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What is innovation?  Is innovation the use of SnapChat as your latest marketing channel for your business or is innovation what you actually sell, your product offering?
According to www.businessdictionary.com Innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a goods or service that creates value or for which a customer will pay.

When discussing innovation too often a marketing channel becomes the idea.  How often has someone told you that you must have a QR code or you must have a Facebook page?  These are all important marketing channels for your business or town, but they are hardly what your customer is willing to pay for.  All your competitors are also using these channels.  It is what you sell (your product offering) that will differentiate you and where you as a business or town can innovate.

Technology companies are often seen as the darlings of innovation, but according to Forbes.com it is the car manufacturer Tesla that it saw as the most innovative company in the world in 2015. It’s South-African born CEO Elon Musk focuses on one thing only – building the world’s best car.  The fact that it is beautifully designed, you can order it online and have it delivered to your door, get software updates wirelessly is all part of the innovative product offering – ensuring that he will build the best car in the world. A car people will willingly pay for.


How does one then innovate in tourism?  Does one try and understand the megatrends in travel, what you as a town has to offer, identify the gaps and fill those with new innovations? Or do you need to re-think tourism as a whole, try turn it on its head? Or do look at companies outside the tourism sector, such as Tesla to learn? Or do you take a hard stocktake of what we are selling?

According to FastCompany, one of America’s leading digital and print publications that focus on innovation and thought leaders who actively invent the future of business, the top 10 innovative travel companies globally are:

1.      Uber – for driving into the heart of corporate America

2.      Airbnb – for curating trips to let travellers live like locals

3.      Generator – for hipping up hostelling

4.      BeMyGuest – for bringing experiential travel to Asia

5.      Vail Resorts – for creating the ultimate travel loyalty program

6.      OTG Management – for making even Newark Airport a pre-flight oasis

7.      AJ Capital Partners – for building the Graduate, a hotel brand that captures the cool college-town vibe

8.      Marriott – for marketing its lodging empire with short films and Snapchat

9.      The Priceline Group – for digitizing the hotel stay via bookings.com

10.    Travel Noire – for tapping into a network of African-American globe-trotters

There are five characteristics that each of these companies have in common:
  • They have the desire to be the best in what they do
  • Their product offers their clients the opportunity to choose bespoke experiences suited to their needs
  • They understand the importance of sociability around travel
  • They use technology to support their business
  • They keep the heart of the traveller at their core
At the heart of each of these companies is a true understanding of who their customer is and the promise of the most memorable experience possible.  It’s not about the videos, or social media posts, or tags – it’s about giving them the best their budget can afford and making them feel like the most important person in the room.

How can “good manners” be seen as innovation in tourism?  Because tourism is about people. These are our clients, these are the people that will willingly spend money with you if you offer them a service they want, these are the people who can become your best sales people if you give them something memorable to talk about.

As a town, a living entity made up of many businesses that traditionally don’t see themselves as tourism businesses – how does one then innovate in tourism when the citizen has such an effect on the brand of your town?

How about taking a learning from Elon Musk? Strive to be the best town in the world for citizens and visitors.  A town that people flock to live in, not just because of good schools but because it is holistically the best place to live. The streets are clean, the water and electricity runs, a trip to the municipality is seen as a good day out and all citizens are treated equally. 

Business will thrive, jobs will be created, municipal taxes will flow. This feeling of goodwill will naturally translate into how the citizens treat visitors and how all businesses in your town from the service station, guesthouse to coffee shop will engage with the visitors.

It is these one-on-one experiences that travellers thrive on.  As much as travel is about a new destination, it is the people in the destination that make the experience memorable.  Travellers are looking for places where they get to live with the locals, eat with the locals, go to local hang-outs, they want to feel like a local.  If your town opens their hearts and arms to every single visitor, making them feel like they are part of the family… the word-of-mouth is priceless.

You also become known as the best town to visit, which will probably get shared on Snapchat!

Could innovation for Stellenbosch in tourism be an idea as simple as BEING THE BEST TOWN TO LIVE IN?