The Japanese Brave Blossoms (aka the Cherry Blossoms) stunned the rugby world when they beat the highly favoured Springboks in Brighton on September 19th, but they also provided us with a number of valuable lessons.
The first was determination and self-belief. The Blossoms set out to win, not just play on the same field as the Boks. Every scrum, loose ball and line out was contested, and nothing was left unchallenged. Their self-belief was exemplified by eschewing a penalty option for an equaliser in the final moments and instead opting to back themselves to get over a heavily defended game line – which they did.
The second was that the victory was a team effort. Everyone participated in making the outcome happen. And they did so for every single minute of the game.
The third was to sidestep predictability. They set out to do things differently on the field, and do so they did. They challenged the Boks where the South Africans thought they were unassailable – in the rucks and scrums – and prevailed. They got to the loose balls faster than their opponents and they handled the ball with certainty and dexterity. It all added up to a scintillating performance that brought its due reward.
The fourth lesson that this sporting cameo offered was how the underdogs were taken to heart by the rugby-viewing public, including South African supporters, as this excerpt from The Guardian noted: “Back in Brighton, Springbok fans applauded the Japan team on to their bus as they travelled back to their Warwick base. Others shook Japanese fans’ hands and formed a guard of honour as they boarded trains out of the city at the end of a quite extraordinary day.”
And finally, they broke their mould as an also-ran team by preparing hard with a good coach and delivering the goods. This has massively increased their profile both nationally and globally. The victory over the Boks rewrote history for Japanese rugby, it has moved from a third rate sport (behind baseball and football) into the full spotlight of national pride and glory.
So what can we in the South African tourism industry take from this?
In terms of tourism Team South Africa is facing some heavy odds – load-shedding, ill-advised tourist legislation with burdensome paperwork and unforeseen consequences, discouraging media coverage, a tenuous but persistent association with West African plagues, a negative perception due to crime, a teetering national airline, to name but a few.
Does this now mean that we lie down and accept a second rate status in terms of international tourism? Are these odds really that insurmountable? I think not.
Here is where we should take a leaf out of the Blossoms’ book. We need to view ourselves positively despite the setbacks, and sell ourselves positively – with vigour and enthusiasm. We have a great package to offer visitors, but they need to know about it. They need to see us perform, so we have to sharpen our act in the public sphere. Great work mustn’t just be done, it must also be seen to be done – and the optimal way to do that is to give our visitors the best possible experience that they can have. Raise the standards of service so that they are not simply adequate, but excellent. Ensure that the packages deliver everything and more that the brochures promise. Make customer satisfaction a number one priority. And we must do that in every sphere of our game, from our sales through our services to our delivery.
Challenge the odds, don’t accept them. Make the effort, break the mould, commit to the outcome, it will pay off and you will be appreciated nationally and globally. And remember, it is a team effort and everyone must play their part, so get them all on board. South African tourism should be a source of massive national pride and be part of the way we identify ourselves and our country. We deserve no less.
Linda Pampallis – CEO Thompsons Africa