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3 April 2023: Consumer spending over the Easter period last year showed a steady incline, with trends suggesting that the tourism and retail industries were on a post-pandemic rebound. This year will likely follow suit albeit with some restraint as consumers are struggling with high inflation and increasing interest rates, with consumers making the most of the Easter long weekend. Small businesses, particularly in the tourism and retail sectors, should be poised to take advantage of increased activity and spending over this period.

Signs of recovery – a snapshot of Easter travel in South Africa

Small businesses in the tourism sector were severely impacted by the onset of the pandemic. However, as last year’s travel figures suggest, the sector has taken a turn for the better.

According to a report by Stats SA, 1 696 851 travellers passed through South African ports of entry/exit over the 2022 Easter period, with the volume of local arrivals increasing by over 145 percent and the arrival of foreign travellers increasing by just under 129 percent.

In holiday hotspots like the Western Cape, hotel occupancy over the April period grew to 52.4 percent – a 87 percent recovery rate when compared to April 2019 and an almost 15 percent increase when compared to pre-pandemic years.  

Focus on family

Commenting on what this means for small businesses in the tourism sector is Rene Botha, Area Manager at small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) financier, Business Partners Limited. As she explains: “Small businesses offering travel-related services have the perfect opportunity to cash in on increased consumer spending over the Easter long weekend. The key to doing this is to tap into the renewed focus on family.”

Because Easter falls within the school holidays, many South Africans will be travelling with their children. As such, Botha suggests that framing your marketing efforts around the importance of family values and spending time with loved ones, will present an attractive prospect for families that are travelling together.

She also recommends that tourism SMEs tailor their offering around family fun over this period. Some suggestions could include hosting an Easter egg hunt, creating Easter-themed photo booths for customers or facilitating Easter-themed craft workshops for children.

Project your efforts into the post-holiday period

The marketing space does become saturated over Easter, but by finding creative ways to break through the noise, small businesses can find opportunities to stand out in the market.

Think beyond Easter when it comes to marketing your small business over this period. Botha says: “Business owners should use Easter as a way to grow their databases, learn about their customers and encourage repeat business.”

Small businesses can use the influx of customers over Easter to offer discounts and promotions on future visits. If SMEs have a loyalty programme, Easter is a great time to offer double points days or special rewards that encourage them to return. It’s also the ideal time to launch membership drives and incentives that give guests a reason to return for a romantic getaway without the kids, for example.

Good news for South African retailers

South Africa’s retail sector showed a similar pattern over Easter last year, with consumer spending over April 2022 reaching a total of R3.07 trillion – exceeding pre-pandemic figures by R700 billion, according to Statistica.

A study by the Bureau of Market Research found that that retail sectors that have shown the biggest uptick in sales over Easter are in clothing, footwear and leather goods, as well as those who have strong confectionary and deli offerings.

Customer experience is the key

Offering her advice for small businesses in these sectors, Botha asserts that: “An investment into better customer experiences, especially during peak periods, is an investment well made.”

Convenience is the order of the day, says Botha, who explains that in a highly competitive retail space, experiences need to be glitch-free and that SMEs who offer excellent customer service will gain a competitive edge.

To ensure streamlined shopping experiences, small businesses need to invest in payment technology, apps like SnapScan and Apple Pay, and integrate their e-commerce platforms with flexible payment and credit providers.

“SMEs should also ensure that their customer support channels are running smoothly and being regularly monitored. With more customers reaching out to brands via instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, honing your focus on bringing the human touch to the digital experience is important,” adds Botha.

Be smarter about your pricing strategy

Furthermore, with large retailers finding ways to capitalise on increased consumer spend over Easter, customers have come to expect lower prices and promotions over this period. The unfortunate reality, however, is that for many small businesses, trying to compete with large retailers to offer sizeable discounts may not be financially viable.

“This is where a strategic approach to pricing will prove invaluable,” says Botha. Small businesses could for example, offer bundled deals on products or services across different brands. For example, an SME selling tableware could partner with a local wine farm to offer a joint promotion, or a pet-sitting business could partner with a housekeeping business to offer a value-added service for South Africans going away on holiday.

As Botha concludes: “Easter is a prime trading period because of increased spending. But, for innovative small businesses, it can also be a prime period for boosting customer sentiment. Take this time to focus on revenue, but also use your interchanges with customers to learn about the people who support your business and find creative ways to serve them better.”

About the Author: Nkululeko Gudazi