South African Tourism CMO: ‘We Want Consumers To Experience SA Through The Eyes Of A Child’

South African Tourism CMO: ‘We Want Consumers To Experience SA Through The Eyes Of A Child’

Thembisile Sehloho was appointed as the new chief marketing officer (CMO) in early April, so she’s literally had her feet under the desk for just longer than a month.

Lead image L-R: Thembisile Sehloho, CMO, South African Tourism

At Africa’s Travel Indaba, B&T editor-in-chief David Hovenden sat down with for her only Australian interview and discussed the work being done on South Africa Tourism’s new upcoming global campaign.

Thembisile brings more than two decades of experience in strategic brand and marketing to her new role, further strengthening the organisation’s marketing capabilities.

Thembisile joins South African Tourism from Tiger Brands, where she served as the marketing director and played a pivotal role in shaping and redefining some of South Africa’s most beloved household brands.
She also worked on AVI’s Bakers and Willards brands. With a proven track record of driving market share and growth through innovative brand strategies, Thembisile’s expertise will be instrumental in elevating South African Tourism’s marketing initiatives.

Thembisile began her career at Unilever in finance before joining Tiger Brands in the early stages of her career from where she moved to AVI before returning to Tiger Brands. She holds an impressive academic background, including an MBA in Leadership and Innovation from the University of Edinburgh and a BCom in Accounting from the University of Johannesburg.

Thembisile said when she looked at South Africa as a brand, the data showed that one of the key gaps for driving conversion was memorability.

“We went on a journey with our advertising agency [independent South African agency Joe Public] to try and find how can we drive memorability for the brand. As a marketer, you drive memory through an emotive ad, but with that said, a brand ad can be very emotive, however, it needs to be underlined by proper functional, deliverables,” she said.

“We sell a dream as marketers, but obviously the tourism products within the country have got to deliver on the actual reality that we have.”

That meant South Africa Tourism has had to consult extensively with its private sector partners to help it form the campaign.

“Because [tour operators] also have to believe that it’s going to help them in terms of conversion for their establishments.”

Where they arrived as a collective is centred around the children.

“How we want people to experience our country is through the eyes of a child. In that, it’s really about the purity of a child, the joy that children have. When a child sees waves for the first time, it’s pure unadulterated joy. We want that to be the memory that people get from this campaign, and that’s what we are building,” Thembisile said.

“That’s really the big idea: We want you to come and experience our country through the eyes of a child, with no pre-misconception of anything, with that purity, and really be exhilarated when you’re here and go away with the memories that we want you to experience.”

South Africa Tourism showcased a short film as part of ATI, which was more of a mood board than a finished product, but she said the final output would be a 360 campaign with out-of-home, video and digital all playing key roles.

But don’t expect to see the campaign launched any time soon. South Africa goes to the polls for its national election on 29 May so that is going to delay any launch until September at the earliest.

And while the campaign will aim to solve South Africa’s memory problems, improving air access to South Africa remains a crucial aspect of boosting tourism. Recognising the need for enhanced connectivity, she highlighted recent developments in airline operations, including the resumption in April of direct flights to Australia by South African Airways (SAA). SAA now operates three flights per week between Perth and Johannesburg. The only other direct flights between Australia and South Africa are Qantas’ service operating between Sydney and Johannesburg six days a week.

And of course, South Africa’s other big barrier to growing tourism numbers to pre-Covid levels is issues around safety perceptions.

Thembisile said to solve this she and South Africa in general needed to make South Africa not just safe for tourists, but safe for South Africans as well.

“I’m not going to shy away from the fact that South Africa has got the safety issues. We are not going to shy away from that, but we are working very close together with our stakeholders.

“It’s not something a tourism hub can control, but it is a key imperative for this industry to operate. It’s not just the safety of tourists I think the South African mandate is really around the safety of our citizens.”

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