SA adventure lures Indians

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on December 14, 2011

Ms Hanneli Slabber , Country Head, India, South African Tourism.   -  Rasheeda Bhagat

A dolphin show at one of the water parks in Durban, South Africa   -  Rasheeda Bhagat

In this teenage country, it's not just about the wildlife and game parks — a growing number of tourists are opting for hard adventure sports.

Would you believe that Indian tourists in South Africa — and the numbers are on the rise — are increasingly looking for an adventure? “Yes, it came as a big surprise to us… and I'm not talking of soft adventure such as game parks, wine outings, etc, but really hard adventure,” says Hanneli Slabber, Country Head, India, South African Tourism.

She says tourists who go for hard adventure relate more to a type of personality than a particular nationality. “So you could never say that people who do shark cage diving, whale watching, bungee jumping, and the like, are Americans or French or whatever. They came from all nationalities. But now we find Indians doing hard adventure, which is something we'd never have pushed for Indian tourists!”

Even in bungee jumping, Indians opt for jumping from the highest point — 216 metres — on offer. “Now I, as a South African, have done it… and will never do it again! It is one of those things you need to do once and then say thank you very much.”

But both Indian men and women are bungee jumping, shark cage diving and opting for other adventures. Of course, they are also interested in South Africa's fascinating wildlife.

Responsible tourism

After visiting a private game park near Durban, I am very impressed with the kind of responsible tourism the country promotes, with respect for not only the animals but also the local communities and habitat.

So how did this evolve?

Hanneli, who sits on the accreditation board for free trade and tourism in South Africa, says that when the first responsible tourism regulations and guidelines came out worldwide, “we found we were already doing a lot of it.” Such things do add to the cost of maintaining game resorts but “a lovely thing about travellers is that they are more perceptive and open to these measures. We don't have the luxury to have game lodges that do not pay for themselves. We have set up South African National Parks, such as Kruger, which is bigger than Israel or Wales. But to manage these costs an enormous amount. You could just cordon it off and say ‘leave the animals there' and they will be happy. Or you can work the tourism angle and make people understand how many jobs these animals can create.”

FIFA magic

The FIFA World Cup in 2010 did wonders for the country's travel and tourism sector. “South Africa has always been a wildlife and adventure destination but this gave us two more benefits. We are now getting people into our cities. Also, the World Cup games were played in 10 different stadiums in nine cities; we were forcing people into areas they wouldn't normally visit.”

The mega event also “made us push our capabilities and we are reaping benefits primarily in the Indian market.” Cricket enthusiasts following the teams had three to four days between the matches and sampled different experiences.

The IPL matches, played in South Africa two years ago, helped a great deal in showcasing the country to the hordes of Indian fans. “If you ask South Africans, they'll say ‘can't you please do the IPL every second year in South Africa?' Also, this year's IPL matches were beamed live into South Africa. We watch cricket the way Indians do… we're terribly passionate, terribly loud about the game.”

And then, of course, there was the Gary Kirsten connect between the two countries. “The lovely thing about having Gary is that he is such a good person. Forget about him being a good coach. We couldn't have asked for a better ambassador. It's lovely to hear Indians say he is such a good coach, and add quickly, such a good person too. I've not heard a single bad word about him,” says Hanneli.

Tourism strategy

On South Africa's tourism strategy — last year it got 8.1 million arrivals, the highest in Africa — she says 10 years ago a huge investment was made to understand several things. “Like, when somebody says I want adventure, what does he mean? And, is adventure the same thing when you are Indian or French? We had to find out what experience a tourist wants and then package it the way she wants it.”

A special attempt was made to understand the Indian market and that Indians eat later than other tourists. With Indian arrivals increasing, “one thing we didn't do was bring in a whole lot of Indian chefs and say show us how to do this. Then you are going to eat what you eat at home. We wanted to develop our food offering in South Africa, answering your needs and respecting your personal or religious dietary requirement, but yet give it a South African twist.”

It was a challenge because the food on offer looked and tasted “a little different” but the South African chefs managed the feat and are serving Indians their kind of food with a South African touch.

A teenage country

Hanneli adds that South Africa is “really a teenage country. We want people to like us and we're not sure if we are finding our footing. So that's why the World Cup was so great for us.” At that time the international visitors, particularly the media, were quite amused to be “first welcomed to South Africa, and then, three sentences later, get the question: ‘How do you like our country? What do you think of South Africa?'”

After the World Cup, she adds, a lot of people look at the country differently; “they are finally seeing us outside our political history. It was lovely to be seen as a people instead of South Africa of the CNN or the BBC!

Also, it was wonderful “for us as a nation to say we've done this because we can be very shy and retiring”.

On the apartheid years, Hanneli, who could legally vote for the first time in the 1994 elections, says that any South African who grew up during that period is very politically aware. On how the apartheid policy affected her in a white family, she says she was lucky to be both Catholic and have parents “for whom it was not a political thing but a human rights thing; that people have a right to be treated in a certain way.”

Apartheid years

She adds that the good thing about that period was that when people are “forced to make a choice, they are also forced to think. So luckily, our generation got the opportunity to put its cards on the table and say this is the South Africa that I want to live in. And we keep hammering into our children that you are getting a wonderful country. It is a gift and you can never, ever take it for granted.”

So are the apartheid years firmly behind South Africa?

“Oh yes, we probably have the most liberal constitution anywhere in the world,” says Hanneli.

How do South Africans look at Gandhiji?

“As an absolute hero; every single child in South African schools knows about Gandhi. It is part of the curriculum. Also the connection is so strong; Gandhi gave us the first hook to hang on.”

She adds that the India connect is very strong here; from Bollywood movies to cricket. “Look at the number of South Africans playing in IPL; the number of hockey coaches in South Africa who come from India.”

Hanneli has graduated in anthropology, which she says, helps her understand people better. “Often you don't give people the benefit of doubt because you don't know them or can't understand why they do what they do.” Particularly when it comes to religion, she adds, it's best to ask if you don't understand something. During her first few months in India, she did just that and found “nobody was offended when I asked: ‘Excuse me, but why are you doing this? Or how does this work'. When you ask, people are happy to explain.” On the gender situation, she says women's rights are pretty well entrenched in South Africa's Constitution. “Also, we are a new nation. When we wrote this new constitution, we could go around the world and cherry pick the best examples. It is common for women to go to universities and take up careers."

As for the glass ceiling, she says, “Tourism has always been fairly gender unspecific, and female driven. But, of course, I can't speak about mining but would presume that is more male dominant.”

Published on July 28, 2011

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor