Home arrow Blog arrow Do tourists want to spend time in a rural village, eating rural food, talking to rural people?

Do tourists want to spend time in a rural village, eating rural food, talking to rural people?

Author: Claire Allison | Monday, 12 November 2012

Claire AllisonRecently my daughter and some friends walked the Wild Coast, they spent every night with local villagers. They ate ‘delicious’ food, were comfortable, felt safe and hugely enjoyed the journey of discovery……….as well as the scenery. Why don’t more of us local tourists do this, and how can we get the message to international tourists? (Steuart Pennington)

Claire Allison provides some options

Tourism is one of the biggest job creators in the world and was recognised by the G20 as a driver of economic growth at the G20 summit in Mexico in June this year, marking the first time travel and tourism has been included in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration.  What has become clear is that local enterprises desperately need a traveller market to connect to in order for this to work and for jobs to not only be created, but sustained.

Driving through the picturesque landscape of Limpopo, many travellers, on their way to the Kruger National Park or one of the surrounding private game lodges, ‘miss’ an opportunity.

Ideally these travellers, both local and international, would, on their way to their destination of choice, overnight in the local towns/villages to truly experience the substantial cultural diversity we have to offer in the ‘real’ Africa.

Recently, Western Union (a money transfer business) has sponsored a travel route in the Limpopo province along the western border of the Kruger National Park where the perfect opportunity exists for travellers to get the best of both worlds - a taste of real Africa and the ultimate safari experience.

Through the "adoption" of this travel route and marketing efforts Western Union aims to drive travellers into off-the-beaten track areas to learn more about the culture, history and heritage of the surrounding areas.

Their intention is clear…. sustainable tourism, sustainable job creation and sustainable livelihoods in these parts.

Says Bertha Shlaisi Baloyi of the Greater Giyani Jewellery Project in Giyani, a town approximately 80km north of Phalaborwa which used to employ 39 beaders and now employs only 11 people. Most of her staff have left for greener pastures as they were not generating enough income. "We make beautiful things but we need to connect to a market, our staff are trained for up to five years in various traditional Shangaan beading techniques but without a market we cannot survive."

Rich Mabunda, the project manager at Thomo Heritage Park 8km outside of Giyani supports this.

"Thomo Heritage Park is an Iron Age site and living museum where guests can sleep in traditional Tsonga huts, dine on traditional fare and enjoy the culture and history. We get visitors from as far as China, Holland and the United States of America. But sometimes we can go up to three months without visitors."

"My guided tours are well received, but we battle with the basics because of the unpredictable nature of guest visits". 

"This is the sad reality for most rural tourism enterprises. If the market was sustainable, more jobs could be created, standards would improve and rural areas would thrive on the influx of travellers. This would give local communities a sense of pride in their heritage and the attractions in their area as well as the working capital for the resources they currently can’t afford."

In a country so rich with cultural heritage and history, diverse people and places and a plethora of attractions to keep just about any visitor happy, why is it that travellers are bypassing the rest of South Africa to get to ‘the good stuff’ when so much of it is right on our doorstep?

The only solution seems to be that travellers across the world should all be working towards discovering more about the country they live in, not only to uncover the hidden treasures, but in support of job creation, quality work, poverty reduction and global growth.

Open Africa is a non-profit organisation that uses tourism as an economic platform to create and sustain jobs in rural Africa. Western Union recently sponsored Open Africa’s Rixile Culture to Kruger Route in an effort to support rural tourism and economic development in the area stretching from Phalaborwa to Giyani. For more information, visit www.openafrica.org

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