In my last blog I gave an overview of the current state of Cultural Tourism in South Africa, and it outlines some of the challenges as I see them.
So what about some solutions?
Firstly, I think we need to remain active in convincing the mainstream tourism industry that the current status quo is not in their interest. The same old itineraries are getting stale. Inclusion of quality cultural tourism product is in the interest of all those who sell South Africa. The research bears this out, but for those who tourism is serving presently, this is not a priority. The large inbound tour operators are the gate keepers, and it is them we need to target and convince. Most of the tourists coming into South Africa come through these inbound operators. Some are really trying to embrace a broader product that is more culturally reflective of who we are as a nation. Others, I fear are simply not being creative at all.
As the social media and internet become more influential in how visitors make decisions, information on the creative cultural products that do exist will become more prevalent, and indeed, Inbound operators who do not comply with a change in what clients want, could find themselves loosing traction in the market. It is important then, that those of us who engage with creative forms of cultural tourism make use of these new channels and opportunities. (I am but a novice in this social media world, but am very aware of the need to engage with this more)
Much work needs to be done on a local government level in terms of educating Tourism Managers, LED officers etc how the industry works. There needs to be a better understanding of the market demands, and in addition, the absolute pre requisite of using a sustainable tourism framework. Currently, most of the money spent is delivering no, or poor results
We must also guard against cultural tourism interpretations that wish to portray cultural tourism as only rural, only traditional and wrapped in a time warp. It must include representations of urban African culture, and the dynamism that makes us such a unique and interesting destination.
We cultural tourism entrepreneurs must engage with organisations like SEDA and other national and provincial entities, to ensure that they provide that much-needed support to the existing enterprises providing quality cultural tourism opportunities. We must engage around initiatives like the TEP Hidden Treasures, and see whether they bear fruit, and ensure we have a voice in the roll out of these programmes. It is often far easier to criticize from the sidelines, but I believe much can be achieved in constructively engaging.
We must raise up those champions of cultural tourism that currently exist. We must benchmark what is good and working, and we must ensure that we continue to find ways to facilitate pro poor business linkages. We as cultural tourism practitioners must collaborate and support one another, share market information and strategies. We have more to gain from co-operation than from viewing one another as competitors.
We must also be vigilant and guard against political opportunism. I had the opportunity to experience this first hand when I worked on the Kwam Emakana Homestay programme,in Grahamstown, where as the project grew in stature, more and more political owners emerged. The end result was that the actual homestay owners, lost a sense of ownership over their own project.
Perhaps if we did this, we would start to see South Africa represented as it should be, and the dominant voice that visitors will experience, will be not one voice, but many diverse, rich voices, which make South Africa a prefered tourism destination around the world!