‘Hot’ South Africa Turns To PR for Tourism Boost

As South Africa becomes a viable—if not flourishing—tourist destination, South African Tourism has hired Peter Martin Associates to handle public relations in the U.S. following a review of several tourism PR specialist shops.

Stamford, Conn.-based PMA defeated Jensen/Boga, M. Silver Associates, Nancy J. Friedman Public Relations and incumbent Patrice Tanaka & Co., all in New York, sources said. Independent PT&Co. had handled the account since March 2001. It’s the second tour of duty for PMA, which held South Africa’s PR account for a year before PT&Co took over.

“We try not to pitch accounts we don’t have an emotional connection to,” said PMA chairman Peter Martin. “And we have a strong belief in what South Africa stands for, and what tourism stands for, in the development of that country.”

PMA also works for the Jamaica Tourist Board and has handled the Argentina and the U.S. Virgin Islands tourist boards.

Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Myriad Travel Advertising, SAT’s general agency, broke a print campaign in February tagged, “What will your South African story be?” The work also highlights the affordability of a South African vacation. PMA will work in conjunction with Myriad’s advertising initiatives.

South Africa’s tourist trade has grown in recent years. Foreign tourist arrivals to South Africa increased 5.1 percent to nearly 80,000 people in the first quarter compared with first quarter 2002, according to SAT’s quarterly report.

In 2002, Africa claimed 4 percent of the global tourism market. South Africa led the continent, with 11 percent overall growth and 20 percent growth in overseas arrivals.

“[South Africa] is now recognized as a premier destination, and it continues to improve,” said Donald Garvett, vice president of planning at Alaska Airways and former vice president of strategy and planning at South African Airways. “[In the past] it was an under-recognized charm.”

Apart from pushing its physical beauty and culture, South Africa beckons because it’s a good deal.

“The value of the rand has declined significantly over the last four or five years,” Garvett said. “Despite a recent [slight] recovery, South Africa represents an absolute bargain.”

Still, image problems persist. South Africa has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, as well as the highest incidence of reported rape, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Garvett acknowledged the country’s troubled present and apartheid past. “No destination is pure,” he said. “[But] perceptions have lagged behind reality.”

While spending was not disclosed, sources estimated the budget at more than $1 million.