South Africa - The legacy
A lot has happened in South Africa since the final whistle was blown on the World Cup last year. The tournament required a heavy and sustained investment in the tourist infrastructure of South Africa with a considerable upgrade in the country’s transport and communication links. South Africa has also benefited from a phenomenal amount of positive publicity with cities, seascapes, wildlife and wildernesses presenting an unforgettable backdrop to the tournament.
The ability to host the huge influx of football supporters comfortably and safely together with the positive image presented by the world’s media has meant that South Africa is now on the radar of tourists around the globe - a factor that's already manifesting itself in increased arrivals from key developing markets. What's more, the dramatic revitalisation that the World Cup breathed into South Africa's tourism industry is still very evident in terms of the new products, new attractions and improved infrastructure that have greatly enhanced the overall tourist experience.
World Travel Market – an annual tourism event held at the Excel Exhibition Centre in London - is an ideal vehicle for South Africa to promote itself as a well established and maturing destination. The first day of the exhibition saw huge interest in the wide variety of products and destinations available in South Africa and a key attraction was a high-tech interactive digital ‘Touch Table’ which offered visitors a unique opportunity to browse numerous leisure experiences available throughout South Africa; including everything from destination profiles, maps, resort information and even suggested holiday itineraries. I couldn’t resist the temptation to try out the table myself and found it to be easily navigable with detailed maps, images and other tourist information. It also brought an element of fun to a routine function.
The ‘Touch Table’ was revealed by TV gardening expert Monty Don, who had recently explored South Africa to showcase the unique flora of the Western Cape. His enthusiasm about the area was palpable; in particular the rediscovery of the nation’s floral culture with European style gardens slowly being replaced by pre-colonial style flora. He also keenly reminisced about the environmental awareness which was displayed by hotels and tourist facilities which displayed a ‘deep horticultural and social responsibility’. As a gardening expert he enjoyed the many public and private gardens in the area, but was particularly taken by the wild beauty of the garden at the Babylonstoren farm in the Cape Winelands region. In summing up his visit to South Africa, Monty delighted in the uncontained environment, the smells, sounds and rawness of the African experience and described it as one of the ‘most surprisingly beautiful’ places he’d been.
I discovered first hand evidence of the commitment of many in the tourism industry to responsible tourism when I chatted to Johan Kleinhans from Fairfield Tours. Whilst providing tourism services to international tour operators and travel partners the company requests a small voluntary ‘tax’ which is integrated into the cost price of the arrangements provided. Some of this money has been invested in the Saasveld Campus in Georgia (part of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) which helps train the nature conservationists of tomorrow.
This commitment to reinvestment, social responsibility and sustainability seems to be inherent in the fabric of South African tourism, something which will hopefully become a standard throughout the world in the years to come.