South African Tourism hires Brighter Group amid claims Bell Pottinger lost account for 'political reasons'

Tourist board South African Tourism has appointed specialist travel PR firm Brighter Group after ending its three-year relationship with Bell Pottinger.

The agency began work with the board in January 2014, but was unsucessful in its attempt to retain a wide brief that has now been split into two separate accounts.

Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson told PRWeek the agency was "delighted that its work had helped position South Africa as one of the world's top tourist destinations and that in the last year alone we have helped contribute towards a 9.9 per cent increase in UK visitors to the country".

However, Henderson added: "We understand South African Tourism's decision not to renew our contract is based on political reasons, following the gross misrepresentation of our work for former client Oakbay in the South African media."

Oakbay Investments, which has interests in industries ranging from media to mining, began work with Bell Pottinger in March 2016.

The agency ceased working with Oakbay earlier this year after being accused in South African media and social media of using racially divisive language as part of a political campaign involving Oakbay majority owners the Gupta family and the country's president Jacob Zuma.

"Clearly we had become the story so much so that it had become impossible to effectively represent that client," Henderson said at the time.

Asked why Bell Pottinger had lost the account, South African Tourism UK & Ireland country manager Tolene Van Der Merwe denied claims it was for political reasons, insisting that Bell Pottinger's association with the Gupta family "had no bearing on it losing the account".

"They just didn't win the business this time," Van Der Merwe said.

Split brief

She also said the account would now be split into a consumer and trade PR brief and a separate social brief after the tourist board failed to procure an agency during an initial tender process in August last year.

Bell Pottinger was involved in that process, as well as a subsequent tender, Van Der Merwe confirmed.

"Following the second tender process, we awarded the consumer and trade PR brief to Brighter Group. The agency will start work in July," said Van Der Merwe, adding that a social agency was yet to be appointed.

Brighter Group has been tasked with supporting South African Tourism’s aim of attracting five million additional tourists within the next five years.

The agency's PR strategy will build on the #wowSouthAfrica brand campagn (see video below) and will highlight reasons to visit the country, including its scenery and people, Brighter Group said in a statement.

Brighter Group CEO Debbie Flynn said: "We are greatly looking forward to working with the South African Tourism team to build on the country’s positive profile, continue to grow visitor numbers and further cement its position as a true ‘must visit’ destination."  

Other recent wins for the agency include Dubai Tourism and Intrepid Travel.

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