If you travel a little further north past the city of Polokwane, you will come to place called Venda where you will find the holy forest. Covered in thick white mist and with an austere silence broken only by the chattering of the birds or the eerie tinkling of the bells of the cows which roam that area, the forest receives its legend from the first King of the Venda tribe, Dimbanyika. He became stuck in a cave in the forest and his dog escaped and managed to find his son Thoyandou who could not free his father but promised him that he would unite all the Venda tribes.
Thoyandou was successful in doing this and is known as the one of the greatest Kings and now the largest village is known as Thoyandou. Thoyandou literally means head of the elephant. Now if you ever make your way there, Venda men say hello by saying, Ndaa and women reply by saying, Aaa. And the phrase Nda comes from Nda ndou, which means hello elephant. Today, legend says that Thoyandou’s spirit guards the holy forest in the form of a white lion.
In South Africa, tourism currently contributes 3% of Gross Domestic Product. I think we often don’t tell our greatest stories enough – in fact I am not sure how many of our people locally know the story I related above – yet we hold some of the world’s most gorgeous landscapes, we have a diverse people and we are home to some of the greatest icons. Tourism must be a high growth sector which can be used to propel our economy.
There are several measures that I think we can use to entice more visitors to our shores. In terms of younger visitors, and we can understand millennials especially see travel as a high priority, we should begin formulating an annual musical festival that can attract newer younger visitors. This can be like Coachella in the US or Glastonbury in the UK and if you think we are aiming too high, Malawi annually hosts the music festival, the Lake of Stars against the backdrop of Lake Malawi. Our low cost of living remains low, we have energetic and talented artists and we can use an iconic setting such as Soweto, rooted in history to popularize our unique offering. These events should also have a quintessential South African feel to them so that goers experience our deep sense of culture.
Our state airline and all the challenges it has seen in the past must offer a free (nothing is free) stopover as it carries to routes either in Africa or as a connection to South America or the Australasia’s. We can then utilize this as a gateway into Africa and generate profits from tourists travelling to the safaris in Botswana, the mountains of Rwanda or the Victoria Falls in Zambia. Airlines in the United Arab Emirates and Israel have used this tool effectively to generate airline profitability and enhance tourism.
The embassies and consulates set up all over the world by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation must also be set targets in terms of visitor attraction to our country. We enjoy a strong global positioning and thus have access to the global economy and we invest significant resources in the infrastructure we have set up in these countries. There should be no travel fair hosted where South Africa does not enjoy presence.
Travel is known to broaden horizons. South Africa, globally has the greatest story I my own opinion to tell. It’s time for us and our young people to tell our story to the world – and indeed to broaden the worlds horizons to what the power of reconciliation can do.
Waseem Carrim is the Chief Executive of the National Youth Development Agency.