Dewani effect hurts township tourism

2011-11-26 14:24

Beyond Table Mountain, which has become the quintessential tourist image of Cape Town, lies another world – a vast area known as the Cape Flats, inhabited by those condemned by apartheid to eke out an existence.

This is a world – punctuated by townships such as Manenberg, Gugulethu, Hanover Park, Khayelitsha and Langa – that is off the radar for most tourists. But the political changes that came in 1994 positively affected the area as they created opportunities for residents to live more meaningful lives.

The 2010 Fifa World Cup multiplied these opportunities. Tourism businesses not usually associated with the townships sprang up.

Life seemed rosy for entrepreneurs in this sector.

That was until the night of November 13 last year, when young British bride Anni Dewani was murdered while honeymooning with her husband Shrien.

The heart-breaking story reinforced the fear many tourists have of being caught up in crime in South Africa.Suddenly, the focus of the world was on South Africa.

Crime was given as the reason our country is considered an unsafe tourist destination despite the fact that the World Cup was free of serious crimes.

Colleague Linda Mase speaks for all of us at the Western Cape’s official destination marketing organisation, Cape Town Routes Unlimited, when he says his first reaction was: “Oh no, we don’t need this after hosting the World Cup. I was hoping that this would not affect tourism in the townships.”

We hoped so too, and so did township-based tour operators and the owners of hospitality establishments.

As Mase mused: “The image of townships as destinations was damaged. Let’s face it, travellers are adults who follow the news and make up their own minds. They can isolate incidents. This was not different. It was out there.”

Of course – as the British tabloids feasted on this story – jobs, futures and big investments were at stake. So too was the damage to our reputation as a safe destination, not only as a city but as a country as well.

We intervened when we heard that some township tourism players were planning a march to declare that their areas were safe. They wanted to say: “We’re not all like those killers.’’

We realised that such a march could be counterproductive. Instead, we held a meeting at Mzoli’s – a successful tourist establishment in Gugulethu.

 We resolved to use this tragedy to build something positive and out of this came the CEO’s Breakfast, an event which we use to show that tourism affects everyone, black and white.

This intervention brought stability and began to restore confidence in the Western Cape’s township tourism industry.The determination of the police to catch the killers also helped change the slanted picture that some newspapers were painting abroad.

The news that suspects had been arrested also broke the hold that the bad press held over us.When it was reported that Shrien Dewani was a suspect and had allegedly hired men to kill his wife, the tide began to turn.

This month, it’s a year since Anni was brutally killed. There are dangerous signs that some people in our society don’t realise that tourists want a happy, crime-free holiday filled with beautiful memories and pictures, which will induce them to return.

Memories of militant workers on strike at Robben Island Museum being pepper-sprayed by police don’t fall into this category. Robben Island is a world heritage site, a symbol associated across the world with our long march to freedom.

This is the memory we want tourists to carry away with them. We recognise that workers have the right to strike, but we don’t condone violence, nor do we approve when their action is the image that tourists associate with our country.

Workers, particularly those in the tourism industry, have to realise that visitors to symbolic sites want to savour the experience. Perceptions have the potential to inflict serious damage on industries as fragile as tourism.

Reports of increased mugger activity on Table Mountain are not good either. The latest report that a tourist broke a leg while trying to escape from muggers does not inspire confidence.

There is a link between crime, militant trade union activity and tourism.If we don’t get a grip on this, Cape Town winning the Design Capital of the World crown a few weeks ago will not be enough to lure plane-loads of tourists to the Mother City, Western Cape or South Africa.

We will shortly launch our Summer Campaign, cognisant that tourists want to be safe and inconvenienced as little as possible, whether it’s in the townships or on such landmarks as Table Mountain or Robben Island.

We need to turn perceptions around if the tourism business is to continue to grow.

» Gilfellan is chief executive of Cape Town Routes Unlimited 

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