Bruce Whitfield Keynote Speaker
South African Tourism Sponsoring Spurs
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You might think me mad, but South African Tourism sponsoring Spurs might just be the best idea its ever had.

A leaked SA Tourism proposal to spend nearly R1-bn sponsoring UK Premiership club Tottenham Hotspur is being met with a healthy mix of derision and outrage. Hardly surprising. We simply don’t trust anything government or its agencies do.  It seems ludicrous to spend R1bn on advertising a tourism destination when there are so many places that money could be better spent.

South Africa, as we all know is one of the most unequal countries on earth, where poverty rates are rising to a point where government is using an ever increasing amount of revenue on financial support for nearly 45% of people who cannot get a job even if they want to.  Let’s not even talk about a collapsing public health system, crumbling transport infrastructure and the inability to supply electricity for more than half the day. Of course the idea of spending R1-bn financing a foreign football club is outrageous.




R1bn in the context of government spending is not a lot of money. Handing it to the bottomless pit that is Eskom would barely make an impact – its problems are far larger and more complex. Certainly it would go a long way to feeding hungry children who when the money was finished would go back to being hungry. All it would do is buy some time. It might build three or four new schools, but there would be nothing left to stock the library or pay the teachers. R1bn doesn’t go very far. It wouldn’t even buy you four Nkandla’s…

R1bn spent on marketing South Africa as a tourism destination however might very well have a far greater and sustainable positive impact on the country as a whole.

One of the quickest ways to create jobs and opportunity for people is to drive tourism. The stats are unreliable, but suggest a new job is created for every seven tourists who come to South Africa. Whatever the number, tourism is regarded worldwide as one of the fastest and quickest ways to create entry level jobs. The best bit is that once government has spent money promoting a destination the laws of supply and demand kick in and the private sector does all the work in creating the products and services needed to ensure visitors have a great experience.

Data from Stats SA showed that one in every 22 working South Africans were employed in the tourism sector – that includes everything from people who run the Table mountain cableway to bus drivers, transfer companies, hotels, and B&B’s.

SA Tourism operates on a budget of about R3bn – with that it needs to pay salaries, office rent and for municipal services like water and electricity, when they are available. The rest is to market the country. Its job is to drive tourism numbers. It needs to find a way to deliver its message about South Africa as a tourism destination, nothing more.  It cannot fix potholes, water reticulation, sewage systems, safety and security, electricity and the multiplicity of problems we face as a country.

What it can do is encourage people to consider South Africa as a place to visit. The world is a massively competitive place and as a pricey-to-reach long-haul destination it has a huge amount of competition.

We have to showcase what we have to offer.

If you are a Spurs supporter and want a beach holiday, you can do so inexpensively from the UK in the south of France, want mountains; visit the Swiss Alps, want wine; go to Bordeaux, want to see Africa’s big 5 visit Kenya. Practically every tourism option we have to offer can be bought more cheaply elsewhere, so we have to fight for every visitor.

What about their safety? Well, frankly, that is up to them. People make decisions on where to go on holiday based a multiple factors; one of those is whether they are likely to get out of the place they are visiting alive. They will make their decision based on their own research, as you do when considering whether to visit a particular destination.

They won’t even consider South Africa if its not top of mind. Visit Rwanda statistics showed that at the end of the first year of its sponsorship of Arsenal 71% of fans would consider a holiday in the country from a negligible number the year before. Only a tiny proportion will actually do it, but its more than they had before.

As far as a Spurs sponsorship goes, I have no idea if its the best we can do, but its certainly encouraging to see SA Tourism being bold and looking for the best possible return on investment. It would cost considerably more to sponsor a top flight side and Spurs hasn’t won a trophy in decades, but will a well-executed sponsorship get more global eyeballs and get Premiership fans around the world considering South Africa as a destination, bring their cash that creates the jobs that provides the profit that pays the taxes that can be used to fix the schools, that educate the kids that provide hope for the future?

If we cannot let SA Tourism do its job, then let’s shut it down and put its budget into schools, universities or potholes. I promise you won’t notice the impact.

If not this, what’s your idea?

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