The Mafia Island Model for a brand-new approach to tourism explained
This type of new tourism includes food, drinks, dancing, swimming, white sandy beaches, diving, bird watching, turtle hatching, a lighthouse, nature walks, and an amazing cultural experience. All of this comes with a climate-friendly focus and is designed to leave COVID-19 far behind you, but be prepared for it, as it is like no other place on Earth.
Tanzania and Zanzibar have reopened to a new kind of tourism. Peter Byrne, CEO of Mafia Island in Tanzania, developed a 20-point approach and introduced it at the rebuilding.travel platform: “Let’s build a persona around the idea of ‘new tourism’ (slow, immersive, kind, local, sustainable, climate-friendly) with hospitality back, front, and center – as in ‘hospitable’ not impersonal.”
With hardly any cases of coronavirus in this East African country, the private industry has taken a lead in developing a new kind of approach that can be adopted by a number of niche market destinations. Mafia Island is a world-class beach and diving destination in Tanzania.
This is a transcript and a video of a presentation developed by Peter Byrne, Mafia Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania, that could serve as a blueprint for many:
Presentation by Peter Byrne, Mafia Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Thank you, Juergen, for this opportunity to share our country and highlight its achievements.
Good morning to all partners in working together to find ways of responding to the pandemic. The more I have found – especially in this group – the more confidence I have developed that there are many ways we can think and work to re-establish the better elements of our industry and find a “new normal” of our own, which is, of course, tourism that does everything possible to protect the environment we depend upon. So managing tourism will be one of the pillars of the industry going forward and that starts with each hotel and service provider, each airline and cruise ship and destination management organization. Closer government and private sector joint DMO activity have now proven to be essential. National tourism boards and agencies are not DMOs and the pandemic has highlighted the crucial role these play when you need them, bringing all aspects of managing tourism – infrastructure, logistics, safety and security, services, standards, and regulations – into a central coordinating hub. These DMO will also need to be the drivers of the climate-friendly tourism movement. We had to have changed in our industry from the mad rush to over-development, mega projects, mega-ships, mega buffets and the over-tourism that has gone with this approach with little concern for the environment. And we will have to change much more in the very near future and avoid returning to what had happened by the end of 2019 – hat “past” was not sustainable.
I suggest to Juergen that a webinar soon with the title “OVERDOING IT” in the tourism industry would be an interesting topic because all governments and even the UNWTO focuses on metrics of numbers and revenues, not on quality and environment, for which we are yet to set standards and criteria. What will happen to giant hotels, resorts, and cruise ships in the 2020s? What of excessive luxury, mega-hotels, and costly fantasy designs? How does it relate to simplicity and “nature”? Is “small is beautiful” back to front and center? What of “low volume, high value”?
The “new normal”?
Is there a “new normal” that tourism must adopt? The outstanding analogy is airport security procedures… we used to travel without constraint and now we have very troublesome, time-consuming, and intrusive security procedures to follow due to terrorism attacks on aircraft and hijackings and various other possible breaches like illegal immigration. Will we have to adopt all the semi-extreme procedures of mask-wearing, hand-washing, fogging/sanitizing rooms for the virus, removing buffets, etc which are 1. Costly 2. Difficult to maintain a complete degree 3. Tiresome to sustain and a drain on management 4. Seemingly unnecessary in our environment where there is no COVID (or must we worry about the visitors). For now, yes these are requirements and actions we must endure, but for how long we can only wonder….
One advantage Tanzania has its young population and the extensive network of self-sufficiency in food production; being a less industrialized, service-oriented, complicated country is now an advantage; these features may have contributed to our very low infection rate (all from imported cases) and absence of transmission in the population.
I think there is no doubt there will be at least semi-permanence of these new rules of “safety” because governments are very conservative when it comes to giving up controls and rules and will keep these requirements in place and impose them on US as tourism destinations using travel advisories. This is underscored by the new outbreaks in many countries, which have made the situation for tourism look much bleaker than 2-3 weeks ago. Tanzania and Zanzibar are directly impacted by this and the wind against us is blowing stronger than ever.
The Motto and attitude we adopted…..
So in a very uncertain World we need to adopt some principles to inspire ourselves and others and keep up the energy and hope:
Be available – be there – Don’t stand still – take the battle to the enemy and deal with each obstacle as it arises, if you cannot anticipate it. Be pro-active and involved in everything going on to help the destination and come up with ideas, options and solutions. Don’t just expect it to happen. And filter the noise and look for the positive takeaway (I have obtained many from webinars and articles and from feedback to our blogs and social media). There is always something we can do.
WARNING: DON’T GET DEPRESSED. In the last few weeks, I have felt a fading of energy in our industry in responding to the crisis and I hope, with this webinar, to inject some new fuel to fan the fires of resistance to giving in and just waiting it out. In Tanzania and Zanzibar, the energy and determination are still high, but we are the unhappy victims of policies in place – some incoherent and all uncoordinated and changing every day – in our source markets. That – with the rise and re-rise of COVID-19 – is the elephant in the room.
Good SOP and “green channels” in operation
Tanzania re-opened for tourism on the 1st of June, a bold move at the time. Now more than 40% of recognized tourism destinations have or are in the process of re-opening. Whether some of these lead to new outbreaks – such as in Florida and Spain – we wait to see.
Tanzania and Zanzibar were among the first destinations to have a comprehensive and workable SOP in place. I was an advocate for insisting on immunity or a full COVID test for any of our incoming tourists and I believe in this more than ever with the new spikes taking place in our source countries and I believe it is a positive marketing tool. The Government of Tanzania has last week enacted new legislation to make this mandatory from 10th August, to protect our people from any imported infection risk and maintain the “preferred destination” status of Tanzania and Zanzibar to reassure our tourism partners.
Other countries are now following suit and airports around the world were the first to provide rapid testing but this is not internationally accepted as yet. Only the PCR test is warranted full acceptability for entry to Tanzania. The UK now realises, too late, the value of testing before arrival. Not having this security is almost sure to create local spikes in tourism geographies.
The national medical authorities here have also established first response referral clinics and hospitals at regional and district levels. This is a very visible and important move for a country in Africa, which is often referred to as having poor medical services and preparedness. We must prove the naysayers wrong and more importantly be able to take care of both our citizens and visitors. Travel agents ask us for this information as a matter of course, so it is vital.
In order to help defray the obstacle of risk in visiting Tanzania the government is now the first, I am aware of offering a COVID test for departing visitors with a 72-hour turnaround. This is remarkable and should enable our partners in tourism such as the EU to review their quarantine requirements and is another example of how the destination must remove each obstacle placed in our way as we move towards “normality” in tourism and other economic activity.
On the ground, we have put in place what we call a “green channel” – a minimum-risk corridor of movement from arrival to first destination in Mafia Island. This gives visitors confidence and reassurance that we know what we are doing, we are prepared and taking care of them. This arrangement is coordinated with the airport regulations and passenger handling at international and domestic terminals and our selected transfer minibusses. We send an email on this to all arriving guests and every person enquiring about a holiday – it is a positive marketing message – and we have blogged it and sent our policies and plans to all the agents in our lists.
And we are very grateful that Tanzania’s Tourist Board and Ministry have not used messages nor sought certification of “safe travel”. And we hope they do not in the future. We have already had a webinar in this group on the subject so I will not go into detail. Simply to say REALISM is more important than anything else, including economics. There are many countries with the WTTC “safe” certification yet they have significant COVID infections on the rise! Do we want our country to be part of that group?
The USA has placed Tanzania on the “can travel” list for its citizens and we hope the EU will too, but it is the quarantines on return that limit interest in overseas travel for now. There is also the worry of visitors that they may get stranded here because of the on again off again actions of the airlines in re-scheduling flights to Tanzania as well as volatile pricing schemes.
Pro-active and closer cooperation between public institutions and the private sector has been excellent in dealing with the preparations but limitations in taming the elephant in the room are obvious because we have no DMO structure and PPP efforts have depended on key individuals
In facing this crisis, we have to keep it real by understanding the world view, not just our domestic situation, monitor it evolving through data analysis from UNWTO, questionnaire survey results (every 2 weeks in North America and UK), government messages on travel restrictions, new spikes in virus outbreaks and what they mean, and so on. It is a task of ‘metadata’ analysis and interpretation and finds the takeaways.
One of the most important outcomes of this situation is the much closer working partnerships that have developed, especially in Zanzibar, but these have depended on individuals and required enormous inputs of time and energy to work. The need for effective DMO organizations for the private sector created for specific destination zones or locations has been highlighted. Slow or inadequate responses by key organizations have shown up. These must be addressed in the coming months by responsible ministries and tourism boards and the industry.
In Zanzibar, the Minister and the key tourism influences in the health, infrastructure, and charter flight sectors have worked to reassure the foreign embassies on the EU to remove travel obstacles for the island and this is bearing real fruit. Caution is important but so is reality, that our destination has been blessed with a very light touch from COVID-19 and that good SOP are in place. Efforts by their counterparts on the mainland together with the Tanzania Tourism Board and major tour operators from source countries like Germany are also ongoing.
Bur for destinations like Tanzania, more distant and less connected politically to source markets, there is an even more subversive challenge and that is economic-politics. This is a wake-up call to national tourism boards when deciding where to focus future marketing and contact efforts – concentrate on the “friendlies” and those countries that made an effort to partner with your destination co-operatively during the pandemic.
We only have about 350 visitors in hotels in Zanzibar right now and probably fewer on safari in our parks, and this is the peak of the World-famous migration. Imagine being there now. We are marketing this as NOW IS THE TIME TO TRAVEL…. Low volume, extremely low probability of infection, the parks all to yourself, lodges, and camps all yours with outstanding service and care…. You are a VIO by default.
Targeting the Market
I would now like to shift the focus from the national to the local level, to share some of the strategies we have developed and embedded in our discussions with our audience aka “marketing”.
First of all we have the product profile that is ideally fitted to the “new normal” with the open designs of our hotels and lodges and camps, the beach and safari attractions are outdoors, involve fresh, local unprocessed food, lots of sunlight, fresh air,…… and travel arrangements avoid busy places,… and so on. This may be Africa’s time as a “preferred destination” so our old-fashioned ways and original style of doing things could have found their place again. We need to work on this concept with our future marketing as in BACK TO THE PAST. That would certainly resonate I believe.
We now Identify possible “preferred partners in travel” and the “new pioneers”, those willing to travel and those origin markets that do not have severe lockdown rules or segments who are least affected by lockdowns. In our case this boils all the way down to very few opportunities, but still, they are there and we are surprised by the ongoing interest and the variety of countries from which our guests are coming, even though it is a mere trickle.
I think tourism in the mid-range price category (where we mostly are in Tanzania and Zanzibar) breaks down into two groups:-
1. The “flexible” risk-takers who are also likely to be people who book late, make rapid decisions and who are smart and informed so they understand the metrics and risks and can take advantage of good offers in places they want to go to (not just any bargain holiday destination). I don’t think age is an important criterion but they will probably be 25-40 (not Millenials who are a group on their own and not mid-range price travelers). They will also all have air miles and work bonuses, etc and is the group that includes SOLO travelers (of whom many are females). Many might be LGBT+ which is 20% of world tourism. This group will likely be those able to work from home so a quarantine on return is
not a problem. Also, there is a trend arising in WORKING FROM YOUR HOLIDAY DESTINATION as well that we are looking to take advantage of with this group in mind, offering a low-cost, long stay (we have rooms specifically designed for professionals who need a desk, good wifi, lots of international electricity sockets) and great chefs.
2. The “planners” who deliberate, will choose carefully and make plans ahead of time not necessarily because they are risk-averse but because they have kids in school, jobs that dictate holidays and wives who also work and, possibly, friends who may want to go too to coordinate. These are also multi-generational family groups as well and will possibly be very important after lockdowns, after COVID.
3. I think Millenials are the group that has taken the biggest knock – for a lot of reasons – and are the least likely to travel for a while mainly because of the way they like to travel, studies, job-seeking (lots are out of work) and it seems they are the most unsettled by the risks. This may be waning from the latest survey of millennials in the USA (mid-July).
There is, of course, the over-riding issue of disposable incomes and hanging onto jobs that will make people think twice, but I expect in lockdown people have saved money and learned how much they CAN save
Actively compare the destination with the travelers’ alternate choices both locally and further away so that potential guests can make their choice of travel more easily. You tick all the boxes. You are available. Everything is functioning as normal. The weather is great. Innovate don’t imitate because your place, your destination is unique so go outside, turn around and face your hotel and ask yourself the question “What do we offer and how can we do it better”. But compete only with yourself to improve and have the highest level of micro-hospitality, not the longest buffet or the biggest choice of whiskeys. Re-wind your hospitality approach and get the “hospitable” back into it if you honestly think it had been fading or neglected.
Avoid negative messaging, no matter how subtle
My immediate reaction to all the videos and pretentious competition among hotel chains, AIRBNB, etc over “deep cleaning” was one of wondering if – before COVID-19 – these hotels were rather careless about hygiene and cleanliness. It is an unfair thought, of course, but such dramatic marketing videos and other messaging can overdo the whole process and instead increase ‘fear and loathing’. We believe it is better to present simple re-assuring messages that will go down much better with the markets we are targeting, as they are inundated with the negatives 24hrs a day.
I also think it is a mistake to create any strategy – especially by national tourism boards or DMO bodies – that implies you are 1. in trouble and need visitors to come ASAP (everyone knows how dependent tourism is on tourists), or 2. normally making such a fortune you can halve your price and still survive …. so definitely not these types of campaigns. Those travelers willing to make holiday plans now are most likely to be extremely careful and perceptive. After all everyone realizes that both these conditions must apply to destinations …. Don’t make it worse with statements like “We are waiting for you…” “When you can travel again here we are….“.
Let’s build a persona around the idea of “new tourism” (slow, immersive, kind, local, sustainable, climate-friendly) with hospitality back front and center – as in “hospitable” not impersonal. Juergen has this wonderful platform of Rebuilding Travel and others, we have the African Tourism Board and the UNWTO promoting “BLUE TOURISM” so all the assets are available. Also, please – you the reader – lead the way and make it the theme of “preferred destinations”.
Here are some 20 or more steps we have taken or can take as a country that I would like to share with you: these are not about pivoting your business to something else because it is hard to turn a hotel into a face mask factory or fish processing unit. It is about doing things at a much higher level at low or no additional cost, using the time and personnel who are under-employed. The actions include those that a DMO and a tourism board can initiate or use in marketing.
1. 2020 is NOT A LOST YEAR Tourism needed to change. The endless buffets and 30% of food wastage needs to stop. The excess and outrageous developments need to be re-assessed in environmental terms. Over-tourism needed to be addressed. We needed to stop and re-evaluate our business models and image and improve the destination’s management and offers. We have become strong and activist in promoting “SLOW TOURISM” for greater enjoyment and true experience. If we are to have real change in the tourism industry that is sustainable locally and climate-friendly we have to change the way we build and operate our hospitality. That is not even a debate.
2. BE AVAILABLE if you are not open for business you will lose customers. This is so important for staff morale and engagement and maintaining skills. We consider our position to be one of LOYALTY and RELIABILITY to the market. It would be cheaper for us to close and retrench all our staff – as most of our competitors have done – but for us this is unthinkable and unacceptable. At this time we are striving to recover from our operations only enough for salaries but we also have in place a rescue plan for those who have dire needs for extended families or other financial responsibilities such as education
3. Keep to OLD STANDARDS and not the NEW NORMAL. Your old standards should have been high so why change ? Get personal with an IDENTITY PERSONA SOUL for your destination
4. This ties in with the message BUSINESS, AS USUAL, My first blog and social media post in late March contained the message that we are working in Mafia Island as Kinasi Lodge as if nothing has changed. BUT we had put in place all the necessary SOP. We did not message about “deep cleaning” or wearing face masks or any non-normal action. We posted the message that we were AWARE, PREPARED, and CARE. This has been fully enabling and reinforced now by our NO COVID status, but not at the time we elaborated this message. We do not force guests to be temperature checked yet again (it will be done 4 times before they reach us). We make the normal safety hand-washes, sanitizers, gloves, and masks available but do not require their use.
5. Target the market of CAN TRAVEL and MOST LIKELY TO TRAVEL. Don’t spray your messages all over the internet. We know people wish to travel from all the surveys, so do not add to their angst. Target specific segments like the RISK-TAKERS and SOLO TRAVEL as they are in the MOST LIKELY group. We appeal to their sense of adventure by calling them our NEW TRAVEL PIONEERS. This includes a new offering we are putting together to market to LOCKDOWN REFUGEES who are looking for a longer-term stay in a safer, beautiful location that ticks all the ‘counter-COVID’ boxes. Visitors can stay 3 months in Tanzania and can extend this further on request for another 3 months, so we come prepped already.
6. A NOW IS THE TIME TO TRAVEL campaign from all in the industry especially DMO and tourism marketing bodies. Many of us in our industries are not looking at the opportunities from the potential travelers’ perspective and realizing what a GREAT time it is to travel. The more this catches attention the more people will travel and take the unique opportunity.
7. We also MONITOR ANALYSE AND INTERPRET any questionnaires (as well as the pandemic and restrictions) done in these markets to reveal attitudes, factors affecting decisions, changes in mood, and conditions imposed by the governments. There is a lot of information out there but it is taking me up to 12 hours a day online to filter it all and make sense of it. But that is the challenge.
8. MAKE IT EASY No-risk bookings with no deposits and no cancellation fees at any time. We ask only that our guests inform us of WHY they are canceling (most have postponed) so we can learn if it was a problem or obstacle that we in the destination can deal with or help remove.
9. BEFORE YOU TRAVEL TALK TO US we offer a WhatsApp, Live chat and instant email response service to inform potential guests of travel conditions, the situation in our destination, any concerns they may have, what to expect on arrival and in our “green corridor” to Mafia island
10. HELP Find the cheapest and reliable travel options for your clients to get to your country (Tanzania) and then to your final destination; be proactive in helping and guiding them because of all the confusion and lack of reliable information. This is a concern being raised by almost all our early guests and new possibles. We are also working with domestic airline ground staff hand-in-hand to show this concern and readiness. We meet every incoming guest on arrival personally and treat them as valued VIPs to give reassurance and leave nothing to chance
11. RAISE STANDARDS we are striving to improve every one of our hospitality and F&B offerings, wine lists, activities and excursions by adding more touches and experiences. For example, a visit to beautiful forests and beaches on Mafia Island is accompanied by a pre-arranged visit to a village community with a picnic lunch of local recipes that we prepare so that guests get a genuine feel for OUR PLACE OUR COMMUNITY OUR F&B, etc which is a promotion in itself.
12. ADD MORE to your offers eg under-employed staff can butler rooms that previously did not offer this, and accompany excursions, which can thereby be more luxurious, flamboyant and fun. Other staff – dressed flamboyantly in new uniforms, can add to meet&greet services at local airports when receiving guests. Make everything personal with low occupancies that is going to be much easier. We give our guests a NAME TAG on arrival and ask them to wear it for two days until all staff on the frontline know their names and address them personally, the barman knows their drink preferences and the restaurant knows their favourite table.
13. INVEST IN THE TEAM we have all heard about using this time for up-skilling staff and undertaking in-house training activities that may have been overlooked and even forgotten. This also includes what to do during this time with COVID-19. We have ongoing training in water sports, excursions, and housekeeping and, as always, in the kitchen.
14. DON’T STOP INVESTING IN EXISTING FACILITIES if you have the budget. Our investment program in buildings and services has not ceased and we are UPGRADING all the time, even now with all the financial challenges. This of course requires some cash in the bank and huge optimism but we see it as a COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE also.
15. DO NOT FOLLOW THE TREND Be careful not to be seen to be jumping on bandwagons. For example, suddenly the new catchword is “sustainable tourism”. Why use it if you had not already subscribed to this philosophy a long time ago? It makes you look like you are an opportunist just doing it for marketing. Potential travelers may possibly look for more nature and “sustainability” but whether a change in the traveling community is enduring will be
interesting to witness. In any case, it is essential the industry does become more “sustainable” even though the rush to adopt this terminology in destination marketing is already passe. Create your own trends and messages and if you are already “green” highlight it in your marketing in a subtle manner. Don’t overdo it..
16. MONITOR REAL AND USEFUL CATCH-PHRASES such as healthy living, open spaces, nature, salty, fresh air, etc. Match these to the destination and see how many boxes they tick and then work on social media and blog messages that match the talk. For example, the design and construction of our hotel (separate bungalows, large open-plan living and dining areas, separate, widely-spaced living bungalows) and our destination attractions all match the new language – sea, salty air, nature, fresh chemical-free food – giving us a powerful marketing tool. Remember that obesity has become a problem under lockdowns and promoting “healthy” (NOT more, bigger, greater) will be interesting to part of the market.
17. Keep the ROMANCE AND HUMANITY AND DISCOVERY OF TRAVEL in place. This is another important message I picked up in one of our recent webinars. After all, that is what travel is all about. Think like a traveler. We get too bound-up in our day-to-day tasks. So do not forget it in all your messaging, promotion, and treatment of your guests. Don’t let it get lost in the inhumanity of SOP and “safety” procedures which are very alienating and distancing by design… tourism is about joining and coming together and hospitality is the spice.
18. There is also time now for improved and more comprehensive COMMUNITY OUTREACH and we have re-discovered our mojo in this aspect that we have been neglecting. We have re-partnered with our old friends in some villages under the UN SDGS and climate-friendly tourism movement such as that of SunX in Malta. We have also launched an incentive-based trust fund for this work and a “bond” for guests to subscribe to help with properly-planned activities at the village level. This will benefit both guests and the local community.
19. This also helps to SHOWCASE ALL THINGS LOCAL which we realize we have also neglected in reality and in our messaging. We are re-inventing our activities and coming up with new excursions that will involve the communities much more and ensure guests have a better, more immersive experience in “Island Life” here in Mafia. Some of this work involves highlighting our maritime history (over 2000 years of it) and archaeology, with for example the existence of a sunken port city.
20. WE ARE EVEN HOLDING A TOURISM FESTIVAL Under the leadership of our Regional Commissioner, we in Mafia are even holding a Festival in November 2020 to highlight Mafia island. We know few international travelers will make it but we will present it all digitally and even use this avenue for engaging with “visitors”, for example as judges of the art competition entries.
21. VIRTUAL trade fairs and roadshows that are multiplying like coronavirus but look before you leap is our approach. Who are you targeting, why, what time horizon, etc. You can spend a lot of money but be blowing in the wind. Maintain your digital presence and stay in touch with agents and partners and be on your social media channels with your good news and normal activities but do not get desperate with your sales budget.
22. A note for our tourism boards: Turn immigration cards and entry/departure forms into a TOURIST SURVEY TOOL by adding some short questions on key monitoring data. Cheap, free and useful. We should also have this as a DIGITAL TOOL at our international airports as an opportunity for guests to send in their experiences during the tedious wait in departure lounges.
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