Global Edition

A Business of Golf Discussion: New Horizons – Southern Africa

7.19pm 21st November 2019 - Opinion - This story was updated on Friday, November 22nd, 2019

Introduction; John Cockayne

John Cockayne

This precious stone set in a silver sea’, has an allure and resonances all of its own and although Shakespeare’s King Richard was referring to England, this description could equally be applied to far more exotic locations than the British Isles.

Being English, it might only be the result of my in-bred tribal instincts, or alternatively the genetic imprint of an island heritage coming to the surface, but for me some places on Earth, just seem to lend themselves to vacations.

Combine an island with white sand, blue skies and a warm onshore breeze, coming in across a turquoise colour lagoon to rustle the palms, you are left with a potent cocktail and just the stuff that dreams are made of.

These types of mental images can become especially evocative if you are sitting in the middle of a northern hemisphere’s region’s winter, with the clocks turned back, sleet driving across the garden and both the sun and blue skies seeming to be just a very, very distant memory!

IAGTO’s research indicates that golfers spend over US $17 billion annually on travel, while supporting statistics also show that senior golfers are a key segment in this group.

Add into the equation that the USA’s golfers contribute over US$ 60 billion annually to the GDP and that over US£ 20 billion of this is spent on golf travel, this shows clearly that wherever you are and whatever the final destination or package, travel is very good for golf!

The stuff that dreams are made of

These numbers are enough to make any self-respecting travel agent salivate, especially in regions where the sun, the sea and space are in abundance.

However, if we step away from the core statistics, the spin off benefits to any regional economy will reach far beyond the golf elements, if the primary purpose of the package was golf related and the trip has been constructed correctly.

The benefits of this spin off are much more difficult to track and quantify on a regional basis. However, if we assume that the essential items of the golf package itself i.e. green fees and the travel components i.e. the airfare and car hire are included into the package value then this leaves spend in entertainment, excursions and shopping.

It is a sad fact, but golf has traditionally and historically been the very worst at telling its own good news stories. In this case the good news is that golfers form one of the highest spending niches in the travel industry with statistics showing that a golfer will spend twice as much on a vacation as a standard or leisure tourist.

This might not be of great significance in some regions, but it is of real import in Africa where the potential revenues from tourism (of all types), and any incremental spend, could be an additional lifeline for the embattled economies in many regions.

For water scarce regions like Southern Africa, the environmental effects of tourism also need to be considered against the numbers of visitors.

Every traveller generates pretty much the same impact in terms of their footprint i.e. the amount of potable water used, rubbish generated, etc.

This will bring into sharp focus that attracting niche markets of high spending tourists will be more advantageous, than being a destination that relies on a high volume of travellers of lower spending travellers to generate its gross tourism revenues.

In the early 1990s I was working through my own business, Gold Palm Promotions, in the travel and event industry and involved in a number of high-profile initiatives and projects.

At the time one of my business’ principal clients was South Africa’s official airline South African Airways (SAA). This was at a time the carrier was very professionally managed, forward thinking, efficient and proactive – sadly how times have changed!

I had conducted some research in the UK and Europe for SAA about business and golf related travel and the essence of this was that there would be great opportunities for the region, both inbound and outbound, with many agents keen to explore the market opportunities becoming available within the Southern Africa region.

In the context of these discussions in terms of the inbound market to South Africa, I met several ‘big’ individual tour operators in Europe to discuss the opportunities available to them in this region.

This was at a time when South Africa was poised to come out of isolation. The pending change would allow access for many golfers to experience what would have been a hitherto undiscovered treasure trove of inexpensive green fees, on excellent golf courses, in generally sublime golfing weather.

The one area of clear consensus that emerged from these meetings was that in order to be competitive, the region would need to be innovative in its packaging up of the golf opportunities.

The principal background factors to these comments were the fact that for it to achieve sustainable returns it was;

It was felt that attention to these areas would be necessary in order to motivate both the traveller and to entice the agents and tour operators to look at the destination and take on the ‘risk’ of any engagement, when their business was already secure within an established network of destinations.

The real essence of our third bullet point was that the packages would need to be different and offer an inbuilt call to action that would ‘speak for itself’ to the vacationing golfers.

The response to the presentations about the region in general was enthusiastic, especially in terms of reactions to the event products which I presented on behalf of a client of my business – Southern Africa by Appointment.

As the company name might suggest this business would not offer its clients a trip to Southern Africa on the off chance, but as part of a highly specialised and upmarket tailor-made service.

The packages which attracted the most interest were The Africa Inter Cities Challenge, in a reworked Europe model, and the Safari Golf Schools.

The Inter City event motivation and design was to help solve a perennial problem experienced, by both Sun International and South African Airways, in terms of a lack of dedicated leisure travel from within the sub-Saharan region.

Mauritius La Residence Hotel

My own personal experience running a number of networking events, conferences and hosting business travellers was that Sun City would often form part of a visitor’s itinerary but would not be the primary focus of the visit.

A business event might therefore include Sun City as an overnight excursion, or the resort would be somewhere a guest would be ‘packed off to’ over the weekend portion of a business trip, but it would not necessarily be the primary focus of the trip to South Africa.

The event which I designed presented the average club golfer with the opportunity to represent their home city, in an International event, hosted by Sun City, by the simple expedient of forming a team with three other players and purchasing an event package, at the core of which was South African Airways as the exclusive carrier.

The focus was to present Sun City as a resort destination to countries within sub-Saharan African, serviced by South African Airways and within the context of an event.

Events normally take three years to ‘mature’, especially in terms of filling the field.

The African Intercity tournament enjoyed a full field of teams (thirty in total) in year one and subsequently hosted representative teams from 17 cities in 9 countries.

Repeat business from the first event amongst the players accounted for over fifty percent of the second- and third-year bookings and a number of players bought non-golfers and family with them and used the event to ‘double’ as a ‘family’ vacation.

This latter element was no real coincidence, as Sun City is the ideal venue for this type of package. For a visitor to Sun City it would be fair to say that, aside from the golf, it has something of interest for almost everyone, especially children.

Sun City’s suitability as a business destination and the game of golf as a networking platform was also underpinned by the involvement of various business-related sponsors.

The companies involved hosted various functions and a small exhibition area was set up, which provided the visiting golfers with the chance to look and discuss business opportunities in the region.

One of the event’s main brand partners was a diamond exploration and mining corporation.

Daunting tee shot at par 5 11th at Le Touessrok GC Mauritius

As part of its involvement in the event the company provided a number of small high-quality diamonds. These were used as the nearest to the pin prizes each day and the prospect of being able to win a diamond caused a great deal of excitement among the players.

Another motivation to both South African Airways and Sun International was the fact the event had been pitched as being capable to attract a high-profile traveller. This was based on the fact that in non G8 countries the game attracts a very affluent minority and that the type of flight and hotel reservations would reflect this.

At the inaugural event all four Sun City hotel properties were included in the package options and The Palace of The Lost City, rightly acknowledged to be one of the World’s iconic hotels, accounted for almost 60% of the total booking requests.

Another product, the Safari Golf Schools, was originally designed in response to the request from a group of twelve players from Italy. They had requested a coaching and playing programme that was different and which would involve more than one venue.

Since the late 1970’s I had run hundreds of corporate golf coaching programmes, through the Corporate Golf Academy Programme.

As a result of this programme I had established a very well-developed network of PGA professionals and venues.

The group’s’ request for more than one venue to be included in their itinerary, touched on one of the perennial difficulties with golf schools, which is that they are largely run at one venue, or in a single area. This limits the participants’ ability to see and or experience more than just a small ‘piece’ of a region and or country.

The Safari Golf Schools programme was developed to overcome this by hosting self-contained golf coaching modules in different regions.

The problem of the overlap, when ‘mixing’ coaches, was addressed by limiting each coaching module’s content to a specific area of the game.

The various programme modules were geared to provide individual tuition within the context of small groups.

The teaching programme was then combined with on course modules, with all the sections being run under the guidance of fully qualified coaching Professionals.

The programme provided an ideal vehicle through which to learn golf, or improve your golf game and see South Africa at the same time.

The non-golf and leisure section of the programme provided an exciting ‘menu’ of activities, which included game viewing and visits to areas of cultural significance and historic interest.

The programme modules were geared to be able to accommodate a less intensive coaching schedule, thereby allowing more time on course, more coaching, or different seasonal time frames. It could also include a variety of cities and regions such as Durban and the Garden Route and alternative regional destinations such as Swaziland, Botswana, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Excellent golf courses and hotels are available throughout Southern Africa and each venue was selected to provide the best combination of course, practice and functions’ facilities.

As a minimum a Safari Golf Schools’ venue would provide most of the following:

Southern Africa by Appointment did not offer off the shelf packages.

Nothing quite like breakfast in Mauritius

Only tailor-made programmes were provided, and each programme’s final budget was customised and determined by various factors. These factors included the number of guests, choice of venue, type of functions and activities, etc. As a result of the bespoke nature of the packages, there was no standard schedule of costs.

However, a price indicator, based on a sample itinerary, was provided after which the actual itinerary for a client would be designed with them.

The Safari Golf Schools programme has proved to be an ideal multipurpose holiday whatever the final composition of the participants’ golf ability levels or preferred destinations.

The programme options were extremely flexible, personalised, focused and cost effective.

The packages provided golfers, of all skill levels, with a unique opportunity to learn from and play with qualified coaching Professionals, whilst taking in some of South Africa’s most popular wildlife and tourist attractions.

While states in Southern Africa look to grow their tourism offering, often to counter the effects of ailing economies, such as the downturn South Africa has experienced in its traditional powerhouse of mining, many of the region’s golf clubs face a parallel challenge.

This sees the need for the clubs to broaden the traditional revenues bases from a historical reliance on green fees and membership subscriptions.

Innovative use of distressed rounds’ inventory to create travel packages and events to promote in both the regional and international markets can help this effort.

However, these efforts will need to see that golf vacations in isolation will miss out opportunities to sell the game as part of a family vacation.

It will also be essential to back the game into the regions’ top attractions the Big 5 and safaris or lose the benefits of an association with Southern Africa’s perennial drawcard.

John Cockayne:

John Cockayne, who is hosting our Business of Golf Discussion Series and is the originator of the series’ content, has had an eclectic career in golf.

He is a Founder and Life member of the PGA of South Africa and is no stranger to working inside the ropes having held operational roles as a head professional, director of golf, club manager, coaching director and as a tournament official on the Sunshine Circuit.

John is also a very experienced event manager, has had extensive marketing experience, worked as a project consultant on three continents and has developed and run a travel agency and two tour operator businesses.

This background has resulted in his being the first point of contact for ARC’s (Association of Residential Communities) 50 plus member golf estates in the Southern Africa region.

John’s business experience in tandem with his writing skills – he has written for numerous publications and is currently the golf editor with or a contributor to Destination Golf Travel, GolfVistaSA, Estate Living magazine and – makes him perfectly placed to identify the right story and host the appropriate industry professional to help to cover the topic.

John Cockayne, CEO: The Business of Golf


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