In its simplest form the Latin word ‘communicare’, means the sharing of information. Although the meaning has not developed over many thousands of years, the pathways and platforms through and with which people can communicate has proliferated enormously, which bring challenges of its own.

In this discussion we explore with four panellists what value communications brings to their efforts to stay connected with their publics, both externally and internally, in terms of their brand and related products and services.

Joining this section of the discussion about marketing / advertising are Damian Wrigley, the GM at Pearl Valley, Peter Dros the Director of Sales and Marketing at Fancourt and Robert Jasper (RJ) the GM of the Sandton Sun hotel.

JC: Our travel and tourism segment (golf / family vacations) is perhaps more resilient to recessionary cycles than many, but this period had included the additional handicap of no one being allowed out at all!

What should we be doing as an industry and individual businesses to help to rebuild the sector and confidence in travel?

Damian Wrigley

DW: Other than keeping our brand in the public eye, be nimble and as alert as possible, while looking for new markets and packaging opportunities we feel are currently relevant. There is unlikely to be any immediate bounce back, but 2020 gave us all a great insight in how to make the most of a challenging business landscape.

This year will demand a clever repositioning of our offering to prepare ourselves for a return at some stage through the year to a form of normality, especially in terms of international travel.

Peter Dros

PD: Incremental increases to get us back to pre-COVID travel and revenues’ levels is the most likely scenario. So being prepared and patient will be the likely modus operandi for most of those in the tourism sector. We are finding that the golf / family niche can be broken up into further segments and we are working on this to further target a more defined niche market and audience. For example, within this segment there are many cyclists, as well as many families that are very health conscious and wellness orientated, so we continue to refine our offering to accommodate these segments.

Robert Jasper

RJ: Public sentiment is a very difficult thing to predict as you will see in terms of the stock market. I think that it will be key for the government to make a real fist of having everyone vaccinated as this will start to instil confidence that the region will be safe to travel back to. On the ground we can then manage the safety and health protocols that are still going to need to be in place from some time to come.

The fact that the SA variant is more easily transmitted, albeit not more dangerous, was a very unfortunate card to draw. However, this should not put us off our key goal to get tourism moving again, especially given how vital the tourism sector is and will be in helping get the economy back on its feet and claw back at least some of the job losses that have resulted over the past year.

 JC: My final question to Peter, Damian and Robert was that ‘hard times’ make it more tempting than ever not to spend on anything, except the bare essentials, especially as there are no guarantees in business, which caveat applies equally with advertising.

There are inherent dangers in a ‘no-spend’ approach and while it is obvious that you cannot just save you way out of a crisis, as many economies found to their cost, following the crash of 2008, it is still tempting to keep your hands in your pockets, when the real need is for a mixed and balanced spend in advertising.

DW: This ‘no-spend’ reaction seems to be very much the case with too many clubs. In times like these I feel the marketing spend should in many ways increase.

In my particular case, I am fortunate to have a Marketing Director who is not only a shareholder, but who also understands the importance of ensuring the dialogue is open and the net cast wide for the best and most effective possible reach. If you have a fit for purpose marketing budget, which is linked, as it should be, to your turnover, then the resource will still be available, even if the final amounts are reduced.

This environment will require that you think through and re-strategise how to get a balanced and effective result from the resources that you have available.

PD: I could not agree with Damian more. You must keep your brand visible in the public spaces that media accesses and then of course there is the theory that in a downturn you need to actually increase marketing spend!

Extensive research supports the theory of continued marketing spend, even on the basis that there might be no immediate or visible impact, but wholesale cuts will certainly cause serious damage to brand value in the medium to long term.

So, while we need to contain costs at time likes these, the indiscriminate slashing of expenditure is extremely dangerous. The best way to deal with the process is to examine the tree with a keen eye and use secateurs to prune certain branches, rather that attacking the trunk with an axe!

RJ: It is definitely going to be a balancing act between getting the maximum possible value, even up to pre-COVID levels, with greatly constrained budgets. If ever the old term ‘rifle marketing’ has had relevance then this next year or so in our sector will redefine its importance.

Recessions always made travel a ‘nice to have’, but now the pandemic has introduced an additional hurdle in that it could be life threatening. I would reemphasise my point about the government’s role in all of this, because it must step up to the plate and deliver a status which inspires confidence in the travel market. If this does not happen then we could be in for a longer and rougher ride then we might want.

JC: No two crises are alike, so Peter Dros’ analogy of pruning versus chopping down seems very appropriate. Personally, I feel that our responsibility as communicators has not really changed, although perhaps there is an additional ‘edge’ to it given the impact of COVID-19, in which it remains for us to keep our audiences as up to date and informed as is possible.

In a previous article, Jason Rowe (CEO of the Golfers Club) referred to the growth of golf as being a collective activity, which is refreshing as it starts to break with the perceptions of this being ‘someone else’s job’, while echoing Damian Wrigley’s earlier comments in this article, while further underlining the need to discuss and debate keys issues which are relevant to all of us in golf.

John Cockayne has been a Professional Golfer since 1977 and is a fully qualified founder member and Life Member of the PGA of South Africa. He is a former Head Professional at Royal Oak, State Mines and Benoni Country Clubs and Director of Golf at Southbroom, during which period he was involved in the organisation of golf tours, numerous professional and amateur tournaments and as a consultant on the Sunshine Circuit.