By Bea Broda
August 20, 2019: Winnipeg: Alain St. Ange is one of the most sought-after speakers on the world stage on the topic of tourism, and he was the keynote speaker at the 3rd International Business Tourism Conference held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, August 18th to 20th. I have personally heard Mr. St. Ange speak in his home country of Seychelles, where he held the position of Minister of Tourism and Culture from 2012 to 2016, and can vouch for the energy and passion he puts into marketing tourism.
From my perspective, he “put Seychelles on the map” with the creation of an annual Carnival, which gathered the best carnival acts in the world into one gigantic multi-cultural Carnival held in the capital city of Victoria. The success of it came from the fact that it both attracted visitors from all over the world and employed so many locals who also thoroughly enjoyed the festivities. Win win!
Addressing the topic, Precision, Performance and People – Key factors in Sustaining the Tourism Business, Mr. St. Ange stressed that tourism is first and foremost a business that involves people. What do you concentrate on when looking at tourism and sustaining it in the world of business? People in business have learned that one cannot stand alone – there is strength in having a community. The front-line team for tourism growth is always the private sector. How can you expect the government to facilitate everything and get anything out of it? The perfect private sector partnership is necessary for success. This “PPP concept” must be put in progress. The private sector needs to make money and keep things going. The tourist board looks at the whole industry in Seychelles, and it is managed by the private sector. The Minister drives it and makes the policy, but the private sector manages the industry and moves it forward. It is business that will suffer first when tourism doesn’t work, since they are on the front line. The government is the bigger share holder, but you need the partnership for it to work.
Africa is still scared to let the private sector run with tourism and it is still largely in the hands of government. And yet it is the private sector that can expand on plans, innovate and employ people. To make tourism work, you have to grow it and it doesn’t grow by itself. It grows when the private sector moves and works, and they should not be discouraged from doing this.
All of this works best with partners. For example, you cannot expect that Winnipeg will drive tourism to Canada. The strength of the combination of next city and the next city after that will help. When two and three visit stops are made, everyone pushes and it is easier to grow with partners. Does the world know about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is located in Winnipeg? It is the largest, and arguably, only museum of its kind in the world. How do you get that word out?
Tourism is the only industry that can put money directly in the pockets of so many people. You can successfully operate a very small business in tourism. It's possible to take one small thing and develop it. So many businesses grow through tourism, from small craft industries to food services, etc. The news in the USA speaks to the people of the USA but it doesn’t speak to anybody else, for example, in Africa. It is speaking to a core group in the United States. Does it help Winnipeg or Africa? No. Press can be your friend or your enemy, and you need to manage it. It’s easy for the press to write about bad news. For good news, you must spin it yourself. And then you can spin the press, creating a mutual benefit.
The role of the press is important when there is a disaster, such as a man-made one. Unfortunately, when someone does something terrible, reporters will find every minute detail about that person and almost create a hero of them. The press would do well to study these negative effects and consider more positive messages rather than feeding the machine.
The world likes sensations. There are beautiful places in the republic of Congo but many are closed because of reportage of disasters like Ebola etc. The right for people to do business must take precedence over this. Social media these days is quite a jungle that is difficult to navigate. It’s like walking through a dense forest, and it’s difficult to ascertain what it true. Many are using it to find themselves and keep themselves relevant. But you can indeed use it to grow your business. It must be maintained consistently to keep your name and brand relevant.
Tourism touches every part of the world and partnering is a must. People want to experience something unique about the place they visit. Tourism needs to be pushed to grow and you must be that driver that makes it succeed for you. The country in the end benefits with taxes, but Governments must learn that unreasonable taxes themselves will disinterest people from going into business. Some governments have introduced a flat tax. Governments should be aware that the taxing of needs to be fair, but in many cases, taxes have become extreme enough to completely destroy a business. A business owner can work towards making changes in government policies, but its important to be proactive about it. You have to create the energy to appeal to members of parliament and other reps to stay reasonable regarding high taxes. It is possible to change the political wheel to suit you.
In business, why not keep it simple and utilize symbols that are already strong and representative? There are icons such as the maple leaf (and syrup) in Canada that you can use to help you market, without having to re-invent the wheel. Use what is already there, and create a strong and simple brand that is directly focused on your area of expertise. Tourism is all about visibility - it’s difficult to start from scratch, so why not use something that’s already visible and build on it? What are your strengths? Analyze them and then look at the challenges. Planning this way will result in positive growth in tourism.
In the Question and Answer time at the end of the presentation, St. Ange emphasized the need to focus on exactly what your business is and amplify those strengths precisely. A business can then build on that success, as opposed to having an uncertain idea that leads to trying to do everything at once, thus confusing everybody. The concept of the dense forest that social media is was also addressed, with advice to take the initiative to work with the press to spin it in a mutually beneficial way.
In a nutshell, we can be proactive in influencing local policies to enhance conducting business, and we can work with the media to advance positive perspectives, if we are willing to re-write our narrative into something positive for the growth of our tourism business.
Alain St. Ange is currently campaigning to be elected President of Seychelles.
Gbenga Oluboye (TravelLinks) Kitty Pope (AfricanDiasporaTourism.com) Alain St. Ange and Bea Broda
This conference was organized by TravelLinks.ca