Deputy Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa, has kicked off government's plans to raise the profile of township tourism by taking a tour of Umlazi in the eThekwini Municipality.
Xasa, accompanied by acting MEC for KZN Economic Development and Tourism, Nomusa Dube and Durban Tourism officials, went to the vibrant township on Friday (03 Feb 2012) to interact with residents and local business owners.
Umlazi is one of the largest townships in South Africa and is said to be home to at least 750 000 people. Government wants to promote tourism in this area and many like it across the country.
Xasa said township tourism formed part of domestic tourism, which the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) has identified as one of the niche markets that require development.
Although Durban attracts major world conferences and events, townships still do not benefit adequately from such events.
Xasa said in the past few years, a number of tourism products in the township have been developed, but these have not seen as much support as establishments in developed areas.
Owner of Ndonga guest house in Umlazi, Peggy Mkhwanazi, told both Xasa and Dube that she was one of many people who struggled to attract business in the townships, especially during the 2010 World Cup and COP17.
Mkhwanazi also said locals were reluctant to pay her rates and wanted discounts because they were South Africans, despite the guest house being equipped with a swimming pool, DSTV and air-conditioning.
Xasa offered a few suggestions that included considering additional services like massages or contacting the department to access funds that could help upgrade the guesthouse.
Mark Mgobhozi, a tour guide and owner of Meluleki Tours, said it was important for the domestic market to support local tourism. Almost all of his clients are international tourists.
Mgobhozi, born and bred in Umlazi, said one of the biggest deterrents was people's perception that the township was unsafe largely due to its history of political violence during apartheid.
He said media reports of isolated incidents did not help people feel safe in townships, but he is hoping with government intervention, attitudes would change.
During the tour, Mgobhozi took Xasa and the rest of the delegation through different sections of Umlazi and highlighted the prominent and historical places to visit.
Government wants to capitalise on job creation opportunities that lie in this sector. According to Xasa, in 2009 tourism contributed around R189 billion to the GDP and provided 500 000 jobs. She emphasised that domestic tourism, if elevated adequately, could bolster job creation.
Township tours have the potential to showcase South Africa's culture and heritage and the Tourism Department wants packages to be developed to achieve that goal.
Xasa said she would continue to visit townships across South Africa to assess what government could do to promote tourism in the respective areas. (via Kemantha Govender - BuaNews)