minister noted that, for the business meetings market, hosting an event the size and complexity of the FIFA World Cup in 2010 proved “we can do it, and it was a big success.” There were over $4 billion in infrastructure improvements related to the games and billions more will be spent in the coming years making getting around South Africa an easy and modern experience.
Educating consumers about “going out from the city to small villages,” much like one does in Europe, is another aspect of travel Tourism South Africa will be pushing.
Attending the lunch was television newswoman Soledad O’Brien who recently returned from a vacation with her husband and four children. She elicited laughs when she said that much to her husband’s chagrin, “fashion and shopping” made it onto her top five, as the country boasts a plethora of local designers as well as the big brands.
Actress Marilu Henner, who had also recently visited, listed her “Big Five” as zip lining, dining, climbing Table Mountain, “facing her fears” in a shark cage and “the people.”
South African Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima noted while there is “no silver bullet” in terms of marketing and the board uses many platforms, social media will be a natural way to get consumers to share “Big Five” reasons to visit his country. The country already has close to a quarter million fans on Facebook. Just as big game enthusiasts may wonder why “The Big Five” safari list isn’t longer, the biggest challenge of this campaign may be limiting people to just five reasons to visit South Africa.