As the wheels of the South African tourism industry begin to spin again, it should take advantage of the free assets that are scarce in many of its source markets – things we have in abundance, like peace and quiet, a dark skies, dirt roads and clean air.
Destinations around the world will vie for tourists as countries emerge from lockdowns imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pent-up demand could lead to increased travel after the lockdown, but the financial viability of South Africa’s tourism industry depends on regular tourist arrivals and the ability to support them.
Tourism marketing and operational budgets have been cut, making the construction of new attractions to create additional reasons to travel to South Africa unlikely in the short term. We can take advantage of what South Africa already has in abundance, however, and luckily these under-sold assets fit perfectly into what the post-containment traveler is looking for.
Post-lockdown travel trends include the desire for outdoor travel, uncrowded destinations, and personal travel bubbles with an emphasis on physical and mental health and well-being. South Africa can meet these needs in spades and has a few more strengths to tap into when selling its history.
This applies not only to the country as a whole, but also to smaller establishments and towns looking for a way to highlight things South Africans take for granted, but which are not necessarily available in our source markets. Below are four strengths South Africa should harness to attract the post-containment tourist and support the recovery of the tourism industry.
The Milky Way is not an uncommon sighting in South Africa
The Milky Way has dominated the night sky throughout human existence, but due to light pollution, a third of humanity is unable to see this spectacle. For many people, the night sky is gone – 80% of Americans and 60% of Europeans cannot see the Milky Way. The privilege of seeing our native galaxy is a privilege South Africans might take for granted, but for many visitors it is a magnificent sight and rare to see.
While astronomical tourism is on the rise and International Starry Sky Locations increasingly encourages countries to recognize and preserve the night sky. To date, only one site in South Africa – the! Ae! Hai Kalahari Heritage Park south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – has been certified as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.
We know South Africa has many more sites with the potential to be certified with the International Dark Skies designation, and while we put those documents in order, promote the fact that you are guaranteed to see the Milky Way when you are visiting South Africa.
The delicious diversion of dirt roads
Road trips in your own travel bubble have sparked increased interest as people rediscover the joy of the open road. South Africa’s road network is well developed, with good paved roads to all major tourist spots. Its dirt roads take you through spectacular landscapes and unusual and unusual places. But have we considered the dirt road to be something to market?
How many of our main source markets already have the ability to drive on a dirt road? CNN voted Route 62 through the Klein Karoo one of the top 10 road trips in the world, but many travelers may never have been used to driving on dirt roads before.
Quiet spaces as a resource in a noisy world
Quiet spaces are quickly disappearing as our increasingly urbanized world becomes louder and louder. Quiet spaces are not necessarily silent spaces, but spaces where the sounds of nature can be heard again – songs of birds, insects, falling leaves or the sound of walking in tall grass.
In the United States, 97% of people are exposed to noise from aviation and highways. A study found that humans have doubled the background noise level in 63% of protected areas in this country. The three noisiest cities in the world are Guangzhou in China, Cairo in Egypt and New Delhi in India, the latter also being one of the most polluted cities in the world.
Natural calm, the ability to listen to the sounds of nature without noise pollution, is becoming a scarce commodity as the majority of people in the world are surrounded by human-made noises.
Quiet Parks International (QPI) is committed to maintaining calm – being able to listen to nature without noise pollution – for both humans and wildlife, which requires acoustic silence to communicate and thrive. QPI aims to create places in every country where people can go to experience natural calm. The organization lists more than 260 sites around the world that have potential for QPI status and hopes to have 50 certified sites by 2050.
The first wild and calm park was declared in the Zabalo River region in northern Ecuador. South Africa and South African parks are teeming with tranquility – it’s time to take advantage of that asset and feature our Quiet Spaces on QPI.
Fresh air is free but in limited supply
Poor air quality is a major factor in many mega-cities around the world, affecting the quality of life and long-term health of people. Fresh, clean air has become even more desirable now that being outdoors is recommended to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19.
Most of South Africa has good quality fresh air (Gauteng and parts of Mpumalanga being the exception). This, combined with a wide range of outdoor activities and dining options, is exactly the tourist offer that international visitors look for when they arrive.
Dark skies, dirt roads, still spaces and clean air are increasingly rare and are certainly not the norm in the majority of our source markets. Combine them with our unparalleled wildlife, the fact that the majority of our tourism offering is outdoors, and now the My octopus teacher effect of the focus on local kelp forests, and we have a story to tell that fits perfectly with post-containment travel interests.
Let’s make sure these assets get the attention they deserve. DM