The large majority of South Africans tend to travel locally only if it’s to visit family and friends in another part of the country. When they get there, they don’t leave the area or stray from that purpose.
As a result, the local tourism industry caters predominantly for international travellers visiting our shores. Is this due to a lack of desire for adventure that South Africans aren’t exploring their own beautiful backyard, or because the industry isn’t designing products for domestic tourists?
Thebe Tourism Group CEO, Jerry Mabena, believes it’s the latter, but says that new innovations in local tourism are set to change things.
“Traditionally, the model has been about getting the traveller to fit the product. That simply does not work in the emerging market, where the product must fit the market,” he explains.
“With a rich, diverse history and array of heritage sites across our country, we need to be creating packages for locals that tell the South African story,” he says. “There is a huge gap in the market to tap into domestic tourism, which is why rejuvenating domestic travel is one of our key focus areas.”
Why travel closer to home? For a start, it’s significantly more affordable than an overseas trip. To make it even more affordable, consider the power of travelling in a group.
Group travel tour operator, Soul Traveller Tours, launched in September, offering packages highlighting the best of what’s right in our own backyard.
Penny Ndlela, founder and CEO of Soul Traveller Tours says that many South Africans continue to find domestic travel daunting, owing to a history where not everyone was able to move freely.
Ndlela, with a background in hospitality, marketing and communication, has always enjoyed travelling and has years of experience in conducting group tours across Europe and the Middle East. But her desire has been to create a similar experience for South Africans within our own borders.
“Access is still a barrier in our minds as we still feel there are places we are not welcome,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons we focus on group travel - to reduce the anxiety of travelling alone.”
For those without a travel buddy, it’s intimidating to set off solo across the country. Ndlela says that many people simply will not travel for this reason. Joining a group, she says, is a way to feel secure and confident enough to take the leap.
“We’ve also developed relationships with service providers along our routes, enabling us to offer superb discounts and exclusive packages for the travellers,” Ndlela adds.
Soul Traveller Tours has also partnered with www.iamjoburg.africa and www.afropunk.com offering travel packages to international guests who will be exploring South Africa with local travellers before and during the Afropunk festival in Jozi at the end of December.
Soul Traveller Tours primarily focuses on immersive travel between two cities offering six travel packages - each inspired by one of the colours of the South African national flag. The tours span five days and four nights, with three meals being provided each day.
For example, a brand new Red Route – launched in September - takes travelers through an adventure-filled Mzansi food journey – sampling vetkoek “kneaded by a tannie”, Cape Malay curries, bobotie, fish on the braai and much more. The adventure begins in Cape Town’s city centre taking guests to Langebaan on the West Coast, via food markets, townships, beaches, distilleries and breweries.
“The tour is about experiencing urban culture, and immersing oneself in the history of South Africa through the culinary influences that have shaped our country’s palate,” says Ndlela.
Besides the immersive tours, Soul Traveller Tours also, specialises in immersive events that are short experiences, usually lasting a few hours that for example, could include a typically African lunch followed by an exclusive invitation to view and buy creations by African and South African fashion designers. These experiences provide the traveller with a glimpse of what the full 5 day, 4 night experience is all about.
An astounding 60% of Soul Traveller’s clients so far have been first-time travellers. Many have noted that the places they have seen were completely unknown to them.
So, whether you’re looking to join a group of like-minded adventurers, discover this diverse country with your family, experience the ultimate journey with your friends, or partake in a team-building staff trip, or need an immersive transformation experience for your team you don’t need to look far to discover the soul of South Africa.