South Africa’s already developed infrastructure can provide the perfect spring board for boosting the ‘Bleisure’ industry.

Africa in its entirety was the second-fastest growing region for tourism in 2019, just a couple of percentage points behind Asia Pacific. Whilst this is an incredible achievement, the events of 2020 will likely leave last year’s figures at a little less than impressive. However, the New Year should bring hope for those in the tourism and leisure industries.

A hint of life returning back to normal should sow the seeds for South Africa’s tourism and business sectors to come together to mine an under-explored market; the ‘bleisure’ traveler.

Some encouraging statistics

In 2018 South Africa welcomed 16.4 million tourists, a figure that has only increased since 2013 and is set to reach close to 20 million by 2023. This boost in tourism numbers could see South Africa surpass Morocco as the most visited African country, in fact, when accounting for travelers from within Africa, they are already the leading country. Already South Africa has asserted itself as a premier long-haul business destination, it’s amongst the top 15 countries globally.

Finally, the World Travel and Tourism Council has shown that the travel and tourism industry in South Africa currently employs more people than the automotive and chemicals manufacturing, mining and communication services industries. All of these statistics point to a sector that is on the verge of enormous success.

The foundations are laid

South Africa is uniquely positioned to make the most of this growing interest in international travel. It boasts more chain and branded hotels than Morocco, with a staggering 430 hotels in South Africa, versus just 153. With much of the tourism infrastructure already built, the expensive work has already largely been done.

The next step is to ensure that these hotels and resorts are running at a profitable capacity, and the way to do that is to explore what travelers to South Africa want. One of the most under-exploited sectors of the international travel market is the ‘bleisure’ traveler. That is, the traveler who is visiting the country primarily for business, but intends to stay on afterwards for leisure. These travelers account for approximately 29% of tourism, no small slice of the pie.

Industries primed to cater for the ‘bleisure’ traveler

The iGaming industry

The iGaming industry has gone from strength to strength in South Africa, with the gambling industry bringing in a total turnover of R390-billion in 2018. This represents around 1% of the entire national GDP, but a much larger slice of the tourism industry of course. South African online casino sites cannot be discounted from these figures, they provide a great deal of the income. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that online casino players are far more likely to visit brick and mortar casinos than those who don’t play online. These industries should work for their mutual benefit.

Tsogo Sun is the largest iGaming company in Africa, boasting revenues of R9.8-billion in the 2019 financial year. If figures allow for stays in their resorts, food purchases and other services then this number is boosted to R11.6-billion. Their flagship enterprise Montecasino in Johannesburg brought in R2.7-billion alone. These figures suggest that the addition of casinos, or other on-site pay-to-play leisure facilities at hotels and resorts, could bring in huge extra income, particularly from the ‘bleisure’ market.

The hotel industry

Of course, the hotel industry benefits from travelers whether they’re staying for business or leisure. However, most ‘bleisure’ travelers are keen to stay on at their current hotel, for convenience’s sake, yet can be easily put off by high prices. 42% of ‘bleisure’ travelers that swap to a different hotel for the leisure part of their trip, do so because of the price.

Hotels that host business travelers should consider offering deals for longer stays, or dropping prices at weekends when occupancy is typically lower anyway. These small concessions can easily make the difference between ‘bleisure’ travelers staying for several weeks, or taking their business somewhere cheaper.

The food & drink industry

Of course, the ‘bleisure’ traveler has to eat and drink on their stay and naturally this will bring business to local restaurants and bars. Another interesting way to really capitalize on the ‘bleisure’ market is to bring the food experience to them.

Joshua Novick, vice president of business development for London & Partners, makes a valid point in saying that often ‘bleisure’ travelers don’t get a moment to get out and explore the town. Their company helped local businesses to generate some income, and ‘bleisure’ travelers to have an authentic London experience by bringing a London bus into the conference center. The visitors to the conference could pay for traditional British food from the London bus, creating a talking point and a nice break from proceedings, not to mention income for a local company.

Finding ways to incorporate the best of South Africa into the conference centre is a direct way to generate both income and excitement at once.