The impact of COVID-19 on South Africa’s tourism industry has highlighted a legacy issue in the industry – ensuring a broader geographic spread of tourism. In this last instalment in a series of articles, Tourism Update further explores how Limpopo, the Free State and the Eastern Cape overcome the issue of distance.
Lack of tourism infrastructure and road accessibility were the biggest challenges to outlying tourist attractions and areas, said former CEO of the N12 Treasure Route and Travel Destination Specialist, Alan Roxton Wiggill.
“Unfortunately the poorer the provinces, the worse the roads are. I looked into doing a self-drive 4x4 offering in Limpopo a few years ago but unfortunately the roads were bad, even for 4x4 vehicles.
“As a result, the most beautiful places in Limpopo and other provinces are not visited, which is sad. I believe international tourists would like to see what’s in these outlying areas but tour operators stick to what they know.”
Roxton Wiggill said lack of marketing fuelled the challenges posed by distance. “The focus on what is in these outlying areas isn’t marketed well enough. The general mood needs to move from city tourism to more rural tourism.”
Domestic tourism offers an opportunity
Domestic tourism is currently the main focus in South Africa as the first in a gradual, phased reopening of the tourism sector following travel restrictions implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Chairperson of the Free State SATSA chapter, Dr Johan Hattingh, told Tourism Update that distance posed less of a challenge for the domestic market than for the international market.
“The central location of the Free State works well for weekend trips from Gauteng, certain areas from KwaZulu Natal and from the Free State capital, Bloemfontein. Parys is excellently situated for day tourism from Gauteng, whereas Clarens is well situated for weekend tourism,” said Hattingh.
He said although the Free State had a plethora of attractions that could add value to international tourists, the distance from main tourist areas such Big Five game parks, Gauteng and the coast, was definitely a hindrance.
“The Free State is poised to benefit from small groups of international travellers who have seen the majority of South Africa and are interested in doing a self-drive trip to enjoy the countryside,” he said.
CEO of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, Vuyani Dayimani, said there was no escaping from the fact that South Africa was a long-haul destination. “Air access is also an economic development issue with flights to more far out areas being more costly. The cost of doing business may be higher for remote tourism areas as they are difficult to access,” said Dayimani.
“Travellers ae going to want to visit destinations that make good economic sense because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Road network connectivity needs to be developed to ensure remote tourism areas get business from various tourism markets.”
“We will always welcome co-ordinated efforts for accessibility to provinces like the Eastern Cape. We are looking forward to working on an airlift strategy to further develop airports such as Port Elizabeth International Airport and Mthatha Airport.”
Dayimani said budgets for provincial tourism bodies would continue to play big role in overcoming distance challenges in a post-COVID South Africa. “Tourism has more limited resources because of the impact of the pandemic with the national department getting a budget cut and many tourism businesses having to close permanently.
“People will want to go to destinations that make economic sense and not destinations that are difficult to get to that will cost them more. This is why all efforts to develop accessibility are even more important than ever.”