South Africa has invested billions in our stadia but what VALUE ADDED investment has been made in capacitating our people with the skills necessary for improving service excellence; hosting; etc.

As the start of the World Cup looms, we have suddenly seen the launch of a plethora of Service Excellence and Destination promoting campaigns and training programmes but is this all too little too late and at great cost with little return.

Some R12m was spent on the rollout of the National Department of Tourism’s “Tourism Service Excellence Initiative (TSEI)” Disney training which was expected to train 250 000 people for free. Only some 7 000 attended the training. This one-month before the start of the World Cup.

For several years now, the Annual Tourism Conference which is organized by the National Department of Tourism (NTD) has carried as its central theme the need for Service Excellence so as to maximize Tourism potential for the country and its economic development. The NTD contracted with Disney in 2009 to research the status of South Africa’s levels of service which have been rated amongst the worst in the world.

In early 2010, Disney told the Department that its research did in fact show that South Africa’s service levels were “abysmal to poor”. The Department responded with the rollout of Disney’s solution – a two-hour Service Excellence Seminar across the country just one month before the start of the World Cup – at a cost of R12million. 250 000 people were targeted – and expected to attend – the free training. Only some 7 000 turned up !!

And now we have seen a deluge of new campaigns and programmes being launched at the last minute. All run independently and with no links back to the main Disney programme !

Johannesburg Tourism Company’s “Rock in Jo’burg” Campaign is the latest offering, launched within days of Gauteng Tourism Authority’s SMILE campaign; KZN’s Tourist Buddy Campaign; National Department of Tourism’s Disney Campaign; TEP’s Tourist Ambassador Programme and THETA’s unit standard Customer Service Programme – all launched in April and May 2010.

Left in the dust, seemingly, are the SA Host and Welcome Visitor Training Programmes, both of which were previously considered good enough for the Cricket and Rugby World Cup preparations in days gone by. They had also been touted as the “best of the best” until the downpour of new Programmes and bigger spend. How disappointing that these Programmes, which were already in place and which had been “tried and tested” were, in the main, ignored. Surely a revamp of these and the old Ubuntu programme may have been more appropriate, effective and less costly.

All the campaigns and training programmes have the same objective, namely to lure back Visitors and their families and friends so as to increase Tourism in the future. Give the Visitors a great experience and brilliant service and they will come back to spend more foreign currency in South Africa. Sure, nothing wrong with the concept BUT surely one plans this well in advance; consolidates effort and spend and MAKES SURE it is rolled out well in advance and re-inforced ……….

I wonder what Disney thought when, after many months research in South Africa in 2009, and finding our service levels to be “abysmal to poor”, they were flown out to South Africa to train 250 000 people and had only some 100 delegates at each venue show up.

Ironically some 50 passionate Trainers attended the Disney Train the Trainer Programme in Durban and Johannesburg, with the expectation that afterwards they would be asked to roll out Training across the country. How disappointing for them to be told that Disney held the copyright of the material and had not reached an agreement with the National Department of Tourism to allow ongoing training of the Disney programme. Apparantly, this aspect is still under discussion with a view to further training after 2010.

Much criticism surrounded the Disney programme and particularly because it was felt that an American programme had little relevance to the South African context. No surprise then when the slogan for the Disney initiative – promoted under the name Tourism Service Excellence Initiative – was “Just Now to Wow all Customers”. This was dissed by South Africans who pointed out that “Just now” in a SA context meant any time in the future. So, that fell flat as did the stories of Mickey Mouse and his friends.

The KZN Tourist Buddy customer care / destination Programme was launched on 12 April by the MEC of the Department of Economic Development and Tourism. This without a Training Programme or final plan in place. At end-April the Department invited a few Training Providers who were already on its Supplier Registration database to submit a Tender bid for the Training and Awareness Campaign. It was, therefore, not an open Tender. Only a very few Tender submissions were made (maybe 3, including from a Provider that was not invited to Tender). The Tender was awarded to a Provider who has been contracted by Government Departments to roll out various training programmes. His accepted Tender was, we are informed, more than R200k higher than one of the other Bidders. Why? The Tender was awarded in early-May 2010 and seven free Training sessions entitled “Know your Country, Know your Province, Know your City” commenced on 24 May. The initial 6-week contract period was shortened to 3-weeks. Furthermore the published Tender Terms of Reference appear to have been compromised in the Training course content, presumably in the interests of time. Is this, then, a wise investment especially after the national Disney initiative flopped?????

During March/April some 16 000 2010 Volunteers were trained in each Host city. The Training was 3-days and each Host City had some 2 000 plus delegates in one room being trained at the same time. How effective could this Training have been??????? A year previously, Confederation Cup Volunteers were split into groups of 60 – 100 for the same training. Surely a more effective recipe than that done for the 2010 Volunteers.

So, have we lost a fantastic opportunity to build an informed focus and knowledge for our people to take ownership of ensuring that our World Cup Visitors have

the very best experience so that they report back to their families and friends in their home countries and encourage others to visit South Africa.???????

Why was there not a consolidated synergistic effort by all Provinces and Tourist Offices to present one effective consistent Training Programme to all our taxi operators; police and other emergency services; Hospitality staff; Airport personnel; Tour Operators; Airlines; Forex dealers; etc. etc.

Will there be a Report Card on the investments made into service awareness training and results achieved. Would the return on funds employed be considered valid and acceptable IF the late-delivery of different programmes were evaluated in a business sense. Would Company CEO’s be proud to stand before their shareholders and triumphantly wave the Report Card ??????

I think not !!!

A consolidated approach and a consistency in content and rollout would, supported by a South African context, I am sure, have been more effective and enduring.

I fear the matter has been an expensive lost opportunity and that no noticeable improvement in our “abysmal to poor” service rating has been evident. Maybe Mickey Mouse is, afterall, relevant and appropriate ………….

Don Leffler and Lisa Bradshaw of THSBS (Tourism, Hospitality & Sport Business School), were two of some 20 Facilitators appointed by THETA to facilitate the training of the Know your Country, Know your City Training Modules to the thousands of 2010 World Cup Volunteers. Both Don and Lisa said that this Training was enthusiastically received by hyped Volunteers who were eager to learn and properly represent South Africa to the world. Don and Lisa were complimentary about the efforts invested in this training, the content of the Training and the organization by the FIFA LOC, THETA, National Department of Tourism and other stakeholders. The training could, they both felt, have been more effective if the groups of Volunteers were broken down into classes of 100 or so, as had been the case a year before with the Confederation Cup Volunteer Training. However, Don and Lisa felt that the Volunteers benefited enormously from the experience. It was disappointing, Don and Lisa felt, that other Training initiatives were left so late, were not consolidated nor consistent and had, in their opinions, been a lost opportunity.

Several SA Host Training Providers have stated that they generally felt that their various efforts dating back several years – to encourage Tourism authorities and businesses to support private enterprise initiatives to capacitate the Tourism, Travel and Hospitality sectors with skills to ensure that South Africa maximizes the opportunity of offering Visitors to the World Cup a memorable experience and, thereby, encouraging Tourism growth after the World Cup – were ignored.

In particular, they believed that Service Excellence training programmes should have been rolled out well in advance of June 2010. Afterall this is the practice in other countries when they host major events (Canada, Australia, Germany, China, New Zealand).

An ENORMOUS FINANCIAL investment has been made by the Department of Tourism in the Disney Institute but the R12m rollout plan to 250 000 people was a fiasco with only some 7 000 attending the free training by American Disney Facilitators. So, whilst Mickey Mouse is laughing all the way to the US Bank, South Africans have NOT been trained and much money has been wasted – and, yes, to an overseas institution. So, our T-shirts, memorabilia and our training have been outsourced overseas, as has been the entertainment scheduled for the World Cup.

Other programmes such as SA Host and Welcome, which have been designed for the DoT or SAT, are very suitable for 2010 but appear to have been considered secondary to contracting with Disney for a new programme. The issue raises questions and we are sure that all Tourism Associations would be pleased to contribute to this discussion

And so we look forward to beyond July 2010, and wonder about the legacy for South Africa and for Africa ………..

Don Leffler and Lisa Bradshaw are both associated with the Tourism, Hospitality & Sport Business School (THSBS). Information on THSBS may be accessed from the THSBS website at www.thsbs.com <http://www.thsbs.com/>

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