Saturday, July 28, 2007

“What do Tourists Really Want?”

- Sue and Richard Dean -

This was the question Caroline Gelderblom was able to answer when she addressed the Gourtiz Initiative meeting in Oudtshoorn on 20 June this year. Her answers were based on surveys with tourists and tourism service providers in and around Oudtshoorn in winter and summer last year and will help the industry recognise gaps in service provision and identify new market opportunities. Most tourists (80%) to the Little Karoo are South Africans (60% Afrikaans speaking). Foreign tourists are mainly from the UK, Germany and Holland.

Tourists ranked natural beauty, peace and the friendliness of local people highest in selecting the Oudtshoorn area for their vacation, whereas golf, hunting and quad bikes were among the lowest ranked attractions. Most preferred mountains to vlaktes, nature to cultivated lands and villages to cities.

Gravel roads did not discourage tourists from visiting rural parts of the Karoo. With the exception of the Kunstefees visitors, most tourists said that they preferred gravel to tarred roads, provided that they are well maintained and signposted.

What tourists do enjoy is the “niks”, the wide open spaces, mountainous landscape, birds and wildlife, but few notice the plants. Perhaps this reflects how we are marketing our destination? Both the Little Karoo and the Prince Albert area just inland of the Swartberg have an extraordinary variety of succulent plants (vygies, plakkies, melkbosse, nenta, ghaap), many of which are found nowhere else in the world. For example, Bijlia dilitata (Prince Albert vygie) is found near our village and nowhere else on the planet!

A tourism marketing survey in the Oudtshoorn area showed that ostriches are mentioned more often than is warranted by the tourist interest. So were sunny skies – especially as many tourists said that they did not visit for the weather, which was either too hot or too cold! Only 7% of tourist pamphlets mentioned the extraordinary succulent plants of the area, and only 1% of pamphlets mentioned that some of these were found nowhere else in the world. Development and marketing of tourism activities focussed on natural assets, including plants, geology and fossils, could open new opportunities for tourism service providers in our village.

Tourists to Oudtshoorn complained about begging children, poor municipal services and unsightly large signboards. Despite challenges of this kind, new and appropriate tourism activities together with skills training opportunities offered by government, present great opportunities for Little Karoo tourism development.

This is true for Prince Albert as well. So let’s use our plants, friendly people, spectacular landscapes and available training opportunities to develop a sustainable, cultural and nature-based tourism industry for our village.

Let’s not offer our tourists casinos, trail-bikes, bill-boards when they are looking for natural beauty and peace of mind that are missing from city life. If we get this right, we will all benefit.

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