South Africa’s ‘forgotten provinces’ – which mostly do not feature as more than possibly a convenient overnight stop on most tour itineraries – need to rethink their product offering and development strategy.

“And we must rethink tourism marketing for destinations – particularly for rural areas – as there is a definite opportunity for rural post-COVID-19 travel,” said Alan Roxton Wiggill, Travel Destination Specialist and former CEO of the N12 Treasure Route in a response to a Tourism Update article on marketing these ‘forgotten’ provinces.

His full letter:

Boitumelo, a good article that raises the level of debate in the most critical area of the tourism and travel arena – product development, product marketing, government involvement and then the tourism associations’ involvement and composition.

I was CEO of the N12 Treasure Route and the challenges faced to develop and popularise it were very complex due to the nature of the project. It covered six provinces, 14 districts and required co-ordination of over 50 rural towns and a number of metros (including Jo’burg) along with private- and public-sector co-operation.

The lack of any understanding of travel, local, regional and national tourism in the tourism bodies from top to bottom, the political and other racially divisive parties involved in this industry, made it near impossible to make anything happen on a route that should have been one of SA's gems of travel.

Destination marketing is essential, as is planning what products the travel public WANT. This always seems to be the last thing considered. What do the travellers want, rather than we have this so market it anyway.

In one of the comments to the article, ‘Stanvan’ highlights this problem so clearly (and Wesgro is the best of the rest when it comes to tourism marketing DMOs) – there is little specific focus on product and customer, no focus on specific destinations and their appeal and finally, complete chaos within the destination marketing organisations in South Africa, provinces, local destinations – the main problem is so much deeper than just a distant DMO doing a local DMO's job.

But the local infighting, racial divide, political divide and fighting have left a complete vacuum in the Garden Route area for locals to drive their own product marketing and development.

The Garden Route was one of the gems of the N12 Treasure Route but it simply fell off the map with all the others, as people weren’t working together and even fewer considered promoting their real travel assets and appeal to a focused travel public.