Plot a patch in the sun

HOSPITABLE: Paul Duval. © Unknown.
HOSPITABLE: Paul Duval. © Unknown.

In addition to the buzzing internal tourism industry, 7,3 million foreigners visited South Africa last year.

In addition to the buzzing internal tourism industry, 7,3 million foreigners visited South Africa last year.

Because the tourist industry, for the most part, operates efficiently, a large percentage of foreign visitors return home happy with their holiday and recommend our country to friends and family.

Through such referrals, our tourism industry has had the luxury of developing at a steady pace and in so doing more infrastructure has been created. But the industry might be in for a shock in 2010 when two million people arrive for the World Cup. Luckily we have four years to prepare.

Hotels absorb a large percentage of tourists. Stats SA reported in 2004 that local hotels had a national capacity of 221000 beds. Though more will be built in the next few years, a large percentage of 2010 visitors will, out of necessity, turn to the smaller accommodation facilities.

A South African Tourism study last year revealed that the average amount of money spent on each tourist has increased since 2003, despite fewer nights spent in hotels. The increased spend was largely driven by more tourists staying at guesthouses, and bed and breakfast (B&B) establishments.

It is becoming the trend for travellers to move away from cities and explore rural areas. These areas are largely serviced by guesthouses and B&Bs. The guesthouse industry has expanded to 11 100 units and generated more than R58 million. This area has the potential to play a substantial role in tourism, but it needs more attention.

Though the standard of service and infrastructure is good, the sector is lagging, with most owners and proprietors running businesses in the technological dark ages. The B&B industry must aim to operate in line with global standards, linked to the Internet to facilitate online payment systems.

Research shows that 40 percent of foreign visitors plan their overseas trips on the Internet, with the figure rising rapidly. South Africans are also increasingly planning holidays and weekend getaways using the Internet.

Guests can visually connect with an establishment and see the rooms, views and facilities. This is a great selling point for those who want a clear idea of where they will be staying.

Only a small percentage of our guest houses and B&Bs have websites. Not only can they put themselves on the map for people accessing the website, but by offering such quick and efficient service, potential guests will be encouraged to follow their requests through with an actual booking.

Guesthouse owners often ask potential guests to fax, e-mail or phone through their credit card details. Being asked to divulge this sensitive information in such a haphazard way often leads to guesthouse owners losing the booking.

The onus is now on the guesthouse sector to up their game and provide first class facilities, beyond a great breakfast and a comfortable bed.

Paul Duval, Johannesburg

lPaul Duval is a partner in the Magus Group, developers of Booksure, an online, secure credit card payment system designed for B&Bs and guesthouses.