UP researchers are working with the National Department of Tourism to improve tourist experiences at attractions around SA and contribute to a more competitive tourism industry.
The tourism industry has in recent years made a growing contribution to the South African economy, even as other sectors have struggled in a restrained economic climate. To maintain this growth, the National Department of Tourism (NDT) has asked the Tourism Management Division at the University of Pretoria (UP) to investigate how South Africa can become more competitive as a tourist destination.
“Tourism is increasingly a government priority because it has the potential to increase jobs,” says Prof Berendien Lubbe, who led the study. To sustain tourism’s contribution to the South African economy, she says, tourists must have satisfying and memorable experiences.
“It is important to know that sites are meeting tourist expectations, and if not, what needs to be done.”
UP’s recent work in this field has provided a wealth of information on general tourism trends around the country, identified areas where tourist sites are excelling and where they can improve, and provided in-depth recommendations for a few specific sites.
Across varied sites like the Cradle of Humankind (Gauteng) and iSimangaliso Wetland Park (KwaZulu Natal), researchers compared tourists’ expectations and experiences, and assessed the sites in terms of management and service, infrastructure, and tangible and intangible attractions. They then compiled site-specific reports as well as a general report for the NDT on memorable tourism experiences in South Africa.
Across all five sites studied, the major motivation for visiting was to appreciate the beauty of the place, followed by a desire for a positive life experience, and a wish to learn something new. Visitors also said a memorable tourism experience is made up of simple enjoyment, a sense of freedom, and fulfilling a desire to visit that specific attraction, to mention a few.
The researchers identified tourists’ most pressing expectations when visiting a tourist site: they found that helpful and friendly staff, personal safety and a connection with nature are what visitors expect. FIndings showed that the five sites investigated were accessible, employed helpful and friendly staff, and excelled at catering for families and children.
When researchers further analysed their findings, they identified several challenges common across all five sites. These included ensuring personal safety, providing enough information for visitors, and providing affordable activities at the site. Since these are all tangible aspects, the NDT can address them to ensure an ideal, memorable tourist experience in South Africa.
Tourists learn about archaeology and ancient cultures at the Hill of the Jackal in Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site.
In terms of demographics, Prof Lubbe and her team found that most visitors (approximately 90%) were from South Africa, and almost two thirds (60%) were white.
“We compared this finding with other tourism surveys at each site, and noticed a trend,” says Lubbe. “Overall these sites had very few international visitors, and not many were black South Africans. It’s something that needs to be investigated in future.”
To keep the tourism industry growing, the NDT now needs to take action on the findings of UP’s researchers.
“The information needs to go back to industry and to the site managers, and they need to apply the findings in order to make informed decisions,” says Lubbe.