To develop, township tourism needs new areas of focus, according to stakeholders in the tourism sub-sector.
The areas of product diversity and destination marketing were highlighted during a webinar focused on Soweto tourism, hosted by Johannesburg in Your Pocket. Tourism Update approached other township tourism organisations to weigh in.
“Soweto is a proxy for other townships across the country of what is possible,” said CEO of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, acknowledging that the township’s tourism offerings were some of the most developed in the country.
Less-developed townships like Alexandra, close to Sandton, are dealing with different issues. “Township tourism is relatively new, and so there are a lot of issues that haven’t yet been addressed,” said CEO of Greater Alexandra Tourism and Heritage Association (GATHA), Paul Maluleke.
A major issue in Alexandra, according to Maluleke, is that tourism businesses lack the resources and knowledge to be properly accredited and to ensure the compliance needed for government assistance. “Most people started their tourism businesses as a way out of poverty, and development has been slow but it is even worse now that our businesses are not fully operational due to the lockdown.”
In Soweto, the businesses are established but the way the market is seen is evolving. “I’ve heard from tourists that they don’t like the glamour of Vilakazi Street – they see the fancy cars and nice places but just next to it they see the shacks and the poverty. It’s good to offer inclusivity and be able to offer more diverse products,” said Founder of Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, Lebo Malepa.
A fellow panellist during the Soweto webinar agreed with Malepa, adding that tourists needed to be given a reason to explore the destination for longer than just a day’s visit. “Soweto is a city and it has a story, and it’s not just one story. It’s important to create experiences that keep them in Soweto,” said GM of the Soweto Theatre, Nomsa Mazwai. “We aren’t only selling the theatre, we want to sell the whole weekend. Spend the whole weekend in Soweto!”
Expanding product offerings and being more inclusive of the surrounding community are also on the list for Alexandra – but first there is groundwork to be done according to Maluleke.
Alexandra has diverse tourism offerings that include a shopping mall, museum, several art galleries and heritage sites. “The heritage sites are not fully operational as they are not well maintained,” he said, adding that the community needed to take ownership of these tourism offerings and support their upkeep. “There are still lots of gaps but we are working towards being self-reliant.”
Tourism packages in Alexandra were usually reliant on the international market, but Maluleke said they were being redesigned to appeal to the domestic market. “We need to change the mind-set and get communities involved. Through education about tourism the communities can embrace it and we can develop.”
The marketing for township tourism businesses can also be tricky as many of the smaller operators do not have access to major marketing tools. “SA Tourism is in a position where we have lots of eyes on our website and we want to include as many small businesses as possible in that down-stroke,” said Ntshona, emphasising that drawing attention to township tourism offerings and small operators was a priority of the destination management company.
The reality for many township-based operators is having to market via social media with little or no costs but not getting as much exposure to target markets. Maluleke said GATHA had multiple social media pages marketed at different demographic groups. “We also receive some publicity from organisations like Sandton Tourism and Business Association or Gauteng Tourism,” he explained.