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Margi Biggs:

There’s a pervasive local way of thinking that if you are pleasant and polite you’ve pretty much got tourism nailed, according to wine and gourmet tourism specialist Margi Biggs.

“Good manners, consideration and attentiveness to the needs of others are essential, and without these you won’t get far,” she says.

“That’s obvious, but niceness alone is not a strategy. Being relevant and meaningfully anticipating the needs of those in your industry demand a deep understanding of the environment and, as it changes, recognising where potential pitfalls and opportunities lie, and then figuring out how you might manage these to adapt successfully.”

Convenor of the Business of Wine & Food Tourism (BWFT) Conference, now in its third year, Biggs brings to the project her exceptional combination of energy, flair and innovation to make South African wine and food experiences more relevant, more appealing, more targeted and more competitive.

“South Africans are by nature innately hospitable and that’s an excellent start, but the whole world has shifted to an experience economy,” she points out. “So, unless you are giving people what they want, sometimes by identifying what it is they want even before they know it themselves, executing your offering with sophistication and in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, you are not going to cut it in the intensely competitive world of global travel and tourism.”

Wine and food have been her key focus areas, and while Cape Town was a member of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network she ran the local chapter. Biggs has also been actively involved in the organisation of the opening event of the wine business showcase that Wines of South Africa (WOSA) hosts in Cape Town for the international wine fraternity.

The BWFT conference will bring together a line-up of local and international specialists, who will talk on managing and applying big data, building a culture of innovation, how to harness the power of social media, e-commerce, amplifying while protecting local biodiversity and some exciting new ways to create the best in wining and dining.

The intention, says Biggs, is to present fresh and inspiring thinking about how to highlight local wine and food offerings optimally and intelligently to traditional and newer travellers of all ages and origins. “Just because millennials from Korea are the same age as their counterparts from Khayelitsha or Kansas doesn’t mean they are necessarily seeking the same experience,” Biggs says. “Our speakers will be exploring nuanced, culturally sensitive, inventive and practical ways of unlocking the huge potential that still lies to be tapped in our tourism market.”

Emblematic of her elegant and creative problem solving is her founding of StreetSmart South Africa that allows restaurant diners to contribute towards a charity that supports street children.

“Often tourists are intimidated by the begging, homeless people they encounter,” says Biggs. “We’re acknowledging the problem and instead of airbrushing it away, are finding a solution that works for the donor and the beneficiary.” In operation since 2005, StreetSmart gives sustenance, support and educational opportunities to many of the country’s most vulnerable.

The former art teacher and Cordon Bleu chef has served on a range of South African business and tourism bodies and has been recognised by the Shoprite/Checkers Woman of the Year organisers, earning the title of Woman of the Year in 2012. This year, she earned a Fellowship Award from the South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI).

A significant player in the industry for almost three decades now, she believes it is easier for women occupying senior positions in travel than when she started out in the 1990s.

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