Tourism in South Africa: authentic, personal, world-beating

dolphins knysna, Springtide Sailing Charters, dolphin watching knysna“Oos, wes, tuis bes” – “east, west, home’s best.” But it sounds better in Afrikaans because, well… home.


A recent family tour of several countries in Europe left Ocean Odyssey owner, Evelyn Pepler, more convinced than ever before that South Africa is way ahead of many places in the world when it comes to the quality of its attractions and activities.


Not because ours are bigger and better than anywhere else – but because they’re *smaller* and better.


“Our focus was to show our kids Europe, but the experience wasn’t always a pleasant one – and the reason was mass tourism,” she said.


“It’s like being a bunch of sheep – you wait in the queue for hours to see the Mona Lisa or the Eiffel Tower, and then you race to stand in another queue to see the next thing.


“And yes, it’s nice and it’s very important to see those things – but the experience is very impersonal.”


Ev said that she couldn’t help comparing the mass tourism the family encountered with home, “and how amazing things are here for us, and how different our tourism offerings are.”


She said that she’s concerned that some politicians and businesspeople in South Africa aspire to tourism growth at almost all costs.


“It makes me a bit sick to think of it: possibly it could happen in Cape Town, but I’d be very sad to see it, because mass tourism is the beginning of the end for places like that.”


And mass tourism carries with it another danger, too:


Mark Twain’s famous quote – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” – falls flat in the face of mass tourism (it’s difficult to feel charitable towards one’s fellows when you’re squashed in a queue of sweating humanity in a foreign country where you’re being charged a fortune for an experience that’s worth paying for. But not THAT much worth paying for.)


South Africa: rare and precious

Ev said that South Africa’s tourism offering is rare and precious.


“This is a country of amazing activities and experiences” – not just because of the incredible beauty of the country, but also because most attractions and adventures in South Africa remain sufficiently small and personal as to allow real contact between our people and our visitors.


In the Algarve, she said, a typical tourist boat trip would carry more than a hundred people at a time.


At attractions Ocean Odyssey and Springtide Sailing Charters, on the other hand, “We’re small enough to care, small enough to make an impression on people, and small enough to share our passions with them.


“There’s nothing in Europe like we do here – and what we do is so brag-worthy,” said Ev.


She now believes that South Africa might need to begin legislating and planning against mass tourism.


“I don’t doubt that there are a hundred guys with big, big ideas in the pipeline to throw out some expensive experiences into the Mother City.


“I’m not sure I can speak against it, but I would caution them to look at it very carefully because it is potentially the beginning of the end for an attraction like that.”


  • For more about the challenges of mass tourism – and its many workable alternatives – please like Conscious Travel on Facebook, and read Anna Pollock’s Conscious Travel – not more but better, below.

Video interview: Evelyn Pepler



Conscious Travel – not more but better


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