With southern and East Africa developing tourism around its many attractions, Tourism Update looks at ways in which other aspects of the hospitality industry can use the region’s attractions to their advantage.

In order to take full advantage of nearby attractions, industry experts believe offering in-house booking options is most helpful. This is applicable both to accommodation facilities and DMCs. Cathlyn Grieb, Digital Marketing Assistant at Bushtracks Africa says: “We find that many clients choose to book both their accommodation and activities through us, as it’s easier and more convenient to use one company for their entire itinerary.” To this end, Bushtracks has developed an app to make the process easier for clients.

Ross Kennedy, Chief Executive at Africa Albida Tourism (AAT) says in cases like the Victoria Falls region, guests will have certain key activities pre-booked with an operator. “70% of our international guests have three ‘must-dos’ booked prior to arrival: Tour of the Falls, Zambezi River sunset cruise and The Boma Dinner and Drum Show.” Kennedy says that thereafter, guests make extensive use of AAT’s onsite Tours and Activities Desk, where other activities and attractions can be booked. He adds that, as an accommodation organisation, it will also market activities available in the region and assist in bookings for their guests.

“We like to create what we call ‘Added Value Experiences’ or attractions. For example, our daily Vulture Culture experience at 13h00 is an attraction we have created. Our daily presentations, ‘The Life, History and Travels of David Livingstone’ are also popular.”

Another example is The Boma Dinner and Drum show that takes place every evening at the AAT estate. Kennedy explains: “The Boma started 26 years ago as the food and beverage outlet for our Timeshare Resort, Lokuthula Lodges. It was necessary to have a food facility to get RCI grading. The Boma has since become a significant standalone business and brand in the area, and is sold by the majority of agents and operators who package the destination, no matter where the guests are staying.” For AAT guests, it is an added bonus to their stay and is made easier by a complimentary shuttle within the AAT estate to The Boma.

Grieb believes that, to take full advantage of an attraction, one should develop activities around the attraction. For example: “A major drawcard that attracts tourists to the area is the amount of unique activities based around the Victoria Falls. Besides viewing the Falls and touring the area, guests can participate in activities such as river cruises, bungee jumping, abseiling, white-water rafting, visits to Livingstone Island and romantic steam train dinners.” Bushtracks Africa also offers a steam train dinner, which includes a visit to the bridge to view the Falls at sunset.

History and heritage sites are also popular attractions in southern and East Africa. Grieb says: “An interesting heritage site to visit on our region is the burial site of Cecil John Rhodes in Matopos National Park. We find that many people make an effort to visit this area just to visit the grave, as well as marvel at the unique and intriguing landscape and rock formations that surround it.” Nikki Thaver, Product Development Manager at Southern Africa 360, agrees, adding that the Matopos can easily be packaged along with nearby sites like the Falls and Hwange National Park.

For Bushtracks Africa, the towns based near Victoria Falls, namely Livingstone, Zambia, and Victoria Falls Town, provide historic attractions: “These towns have rich and interesting histories, which can be explored through the various museums and heritage sites, as well as by participating in cultural excursions to local villages. A great museum to visit which is very popular with guests visiting the area is the Livingstone Museum in Livingstone, Zambia.”

Sonto Ndlovu, CEO of Limpopo Tourism, adds that culture and heritage are growing attractions in her province: “People are starting to come here not just for our animals, but to engage with our people as well. Tourists want to get to know locals and chat to them about their heritage and culture.

In the rest of the region Thaver says: “Natural heritage sites tend to be more popular amongst tourists. In South Africa, Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula, the Drakensberg and iSimangaliso are the most popular. Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta are popular in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.” Thaver believes there are also lesser-known sites worth a visit. In particular, the Barberton Makhonjiwa Mountains offer excellent hiking, walking and cycling trails as well as geological heritage, and the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape in the Northern Cape offers guests a chance to experience a unique South Africa pastoralist culture.

Key heritage sites in major cities are also drawcards. Thaver says Robben Island is very popular, while Dawn Robertson, CEO of Constitution Hill in Johannesburg says: “Constitution Hill through its identity of heritage and contemporary culture, fosters a collective sense of belonging for people from all parts of the world. A visit to Johannesburg, would be incomplete without a visit to this precinct.”

In terms of packaging heritage sites, Thaver says a lot of popular heritage sites add value to their product by positioning their product well, through training and marketing like roadshows and expos. However, she adds that there are a number of lesser-known sites that are still attractive: “We have linked a few key sites to tours so that people can experience the outskirts of Southern Africa and not only focus on popular sites. We believe that tourists are keen to seek out and visit Unesco sites and other heritage sites and this is where local DMCs and tour operators are most useful.”