As we round off the thrilling introductions to our new AAVEA board members, it gives us great pleasure to welcome the fantastic Johan van Schalkwyk,Group Marketing and Trade Manager at the Aquila Collection, to our team!

We sat down for a virtual chat with Johan about his passion for the attractions industry and communicating with visitors:

Congratulations on your appointment to the AAVEA board! What are you most looking forward to doing and achieving in your new position?

Johan: Thank you for the opportunity to be involved with the AAVEA board and to work together to inspire and grow the attractions sector of travel and tourism! I am looking forward to sharing insights and learning from fellow industry colleagues to make sure the attractions industry is represented throughout the travel and tourism sector.

What inspired you to want to work with the AAVEA board and organisational team?

Johan: The annual conferences are incredibly inspiring and insightful and therefore I wanted to join this incredible think tank of great minds!

The concept of attractions and attractions management is quite new to South Africa. When did you realise your site was an attraction and how did that impact your operations?

Johan: During 2019, we looked at our business model and embarked on a major three year rapid growth plan. The insights of the introspection and research made us realise that we are a major attraction and should operate and relook our position to operate as a major tourist attraction within the realms and structure of conservation and big 5 safaris. This plan – which was obviously delayed by the pandemic – made us relook operations from a ticketing point of view, capacity, schedules and many other aspects of the business to ensure we are well positioned to activate and achieve the exciting growth points identified back in 2019. The pandemic gave us a slow period to implement some of these points and we are already seeing positive results and cannot wait to see these actions and experience the potential growth in a post-pandemic world.

We’re in what was usually our peak season in the second year of the pandemic.  What have you learnt about your visitors during this time and how are you adapting your attractions’ operations?

Johan: We had to change our voice back in August 2020 when we reopened with really limited services and offerings. But that changed voice, speaking directly to the local market, increased our awareness and placed us firmly as a household brand in the domestic sector and we are now embracing our domestic support. This will most certainly be our baseline market going forward. We have realised, we have this major captive audience ready to explore their surrounds – and if we can build sustainable businesses on local demand, we will have very interesting businesses in a post-pandemic world when international accents and languages return to our businesses.

What advice do you have for smaller attractions?

Johan: Change your voice. Adapt your communication channels. Everyday customers do not understand trade talk. Trim and tone down your communication about policies, inclusions and exclusions and rates and dates – make it easy! Let them engage with your brand and make it easy for them to click and pay at the point where they engage with your brand.