Challenges facing South African Tourism

Described as a ‘world in one country’, South Africa is a highly favoured tourist destination. There are few places in the world where you get beaches, mountains, wild life, great food and wine, spectacular scenery all thrown in one. And the prices are good even though the South Africans themselves complain that they’re rising all the time.

Hout Bay at sunset

But there are some serious issues, some of them easily solved. Here are a few that I noticed on my Christmas 2016 trip.

 

  • Getting through Oliver Tambo International Airport – it took 3 hours for a passenger like me with hand luggage only to get through passport control and pick up a car at Avis/Budget. For those of us with electronic passports, well, there just aren’t any facilities. Every person is screened, photographed, finger-printed by a truly glum, unfriendly controller. Car rental with all your information online, was reduced to filling in pen and ink forms manually all over again and while the staff were friendly and chatty, all of us would have preferred them just to get on with their jobs.
  • Toll roads – please make sure you have South African money if you’re coming from abroad. I was really caught between a rock and a hard place when I got to the first toll road where the toll sensor supplied by Avis/Budget didn’t work and no foreign credit cards were accepted. I had not had a chance to get SA money and was planning on drawing some at the first gas station where you can usually find ATM’s. A kind driver in the truck behind me, paid for my toll and I followed him to the next money withdrawal machine. An angel, to say the least since the chance he took could have cost him!
  • Service – Waitrons as they are called, lack training. When it takes you 30 minutes to get an order of 3 uncomplicated drinks, you know there’s something wrong. Gin and tonic has to be the most common of traditional mixes but for some reason, it took 3 waitrons to make sure that they understood what we wanted. Then it arrived with no ice and no slice of lemon. It’s as if they make their own lives complicated too. As you walk by, pick up the plates, notice the new patrons, take their orders, remember what they said…. There’s no sense of what the term ‘good service’ means. Smiling is not enough.
  • Wifi – If you’re staying with family, it seems that most homes don’t have it and if they do, it’s capped and runs out very quickly. Even the Airbnb cottage I rented in Clarens for no less than €75/night, had no wifi at all. Airtime and data ‘bundles’ are separated and you have to make sure you have both if you’d like to use your iPhone the way it should be. Why so complicated? Why can’t it just be an all-in-one package? Getting wifi is also not guaranteed even if you’ve set up your system to work. It’s slow and unreliable.
  • ATM’s – talk about complicated, there seems to be a different ATM for every bank in SA. You’re spoilt for choice but how unnecessary and what a waste of money to set up all those different stations.
  • Toilets – these have to be the most awful I have come across bar China. At rest stops the sewage system has problems coping with the number of people passing through and blocked toilets are common. Even though the staff work hard to keep it clean, there’s little they can do when the infrastructure breaks down.
  • Potholes – toll roads are fine, you should jolly well hope so! But veer off on a road less travelled and you’re at risk of breaking the entire car chassis and believe me, you wouldn’t want to do that on a lonely thoroughfare.
  • Driving behaviour – Overtaking on the left in a country where you drive on the left, happens more frequently than you would like it to. Breaking speed limits is common place while indicators are considered useless little protruding sticks with no real function. You need hair on your teeth to drive in South Africa. In DecemberJanuary 2016 alone, there were close on 2000 deaths caused by traffic accidents related to incompetent and drunk driving.
  • Crime – figures for ‘contact crimes’ which include murder have risen and every house, building and farm is behind a security fence or is armed with plenty of dogs. Security at car parks and at beaches is good and you don’t feel threatened. However, make sure you check not only the driver’s door when you use your remote control. A phenomenon called lock jamming is growing which means that when you think your car is safe and sound, the other doors are remotely controlled to be open.

If this sounds like a rant, it’s not meant to be. I still think that SA is one of the most desirable countries on earth to visit and when you compare quality and price, it puts a smile on your face every time. But lock your doors and keep your windows up i.e. get an air conditioned hire car and look around you when you get out and in. Don’t get too drunk and keep your wits about you. Stay in built-up areas especially at night time. Keep your belongings close and just use common sense.

The Stepsister – Durban on your Bucket List

Cape Town has its mountains, wine and beaches, Johannesburg has business going for it and the Kruger National Park but for some strange reason Durban in KwaZulu Natal, has been left out of the equation. It’s not exactly the first stop on tourists’ priority lists when visiting South Africa. As a native of this part of the world, I’ve always thought this unfair. One thing’s for sure, the Durban City Council is taking this personally and doing a lot to improve the situation.

Sun Coast Casino on Durban beachfront
Sun Coast Casino

Beaches abound along the Indian Ocean shoreline and its year-round warm waters give it one step up from the cold Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town. The promenade stretches 5 km turning it into a great big playground for runners, Segway riders and cyclists. The casino at one end keeps the slot machine addicts entertained, the hungry fed with its huge food court and the movie goers occupied. The paddling pools near North beach provide a safe splashing spot for kiddies and uShaka at the other end is a shopping paradise, restaurant complex and more pools and adventures for the whole family. The entire area is kept pristine and security is strict. Then there are other unique features that make it stand out. The car guards at North Beach take care of your keys while you go swimming or surfing, a service not to be found anywhere else as far as I know. They’ll even Whatsapp you to give you a surf report if you live some kilometres away. The rickshaws are iconic and perform their jumps and shouts wearing native costume for gleeful tourists.

Durban and its colourful rickshaws

The football stadium built for the Soccer World Cup, aptly called The Bread Basket because of its shape, houses huge international concerts and sports meets nowadays. Right next door, a superb outdoor market called I Heart Market fills the lawns under the trees at the weekends selling everything from mohitos to delicious curries, jewellery, clothing and lots, lots more.

African jewellery made out of cloth and recycled paper

Up the road, about 20 km inland, the Valley of a 1000 Hills is jaw-droppingly beautiful for its views while Zulu dancers and cultural ethnic events drum up the native in you at PheZulu. And then there’s the food and the incredibly cheap prices that put a smile on your face when you’re presented with the bill. The standard is high, the quality good and the portions generous not just at PheZulu but everywhere you go.

Valley of a 1000 Hills from Phezulu

And while you’re in Durban, take a trip up north where the Hluhluwe Game Reserve houses the Big Five and where the wild of Africa grabs you as much and which might even be less expensive than the Kruger National Park. And we haven’t even touched on the spectacular mountain range about a 3-hour drive west called the Drakensberg.

African dancers at uShaka, Durban beachfront

Bathe in the warm Indian Ocean, enjoy the good weather and immerse yourself in the multi-culturalism that is Durban and surrounds.

The Man Who Swims with Sharks – Aliwal Shoal Scuba

“We’re crazy but we’re not stupid” is the brief you’ll hear from Bryan Vivier when you go out on a shark dive. He also talks about the ‘eye roll’ which basically means that you’ll be eaten alive unless you have the presence of mind to hit the monster right in the jowls. His relationship with the ocean is unique having dived since the age of 6 growing up in Hermanus, Eastern Cape.

Bryan Vivier - owner of Aliwal Shoal Scuba
Bryan Vivier – owner of Aliwal Shoal Scuba

“Those were the days when diving was dangerous and sex was safe,” he explains at his dive shop Aliwal Shoal Scuba in Umkomaas on the south coast of Kwazulu Natal.

You only need to go out once on any of their dives to know the reason why.

“Jacques Cousteau has declared this as one of the top 10 diving spots in the world even before we started doing shark diving. He was blown away by the Sand Tigers or what we call Ragged Tooth sharks. Can you imagine what he’ll say today?”

You can choose a cage dive or an open water one. This is how the latter works: they lower a bar into the water. You dive to the bar and lean against it to steady yourself eliminating hand movements or general flailing around. A chum bucket with holes in the sides filled with sardine guts and blood is then lowered into the water at a distance. At first you’re surrounded by Black Tips, lots of them, the puppy dogs of the sea. Then the big boys start moving in slowly, Tiger sharks that investigate and try to take a bite out of the smelly stuff on offer.

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“There must be a huge risk involved?” I ask.

“Sure there is but we’ve been doing this since the 90’s and we’ve never had an incident. Scuba divers scare sharks because of all the noise we make and the expanding bubbles rising to the surface. They are 400 million years old, the scuba diving industry is about a 100 years old. They don’t know what to make of us which makes them wary. Besides, we’re definitely not on the menu.”

“Is there any chance of hurting them or damaging their eco system?”

“Some animal conservationists, not that we’re not, will argue that it’s wrong. But when you ask them about fishing, they say that’s ok. We’ve replaced metal drums with plastic ones since the former might hurt the sharks’ teeth. We go out for an hour and take a little bit of bait with us. We don’t catch or kill anything.”

Room with a view - Umkomaas Lodge at Aliwal Shoal Scuba
Room with a view – Umkomaas Lodge at Aliwal Shoal Scuba

“But don’t the sharks get frustrated or go into a frenzy when they can’t get what they want i.e. the chum in the drum?”

“Humans tend to anthropomorphize animals. They don’t have feelings like we do. When there is no reward they just go away. They might become a little frenzied when at the end of the dive some sardines fall out but even then they’re cordial unless two are aiming for the same bait.”

“In your opinion, do you see fish and mammals diminishing?”

“On the north side of the reef, it looks a bit like a mowed lawn, which is worrying. But generally speaking, the reef is still lively and vibrant.”

“And challenges ahead?”

“Well there’s this Sappi factory and the Natal Sharks Board with their nets, but that’s a whole different story.”

Links:

Aliwal Shoal Scuba