How can one not be passionate about South Africa?

On the brink of Tourism Month I stood in a room filled with people working and playing a role in the tourism industry; people passionate about South Africa, passionate about the Eastern Cape, passionate about Nelson Mandela Bay, passionate about sustainable tourism and I thought, “How can one not be passionate about South Africa?”

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I listened to Nopasika Mxunyelwa (CMO from ECPTA) and how the whole country, and all the participants in tourism of the country, should realise their ability to contribute and participate in the sphere of tourism.

I listened to Ashley Wentworth (CEO of Storms River Adventures); I listened how the sleepy village of Storms River in the Tsitsikamma region went from only a few accommodation establishments to a booming destination in the Eastern Cape, a pioneer in the field of eco-adventures. I listened to how his company became one of the firsts in South Africa to function under the principles of Fair Trade tourism, how passionate he is about long-term sustainability and fixing the imbalances from the past, the importance of the guide-guest connection, recycling and preservering the environment.

I listened to the powerful words from Amandla Didiza (Mr.PE runner-up); words oozing with talent, words oozing with a passion for Nelson Mandela Bay, words oozing with the spirit of Ubuntu and hope for South Africa.

I listened to Councillor Andrew Whitfield; I listened to facts, the rise in numbers of foreign visitors to Nelson Mandela Bay, the rise of job creation thanks to tourism, the fact that a campaign such as #ShareTheBay is completely authentic since its driven by the experience of the person taking the photo, and nodded my head heavily in agreement as he said, “I get so mad when people tell me there is nothing to do in Nelson Mandela Bay, we are one of the most diverse and biodiverse tourism destinations in South Africa.”

I listened to the chatter of people passionate about South Africa, I saw the glitter in the eyes of people passionate about the Eastern Cape, I experienced the heartbeat of people passionate about Nelson Mandela Bay, and I felt the fear yet hope of people passionate about sustainable tourism and I thought, “How can one not be passionate about South Africa?”

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These epic shoes can only belong to Sarah from Chasing the Rainbow!

How can one not be passionate about South Africa?

I often say I fall in love with the Eastern Cape over and over again; and it doesn’t take much to get me weak in the knees. It can be a single fold in a mountain, the coffee-tannin-coloured rivers, a Karoo sunset, a deep gorge, a towering Outeniqua yellowwood, a sheer cliff face, an untouched coastline, the golden sandy Sunshine Coast stretches, the gentle hills of the Wild Coast, getting on a gravel road, going off the grid, seeing an Oystercatcher, a bottlenose dolphin, an elephant, a flightless dung beetle rolling about and smelling that unique ocean-fynbos-forest smell as you make your way down to Storms River Mouth.

Pause, touch, engage – it happens time and again – pause, touch, engage.

And while the road calls my name a lot and often beckons me away from the borders of the Eastern Cape or even South Africa, I always return home, I always return to Nelson Mandela Bay where the big South African flag flap in the wind, where the whiff of Mastertons welcomes you back from a distance, where the elephants roam freely, where the African penguins still have a home, where the people are friendly, where the city is ever-changing, ever-developing and where there is always more to explore.

I, we and us – Tourism Month

Tourism is everyone’s business, everyone plays a role; South African Tourism made it quite clear when they launched Tourism Month and called on all South Africans to declare “I Do Tourism” (or “We Do Tourism”).

We are all ambassadors of South Africa, we are all custodians of the environment and word-of-mouth travel agents (read Passing the Open Windows’ piece on What is Tourism?).

SA Tourism’s CEO, Sisa Ntshona, said: “It’s about sensitising every single South African to understand that they play a role towards tourism.”

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That accommodation you’re booking?

You just played a role.

That meal you bought from a local restaurant?

You just played a role.

That entrance fee you paid to visit a museum or park or reserve?

You just played a role.

That small gift you bought from a local entrepreneur?

You just played a role.

That tour you booked?

You just played a role.

That place you explored in our city?

You just played a role.

That photo that you just uploaded on social media?

You just played a role?

(Unless it was photo of a rhino).

Things to do during Tourism Month

Today is the start of Tourism Month but there’s more to it than just 30 days. In a way, it is symbolically the first day of the rest of whatever you want to do, whether you explored domestically before or not. It is a new challenge, a brand spanking new blank page of endless possibilities, endless destinations.

So here are a few things to do during Tourism Month (and for the rest of the year):

1) Focus on sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism focuses on the ripple effect, the one-day factor; a low impact on the environment and local culture, with the possibility of growth. It was identified by the UNWTO as, “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

Every action has a reaction, know what the reaction will be of the action you’ll take while engaging in an activity or exploring. Read what I wrote about Travelling Responsibly (and if you don’t have time to read, just remember to follow the Hands Off Our Wildlife principle when it comes to animal-related activities.).

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2) Pick something up

See a piece of trash? Pick it up and throw it away. You are a custodian of the environment.

Cape Recife Lighthouse

3) Share your experiences

Be part of the conversation – social media has made it so easy – share your experiences with others and inspire fellow travellers. If you talk in hashtags, get on board with the #IDoTourism or #WeDoTourism conversation, and for those in Nelson Mandela Bay, remember to #ShareTheBay.

Love South Africa 1

4) Visit a South African National Park

We are so flippen fortunate to have such a bio-diverse land, abundance of wildlife and protected areas in South Africa, so fortunate that our national parks and reserves are in such a pristine condition and that the parks are all easily accessible. SANParks is having its 12th open week from 18-22 September and grants all South Africans free access for the day (some parks have different terms and conditions, click here to find out). And click here to find out why I love SANParks so much.

Nyathi Rest Camp

5) Support local entrepreneurs and/or tour guides

Go on a tour with a local South African tour guide or support an entrepreneur, whether it is someone making roadside crafts or running a restaurant, guesthouse or business.

Cuyler Manor Uitenhage

AND FOR THOSE LIVING IN NELSON MANDELA BAY

6) Visit the #ShareTheBay Exhibition

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism is having their second annual #ShareTheBay Exhibition.

This exhibition features photographs from Bay locals and it will be on display during September at The Athenaeum in Belmont Terrace; entry is free and it is open from 9am to 5pm. The canvas prints are also on sale and profits will go towards sponsoring a group of underprivileged youth on a tour to Addo Elephant National Park.

Thankful and honoured for the opportunity of having some of my photographs also at the exhibition; #ShareTheBay (and the exhibition) is not aimed at just showcasing the work of professional photographers (even though there are some pretty professional ones exhibiting as well) but it allows everyone to share the Bay through their own eyes, whether photography is a hobby or done with only a phone. The rule of thirds and composition do not apply at this exhibition. 

7) Visit Nelson Mandela Bay

When I say visit Nelson Mandela Bay, I mean it: Visit Nelson Mandela Bay. The whole Bay. It baffles me that there is still this unfortunate perception that Nelson Mandela Bay consists of just Port Elizabeth; there is also the outlying areas of Port Elizabeth (Greenbushes, Blue Horizon Bay, Bluewater Bay, part of Elandsrivier, Redhouse and Colchester etc.) plus Despatch and Uitenhage.

As someone who grew up in Despatch, went to school in Uitenhage and now lives in Port Elizabeth, I feel very strongly about this.

Dear Port Elizabethans, the rest of the Bay do not bite, please explore!

Especially Uitenhage; it is only 15km away and there is so much history, incredibly unique coffee shops and modern museums such as the VW Autopavilion. Or go to Amsterdamhoek, sit next to the Swartkops River and enjoy the bird life.

Cuyler Manor Uitenhage

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