Hloni Pitso, South African Tourism (SAT) regional manager, West Africa, is surely a smart young executive who is making a mark in Nigeria marketing South Africa. In this interview, he tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN about his life and how SAT is creating tailored services for the Nigerian market.
Clad in a branded South African Tourism t-shirt, Hloni Pitso looks smart. The yellow rays of the light in the large exhibition hall fall brilliantly on his shaven head. He has been a friend of Nigeria ever since he joined South African Tourism in the early 2000s. I have met him a couple of times in Nigeria and South Africa. He has risen through the ranks in SAT to become the South African Tourism regional manager, West Africa. He was the at the 2015 edition of the Akwaaba Travel Market with his team.
Pitso studied tourism management and has gone through different sectors within the tourism industry. His foray into tourism started when he worked with a travel agency and as a tour operator with HRG in South Africa. He later left to join an airline. He worked with the airline for about three years; half of that was spent in operations. Then he joined the sales and marketing team. He left there to join Protea Hotel.
“I kind of do my run of all different aspects of travel and tourism,” he realls, “before I joined in marketing the destination. When I joined Protea, I was fortunate enough to be promoted to look after the Africa portfolio so that was how I got the opportunity to look at the rest of the continent.
He tells me assuming his new role at SAT has been an interesting experience for him as he has a better understanding of the West African tourism market.
“It has been quite a good experience,” he says. “Being in a market where we are operating makes me feel more busy. It gives me a better understanding of their psyche, taste. It has truly helped our strategy a lot that we are now close to our consumers and that we are getting to build our relationship with our stakeholders, the media, travel agents and tour operators as well as we are able to manage our suppliers.”
He says SAT’s presence in Nigeria has been a little challenging because of what the nation went through in the early part of 2015, like the elections. “We found out that travelling not just to South Africa slowed down a bit. But now looking at the second last quarter of 2015 it was beginning to pick up again. We believe we can still come back. We had a traffic of about 80, 000 and before the end of 2015 we were looking at closing at 100, 000 but because of the situation that did not look realisable. But we still saw positive growth. When we looked at the figures for the third quarter of 2015, we had a decline a bit, about eight percent decline. When you are looking at the progress of the decline it later began to pick up.”
According to him, SAT did not just land on the shores of the country without first doing a feasibility study of the Nigerian market. “Before we opened our office. We sent a research team to Nigeria. We also did the same in Ghana to look at the people and discuss the needs of the travellers. We wanted to know what the Nigerian traveller looks for whenever they travel to South Africa for holiday. We then train our suppliers in South Africa to make sure they take our findings into consideration when putting packages together to sell.”
Armed with the knowledge from the research, Pitso and his team now have a better understanding of the Nigerian market hence they are able to design tailor-made travel packages to suit the tastes of discerning Nigerian consumers.
“We cannot sell the packages we put together for Germany, Europe or America for Nigerian market. Because they look for different things from what Nigerians look for. We then talk to the tour operators to put a special package together to meet the needs of this market. For instance, we met with the tour operators in Nigeria to know what their clients ask for.
“For instance, shopping is a big thing for Nigeria; also lifestyle events, concerts, wine and dining as well as some lifestyle experiences like the wine tasting experience. So we found out that there is more that we can say about the cosmopolitan lifestyle activities that they want to be a part of. History is also very much in context so we try to incorporate that. We have been tailoring our packages to meet the needs of the Nigerian consumers.”
In addition, SAT is also constantly empowering local tour operators through training on how to best market South Africa in their various localities thereby meeting the needs of their clients.
“We then also educate the Nigerian tour operator on what they should look out for when putting together packages from their clients. We also tell our tour operators it is not just about booking flights and hotels you also need to know what they person also wants. Somebody who is travelling with children for holiday will definitely want something different from somebody who is travelling with his or her partner of those travelling in a group. That way it enhances their experience. Our duty is to ensure that the right product is sold so that the person can then come back to say what a great experience he had in South Africa.”
Pitso has been visiting Nigeria since 2007. However, he moved in fully in September 2014. And he proudly says he is in love with Nigeria. “I always say to people; Nigeria is one of those places you either immediately fall in love with it or it can frustrate you. But for me, I see it as a place where I can settle in easily. For me, I have a soft landing. I have been coming in and out so I am familiar with the way things are done.
“What I love most about Nigeria is that I found out that Nigerians have a positive outlook to life no matter how challenging the situation is. Every morning they wake up believing for a better day, for me that’s great and it is a virtue I am now applying to my own personal life. There are also huge business opportunities here. There is a lot one has to learn in terms of what Nigeria is all about. “
With his family based in South Africa, Pitso travels home once in a month to visit his wife and two-year-old daughter. “When I moved to Nigeria, my daughter was still very young so my wife who is also a career lady had to stay back. But I get to go home one weekend every month. She also comes to visit. Marriage grooms you. It makes you become a responsible person. You look at life differently because now there are people who depend on you. If you are not too serious about it tends to groom you to become a better person, I believe.”
Pitso is a jolly good fellow and quite sociable. He finds time to club when the opportunity permits. Social gatherings have been for him a good way to interact with the business community in Nigeria.
“When I do get an opportunity, I go out. It has been quite busy since I got to Lagos. But from time to time when I do get the opportunity to go out I do go out. I do believe that the only way to get to learn and understand the people is through social platforms and the more you spend time at social functions the more you understand the community that you live in.”
Growing up in South Africa was a wonderful experience for him as he has been lucky enough to have both his parents alive till date. “I think I have been given good opportunities to become the person that I am. My parents have given me the education that I need and the tools to become who I am today.”
He tells me he loves to read ‘The Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. It is a book he loves as it tells of human ability to be able to forgive. “I love people who have positive outlook about life because that is the only way we can be able to move ahead.”