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Let’s inspire smart, riddle-loving tourists… by keeping them in the dark

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Hans Mackenzie Main is a writer and columnist.

As tourists return to our fair land after a hiatus of two years, we must not shirk our responsibility to be hospitable. We must greet them with open arms and, by all means, a different tourism slogan from the one we have presently.

The sentence aimed to put our country on the map has taken many forms over the years. From 2002 to 2012, the Nine provinces and two coastlines were “Alive With Possibility”, and then, out of nowhere, the whole of the country could be summed up with the line, “Inspiring New Ways”, which is the phrase still in use in 2022.

Inspiring new ways to do what, you may ask? How does that relate to tourism, you may wonder? And although both of those questions may seem valid, they are regrettably moot since, if it wasn’t clear before, it should be now – marketing slogans are not meant to make sense.

Let’s not steer away from nonsense when we come up with the new line. Amateurs do that. Let’s keep visitors in the dark as to what they can expect when they come to our shores. Everyone likes a good riddle, after all. And if only those bright sparks who manage to solve the riddle of what South Africa’s tourism is all about, or think that they do, come – all the better. Because a smart tourist is a high-income tourist and those are the ones we’re after.

Following that train of thought, our new slogan should – must – be harder to decipher than the one before.

To achieve this, perhaps we should take a leaf from the United States of America, the birthplace of the slogan.

“Make America Great Again Again” was a slogan that recently featured prominently there following a previous winner, “Make America Great Again”. The change is subtle, small, yet undeniable. Never before, one could say, has a single repeated word changed a sentence as profoundly.

“Inspiring New New Ways” would, therefore, be an efficient way to update our slogan while keeping up, if only on paper, with the developed world. What a stunning solution that would be – the current slogan reimagined at minimum cost, with the least amount of admin.

But what if we throw out the playbook? What if we changed all the words? Reworked the slogan in its entirety? What if we told wanderlust consumers to come “Find What You’re Looking For in South Africa”? Everyone is looking for something, are they not? No one is happy, for why else would they travel? These are universal truths – the stuff of slogans.

A popular format for the slogan is to employ the power of the full stop and hit the reader with three metaphorical gunshots straight between the eyes.

Julius Caesar was most probably the first traveller to employ this method with any sort of success. The language police could intervene and claim the phrase requires semicolons, but the fact remains that “I came. I saw. I conquered.” conveys the efficiency of the Roman general just so much better.

So how can we harness the three-full-stop construct while leaving prospective tourists none the wiser as to why they should visit South Africa? “Ground. Air. There.” comes to mind. The genius of this slogan is, quite obviously, that it could spur an otherwise apathetic traveller into action and convince them to jump on a plane by giving them a clear picture of how the process could play out.

Just like that, we have three viable alternatives to “Inspiring New Ways”. Personally, I’m leaning towards “Ground. Air. There.” for the simple reason that I don’t think there are enough slogans with three full stops out there. The esoteric among us may favour the second; the pragmatic the first.

Fierce debate will no doubt accompany what would be the latest episode of the always near-traumatic transition from one slogan to the next. Slogans can divide as much as they can bring together.

But whatever the government – or perhaps the public through a popular vote? – decides, let’s make sure South Africa’s tourism slogan is responding to and also honouring what’s out there now – that it’s new, it’s inspiring and it’s a way. DM168

Hans Mackenzie Main is a writer.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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