Destination tourism is not a new concept, but these days tourists are becoming more interested in what they can do and the variety of activities available to them in a particular area, making this concept more relevant and important than ever.
The habits of the time-constrained, modern tourist make the need for a collaborative marketing strategy for an area’s tourism stakeholders essential and the trend in tourism is leaning more and more towards marketing an area as a destination or ‘tourism node’.
These nodes are areas which play host to a concentration of tourist activities and accommodation.
The newly formed Drakensberg Experience route’s chairman, Chris Hearne said: “Currently the average tourist is eager to travel, is financially well off, but is time poor and wants to see and experience more in a shorter time period.
“So ultimately, they will experience what they can in the time given and then move on to the next destination.
“The Drakensberg Experience was started in 2008 as an initiative between the NGO Open Africa and the Bushman’s River Tourism Authority (BRTA).
“The then chairman, Lawence Fenner, heard about Open Africa building sustainable tourism routes in South Africa and approached them to set up a route which would encompass the Umtshezi and uKhahlamba municipal areas and focus on the majestic northern and central Drakensberg.”
As a result the new route was born and centred on the Drakensberg World Heritage site, including the Northern and Central Drakensberg and has since been administered by the BRTA with a healthy membership of over 100 members made up by the relevant local tourism and hospitality stakeholders.
The route starts at Hidcote in the south, goes through to the Sterkfontein Dam in the north and includes the towns of Estcourt, Winterton, Bergville, Weenen and Geluksburg; covering the area up to but not including the towns of Colenso and Ladysmith.
According to Hearne, the major advantage for tourist stakeholders being members of the Drakensberg Experience is the exposure through worthwhile, collaborative and cost-effective marketing tools.
They are not only featured on the Open Africa website, within the tourist map produced by Drakensberg Experience and included on the N3 Gateway website (the tourism arm of the N3TC, the toll concession holders for the N3 highway), but also through all other marketing and PR initiatives being undertaken by the association.
N3 Gateway’s objective is to persuade travellers using the N3 to exit the highway and spend time on their way to or from the sea at any of the amazing tourist destinations along the way.
The N3 Gateway launched their own website last year and all Drakensberg Experience Route members will now enjoy exposure on this medium through their membership with the tourism route.
Hearne added: “Being part of a much bigger umbrella organisation has given us access to all the major outdoor and tourism trade shows where N3 Gateway participate with their own stand.
“This is a huge bonus to our members as it creates a much larger marketing base and gives the various products the platform to demonstrate to the possible future travellers that they offer reliable and quality tourism experiences.”
Now that the Drakensberg Experience route’s mechanisms are in place, the main drive is to expand the vision to look beyond their doorstep and adopt a broader strategy.
Discussions are afoot with the Maloti / Drakensberg Route Forum to establish a route encompassing Lesotho, the Drakensberg Experience Route and ultimately giving the larger tourist area a much bigger marketing budget. Chris Hearne feels strongly that they need much more exposure through the South African embassies overseas and access to public sector funding which is currently nonexistent.
“At present the perception of our country worldwide is that we are a 2 stop holiday destination - Kruger and Cape Town – and we need to change that”, Hearne added.
“We have a fantastic product - the Drakensberg - but not only that, we also have the natural wonders of a World Heritage site, game reserves close by, a number of battlefield sites and numerous examples of Bushman Rock Art.
“To attract tourists in large numbers, we need a holistic marketing plan implemented by those with a vested interest in tourism funded by public resources with no bureaucratic strings attached,” he concluded.