A small, landlocked country dwarfed by South Africa to the west, it’s often easy to miss when looking at a map of Africa. Yet the country is evidence that good things indeed come in small packages.
Home to Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy, the country is steeped in tradition and histories – an abundant cultural background that was most recently showcased during what was referred to as ‘50/50’ in April 2018.
The celebrations marked both King Mswati III’s 50th birthday and 50 years of national independence, an occasion that saw its name change from Swaziland to its precolonial name of Eswatini, meaning place of the Swati people.
50/50 was not a one off, however. Ceremonies and festivals are common practice amongst its populations, while the country is also home to some of Africa’s best wildlife, numerous adrenaline-inducing activities and a delicious, thriving culinary scene.
“Eswatini is a land of many wonders, with unparalleled diversity of fauna and flora,” states Linda Nxumlao, Chief Executive Officer of Eswatini Tourism Authority.
“Our ancient traditions, events, scenery, good climate, topography and friendly people remain the essence of our country. We want to invite more people to come and experience not only our attractions, landmarks or eateries, but the Kingdom as a complete tourism destination.”
The Business End
In the context of the socioeconomic development of the continent, Eswatini boasts one of the best economic growth records in Africa.
This reputation is largely owed to the country’s relatively liberal policies, welcoming both foreign and private investment. This approach that is best evidenced by the ongoing success of the country’s flourishing mining sector, alongside buoyant wood pulp, fruit canning, clothing and textiles and manufacturing industries.
Yet at the same time, the Kingdom’s economic achievements are somewhat limited by a relative dependence on both the cultivation of sugar cane and role of South Africa. From imports to investment to employment, this reliance leaves it relatively vulnerable. However, the country’s tourism offering is beginning to help to change this.
Having grown rapidly during the South African apartheid era, with visitor numbers rising from 89,000 in 1972 to 258,000 in 1989, the industry has since established itself as crucial to the modern development of Eswatini.
Last year, 1.277 million people visited the country, 814,220 of which came from South Africa. However, this regional influx is accompanied by a growing international audience, driven forwards by its ecotourism offerings and culturally acclaimed status, with German, UK and US tourists having visited the Kingdom in their tens of thousands last year.
Eswatini Tourism Authority
One key stakeholder helping to propel Eswatini’s thriving tourism segment forwards is Eswatini Tourism Authority (ETA).
Initially established through the Swaziland Tourism Authority Act of 2001, the organisation has since played a key role in specifically marketing the Kingdom as a leading national tourism destination.
“Our vision is to position the Kingdom as a world-class tourism management organisation and lead it to becoming a tourism destination of choice in Africa by 2023,” Nxumlao affirms.
Here, the Chief Executive Officer answers our questions, showcasing the organisation’s achievements and the country’s ever-improving business travel and tourism offerings.
Africa Outlook (AfO): Since inception, how has the Eswatini Tourism Authority developed and progressed in terms of its key objectives and the messages it tries to get across?
Linda Nxumlao (LN): Our key objectives haven’t changed since inception. We develop the tourism sector as a national priority in an environmentally sustainable and culturally acceptable manner; market Swaziland as a tourism destination through the provision of a platform for industry stakeholders; encourage, facilitate and promote local and foreign investment in the tourism industry; and ensure the contribution of tourism to the socioeconomic development of the Kingdom of Eswatini. Our key message and promise to our source markets remains The Royal Experience.
Times have nevertheless changed. We are learning to brew a balanced concoction of traditional and modern elements in our marketing strategies. The Kingdom of Eswatini prides itself in its ancient traditions and culture. Others might perceive Eswatini as backward and vulnerable what with it being a one-language, landlocked country, but we cannot ditch our heritage at the slightest scare. New approaches are the talk of town these days, but these enhancements are for other elements of the industry, while when it comes to our culture it is more a case of wine – getting better with age.
The ETA’s strategic direction for the next five years is primarily a market penetration focus, where we will work harder and smarter to penetrate existing markets and undertake existing product improvement as well as adding a secondary focus of new regional markets not previously targeted. We will explore the international market clad with our gifts of imperfection and upscale our online visibility, as keeping an appearance online is just as important as showing face to remain top of mind in the industry. We’re also getting ready to dazzle the international market with ground-breaking, new marketing efforts that are nicely blended with traditional methods.
AfO: How would you say Eswatini has developed in recent years as a business travel hub and what are the key reasons behind its growing appeal?
LN: We have certainly developed more as a business travel hub over the past 10 years. The ETA has actively participated in Meetings Africa every year for the past 10 years. Meetings Africa is one of Africa’s major tourism trade shows – a great platform that showcases the Kingdom of Eswatini as a premier business events destination and connects a global network of decision makers, buyers, executives and event organisers.
Meetings Africa saves destination buyers tonnes of research through the internet, telephone and other means as they easily connect with us directly. In recent years, the global meetings industry has begun to recognise Africa as a sought-after destination. The Kingdom of Eswatini attends without fail to showcase its diverse offerings to meetings industry professionals who we can partner with to help transform our Kingdom into an economic powerhouse.
Meetings Africa has also provided us with an excellent platform to begin the conversation around business opportunities available, enabling event organisers like Reed Exhibition with the International Convention Centre currently being constructed in the Kingdom. Reed Exhibition is one of the world’s leading business event organisers. They organise over 500 events in 30 countries every year, attracting more than seven million participants. We are confident that awareness about Eswatini and connections made during such shows will result in more people considering the country as their destination for business and leisure.
AfO: Why, in your opinion, should someone visit Eswatini?
LN: We are known as exceptional hosts, which comes naturally to us as Emaswati. Our humility and friendliness to our visitors continues to be our most valuable asset. Our Kingdom is also very small in size compared to our neighbours and this makes it easy for tourists to spend less time on the road. We also develop our tourism products and experiences based on Eswatini’s key attractions, like culture which offers safety and consistency to our visitors. We are also an English-speaking country which makes it easy to communicate with everyone.
Our geographical position between Kruger National Park/Mozambique and Kwa-Zulu Natal works wonders for us as we have good quality major roads, an exemplary rhino conservation record along the way and an un-spoilt natural landscape and scenery. We are also very famous for our exclusive range of adventure activities like caving. We shall continue to be guided by our values that ensure we stand out from the other nations. For more information please visit www.thekingdomofeswatini.com
AfO: What trends are transforming the tourism industry in Eswatini at present? How are you responding to these trends?
LN: We have noticed, with great interest, that more than 50 percent of the total arrivals to Eswatini are aged between 25 and 45 years of age. This market segment is very important to us. These are the people at the centre of popular culture creation right now. They love travelling and entertainment is very imperative to them. The world youth tourism industry is forecast to reach approximately 190 million international travellers per year. Further, according to UNWTO forecasts, in 2020 there will be about 300 million young people who will travel in a year, accounting for $320 billion in market value. The development of this market presents a unique opportunity for us and we have exciting imminent innovations to capitalise.
AfO: How do you see Eswatini developing as a business travel hub over the next year to two years?
LN: As far as events and tourism is concerned, the role of our government has significantly changed over the last year. The Government of Eswatini now supports and promotes events as part of our strategy for economic development, nation building and cultural tourism. These events, in turn, are seen as an important tool for attracting visitors and for enhancing our image.
Major events like Umhlanga Reed Dance, Marula Cultural Festival, Swazi Rally, Standard Bank Luju Festival, Eswatini Mobile Explosion and MTN Bush Fire Festival have the potential to deliver significant economic and strategic marketing benefits to the Kingdom of Eswatini. The MTN Bushfire and Umhlanga Reed Dance, for instance, are two of the Kingdom of Eswatini’s major tourist attractions, evidenced by the thousands of visitors who flock to our shores during the weekends of the festival and ceremony. The MTN Bushfire 2019 Festival alone generated E81.2 million ($5.52 million) in revenue which contributed to the economy of the country. As the Eswatini government agency responsible for attracting visitors to travel to and through Eswatini, we provide marketing and publicity support to these events.
AfO: Are you optimistic about the future of the tourism industry in Eswatini?
LN: We are very optimistic about the future of inbound travel to Eswatini. And we would like to extend a warm welcome to all new and returning visitors reading this; and say they are more than welcome in the Kingdom of Eswatini. We promise them nothing short of the Royal Experience.
In Focus: Manzini
Formerly known as Bremersdorp (until 1960) and often nicknamed ‘The Hub’ of Eswatini, Manzini is the country’s foremost urban epicentre and the capital of the country’s Manzini region.
The city is built around the Central Business District, both situated in close proximity to the country’s key MR3 highway and acting as the closest major town to the King Mswati III International Airport, found 57 kilometres east, which opened in 2014.
Today, the city is renowned as an integral agricultural and industrial lifeline of the Kingdom, owed to its central location, with locals and internationals travelling in from all four regions of the country to conduct business of all kinds.
It is also home to roughly 100,000 people, often making it the origin of major investments, evidenced by an equally buoyant commercial scene. From two large malls to the famous Manzini open air market, the city combines its cultural traditions with an air of modernity, making it the ideal base for business travellers and tourists alike.
Eswatini’s transport offerings are relatively typical of much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Local buses connect towns and villages throughout the country, while shared minibus taxis are also commonly found, only departing when full and acting as the main form of public transport.
For those wanting to explore both Eswatini’s rural side, often in the form of wildlife sanctuaries, and the urban towns of Mbabane, Manzini, Big Bend and Lobamba, self-driven car rental is arguably a more attractive option, however.
The country’s main highways are all tarred, and its unpaved roads are in relatively good condition, making the Kingdom relatively easy to navigate even for inexperienced travellers.
“Getting around via road is definitely the best option,” Nxumlao affirms. “We are also told that over 60 percent of travellers that want to reach either Mozambique or KwaZulu Natal from other parts of South Africa prefer travelling through Eswatini.
“The same applies to those who want to travel to South Africa from Mozambique. We are glad that they get to experience Eswatini’s unique MR3, MR16 and MR6 roads which offer an exciting sight-seeing experience as a route.”