[OPINION] Lessons from MACUFE
By Unathi Sonwabile Henama
The 20th edition of MACUFE was successfully hosted, with the highlight being the Main Jazz Festival. The MACUFE Cup was a success with a stadium full to the rafters. As expected, the Glamour Boys continued their domination of the MACUFE Cup, winning another trophy to add to their cabinet.
MACUFE has really come of age when one considers that the fact that it started in 1997 under the leadership of the then MEC, Webster Mfebe. 20 years later, MACUFE is now an international brand, and it now attracts visitors from neighbouring countries. MACUFE is a locally produced and managed hallmark event that has propelled the image of Mangaung. Just like Durban July is associated with the coastal city of Durban and the Jazz Festival with the Mother City.
The central location of Mangaung, in the centre of South Africa, bordering many provinces, means easy access. MACUFE provides the Manguang area with a high season. The thousands of people that flock to MACUFE consume a plethora of services and goods benefiting the value chain of the Free State. The tourism sector benefits disproportionally, as cash cow MACUFE means the business sector laughs all the way to the bank, after the financial windfall from MACUFE. Today, MACUFE is a must-attend festival that is the envy of many provinces.
The tourism industry is very competitive and, as all provinces and towns have jumped on the tourism bandwagon, competition is set to increase. Gauteng is not just the most populated province, it remains the economic hub of the country, producing the majority of domestic tourists. The majority of MACUFE-bound domestic tourists from outside the Free State came from Gauteng. Gauteng decided that it shall not fold its arms and allow thousands of its citizens to go and spend their money outside of Gauteng. The attitude of Gauteng Tourism, is to keep Gautengers in the province for longer and away from the beaches. This includes economic migrants who work and reside in Gauteng but are “from” other provinces.
Gauteng launched the Delicious Festival, which later became the DStv Delicious Festival, to coincide with MACUFE. The intention was to create a family orientated festival, which offered a differentiated product to MACUFE, which was inclusive of a food and beverage experience. Further pressure on MACUFE organisers came as the Eastern Cape and North West have realised that they are losing thousands in expenditure as many of their citizens are known MACUFE attendees.
One of the biggest challenges facing MACUFE is the negative perception related to accommodation availability. Thousands of people stay away from MACUFE believing that accommodation is impossible to acquire for the festival The reality of the matter is that even during the last week of MACUFE, accommodation was attainable as cancellations were the order of the day. The availability of accommodation stock was not well communicated to the masses and this is an opportunity lost. I reflected that it’s also an opportunity to learn, that better communication between the private sector and the MACUFE organisers could ensure that the public is informed when accommodation stock becomes available. Township accommodation providers must ensure that their service excellence is up to standard, and they must consider collaborating with Airbnb to load their properties on the platform. This will ensure that they appeal to a greater market and this will increase their bookings during MACUFE.
Unfortunately, Airbnb remains oblivious to the potential of MACUFE. With the selling out of accommodation in Mangaung, Airbnb should be at the forefront of engaging the township accommodation providers to register their properties on the platform, so that they can provide accommodation services to the public. The Airbnb platform offers customer protection, and promotes service excellence, especially with its rating system. There are enough houses in Mangaung to ensure that each MACUFE attendee has a place to stay. This could have been the perfect opportunity for the locals to make money from Airbnb, and a safe way to become partial entrepreneurs using the Airbnb platform. Because Airbnb has a system of check and balances that places a premium on the customer experience and customer protection, service excellence is guaranteed. Today, accommodation providers in Mangaung have low capacity, as MACUFE is gone. Let us start the public discourse about MACUFE 2018 and let there be no holy cows.
Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.
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