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August 24, 2017

Sub-Saharan Africa: Immersive Tourism About Innovation

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Photo by AndreaWillmore/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

September is officially Tourism Month with Mpumalanga the province in the spotlight this year. Dates to remember include World Tourism Day celebrations on the theme of “sustainability” on 27 September and the National Tourism Careers Expo in Bloemfontein from 28 to 30 September. It is also honoured as Heritage Month, with the public holiday falling on Sunday, 24 September and creating a long weekend with Monday, 25 September also a public holiday.

South African Tourism has long focussed its marketing activities on the broad strokes of increasing local and international tourism, improving geographical spread of tourists, alleviating the troughs of seasonality and increasing job creation, to name a few key focus areas. Currently the team at South African Tourism lead by CEO Sisa Ntshona is taking action on defined parameters.

Sisa says South African Tourism is taking this year’s theme of sustainability and expanding it to include not just “green” initiatives but also the sustainability of the tourism sector itself, in terms of jobs it offers, business within the tourism space and opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

“The agenda is to grow the tourism sector contribution to GDP to South Africa by bringing in new players that offer new experiences that were not exposed to international audiences. We’ve been leading as a country around beautiful beaches, mountains, bush and safari but a plethora of new immersive experiences exist, such as township, cultural and rural experiences,” he explains.

“International trend analysis indicates that our people are a key differentiator from other countries,” notes Sisa, with immersive tourism picking up as visitors seek to interact, eat and mingle with locals.

Coming off the record number of foreign tourist arrivals of 10-million in 2016, an increase of 12.8% compared to 2015 and 24.3-million domestic tourist trips taken, down 0.8% compared with 2015, Sisa says this is only 1% of the global market share, which is around 1.2-billion international arrivals. Tourism currently contributes 3% to the GDP.

“We have defined the slice of the pie we want and what is achievable with the ‘5-in-5’ campaign,” he adds. The 5-in-5 campaign aims for an additional five million tourists within five years, starting 1 January 2017, consisting of four million international arrivals and one million domestic holiday trips. The goal is one South African Tourism will measure itself against and requires all nine provinces’ input and innovation to achieve. Sisa says within the leisure and business tourism framework, each region is tasked with looking at its capacity to attract and cater for additional visitors.

The “I Do Tourism” / “We Do Tourism” movement is another rally call to South Africans to be mindful of the role they play in tourism, says Sisa. The five tenets of the campaign described on the Sho’t Left website include:

  • Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  • Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
  • Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
  • Cultural values, diversity and heritage
  • Mutual understanding, peace and security

These are further split into practical applications for environmental, economic and social change. From recycling and anti-poaching, domestic travel and buying local, to cultural preservation and inspiring food and music travel, the objectives are realistically achievable by most people.

While the major destinations remain a magnet for tourists, Sisa says, “We’ve painted ourselves into a corner – people think they’ve ‘done’ South Africa when they’ve been to the big attractions. We’re looking at repeat visitors and what else can they explore, and want to attract new people and encourage them to explore every corner.”

The events industry is always on the lookout for new and interesting venues and experiences and Sisa encourages PCOs to see the country as their playing field, to look differently at the kinds of experiences available to their clients. For example, many visitors want to know that their tourism rands and dollars have made a positive impact, he notes, with a view to “adopting a cause” in the area.

Mpumalanga is in the spotlight this year and is focussing on the following:

  • The completion of a number of infrastructure upgrades to improve the experience of both domestic and international tourism.
  • The refurbishment of Pilgrim’s Rest and Waterval Boven (Mgwenya) and increasing the tourism appeal to these towns, marking these as two destinations of choice.
  • Support the bilateral agreements between the BRICS partners and SADC for joint marketing efforts to increase tourism and to attract local and international investment.
  • Further develop the flagship tourism project in Blyde River Canyon with the National Treasury to secure private sector investment.

In addition, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency has launched a Tourism Month programme building up to World Tourism Day on 27 September, which will take place in the fishing destination of Dullstroom. These include:

  • An online “winter” marketing campaign to promote the affordable trade and consumer packages available.
  • A Youth Tourism Seminar hosted in Bushbuckridge to build awareness and generate enthusiasm towards the province’s tourism opportunities among youth in the area.
  • The Innibos Arts Festival to promote media tours and exhibitions during the festival.
  • A Tourism Safety campaign from July to September across all three municipal districts.
  • A Tourism Schools Competition running from July to September in partnership with the Department of Education.

The inaugural Mbombela Jazz Festival is scheduled to take place at the Mbombela Stadium on 9 September and will include a corporate village option, offering a hosting opportunity to entertain clients in a fully staffed and stylish hospitality marquee, with air conditioning, food and beverages, premium bar, cocktail lounge and LCD monitors.

Limpopo Tourism Agency (LTA) is relaunching its new brand and logo on 30 August at Sun Meropa in Polokwane, ready for Tourism Month in September. They will also announce their tourism calendar and focus for the province for the remainder of the year. During the launch, the province will showcase some of its gems, including Kruger National Park, Magoebaskloof Adventures, Bakone Malapa Open-Air Museum, Zwakala Brewery, Mina’s Art Café and Farm Venue, Sefapane Lodge and Safaris, and Town Lodge Polokwane adjacent to Sun International’s Meropa Casino and Entertainment World.

Ugu South Coast Tourism has a range of events on offer during this time, highlighting why KwaZulu-Natal remains popular all year round, including arts, culture, heritage, sports, leisure, beaches, wine festival and a Heritage Day braai. Festivities kick off with the Amakhono Heritage Festival hosted by Mfihlo Guesthouse in rural Bhomela and the Amakhono Arts and Culture Association on 10 September at the Nyandezulu Waterfall and Betania Sports Ground. The festival is a community cultural event featuring traditional music, dance, games, crafts and food, highlighting the wealth of heritage experiences on offer. The Ugu Film Festival, established in 2013 by film director Senzo Zindela, will be held at the Desroches Hotel in Margate from 17 to 18 September. Opening night will include a screening of a documentary on King Shaka, filmed in the South Coast and starring Siyabonga Shibe as the iconic warrior. Television directors and former Generations writer Bongi Ndaba will share their knowledge in a series of workshops and seminars. Head to the website for the full list of exciting events taking place during the month, culminating in a tourism awards ceremony on 29 September in which Ugu South Coast Tourism will recognise tourism providers who do a great job of promoting, transforming and growing the industry.

Durban Tourism is preparing for a bumper season, during which more than 1.4-million visitors are expected to spend their summer holiday. Its marketing message is: “Sunsational Durban, 100% Pure Summer” and this was showcased at key locations in Gauteng during August to remind potential visitors and industry partners what it has to offer. These include Maboneng, Soweto, Thembisa and Sandton City in Johannesburg and Menlyn Mall in Pretoria. The Essence Festival Durban will take place from 26 September to 1 October under the theme “Firing Africa with Inspiration”.

In places like Johannesburg where there is a myriad of experiences on offer to appeal to all budgets and interests, there are also special, lesser-known offerings that add to the rich cultural diversity of the city. Satyagraha House is a fairy recent addition to the Johannesburg heritage scene, owned by the French travel company Voyageurs du Monde Africa. It is a museum and guest house just off Louis Botha Avenue in Orchards and is a serene, quiet and meditative experience in the city. The home was built in 1907 by architect Hermann Kallenbach and Gandhi shared the house in 1908 and 1909. Originally called “The Kraal”, it has a series of thatch-roof rondavels and tranquil gardens. There is no entrance fee to the museum for South African citizens, which is open 365 days a year, and the accommodation in the guest house ranges from R2520 per night for a comfort room to R8160 per night for a family cottage. All food served in the restaurant is organic and vegetarian, with much of the fresh produce grown on the property. No alcohol is served and the establishment is without the distractions of televisions. Swaady Martin of Yswara teas recently created a special blend in honour of Gandhi and the simple, minimalistic lifestyle he lived towards the end of his life. The Satyagraha House bespoke tea blend is a chai Malawian verbena tisane, consisting of cinnamon pieces, black tea, lemon verbena, cloves, ginger, cardamom, honeybush, rooibos and rosebuds.


For a full list of some 90 small businesses or “Hidden Gems” around the country showcased at this year’s tourism Indaba in Durban in May, head to the expo’s website (also listed in the sidebar). These include black-owned SMEs that have, with funding from the National Department of Tourism through its Tourism Incentive Programme, received coaching and upskilling to become market-ready.

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