North West Parks and Tourism Board in South Africa have embarked on a massive campaign to market their province as a tourism product.
Waking up to the realisation that it was the seventh least visited area in the country, the board have embarked on an ambitious Vision 2020 National Tourism Strategy that is expected to position the province as a preferred travel destination.
The area has always relied on attractions such as the popular Sun City resort and Madikwe Game Reserve to draw tourists to the province, but as they aim to increase international arrivals to 2.4million by the year 2020 and creating over 70 000 jobs, the board decided to hit the ground running with a media tour campaign.
“The Department saw it fit to come up with strategies that will thoroughly market the province, and the Media Tour was one in many of our strategies to showcase and put our province into the pedestal of the Tourism sector.
Our rapport with media houses is important and we saw it fit to rekindle that while at the same time making sure that we harness the call of working together with the Private sector and our Government,” Provincial MEC Desbo Mohono told the visiting journalists who included six media houses from Botswana.
Head Of Department at the North West Parks and Tourism, Charles Ndabeni, also highlighted the importance of the media campaign in marketing the tapestry of the province’s past and present existence. “Of the over a billion tourists who traveled the world last year only 2% came to Africa and of the 10million who visited South Africa only 665 visited the North West Province. This calls for a massive media awareness campaign. The Botswana market is also vital to us due the boarder proximity and the common cultural heritage we share,” he said.
The first day of the tour started off with the long drive from Gaborone as a team of six journalists from Botswana joined the South African journalists for a debriefing session in Potchefstroom.
Amid the excitement as we exchanged greetings and made new friends we were reminded that the tour would take us from mainstream tourism sites to less visited sites.
For a moment the statement took away the excitement as it conjured up images of boring ruins and dilapidated structures.
As the bus left and the magnificent Potchefstroom city disappeared behind us, we settled in our seats and were prepared to get bored, but were then blown away with the sights, sounds and excitement of the majestic hills and enthralling landscape as we approached the historic Vredefort dome.
The crater is currently the largest and one of the oldest known meteor impact sites in the world. Our tour guide, Wonder, tells us the dome dates back 2,023 million years and that it is the oldest found on earth so far.
We start off the second day from Taung Village, an area with a rich Tswana heritage and strong agricultural significance.
The Dinkgwaneng ancestral site has one of the best rocky landscapes and is popularly known as a training facility for traditional healers and Sangomas.
The Taung Skull Heritage Route is also a fascinating journey of discovery.
This is where a child’s skull, the oldest ever recorded human fossil dating close to 3 million years ago, was discovered by miners in 1924.
The discovery appears to have since substantiated a long held prediction by researchers, including the legendary Charles Darwin, that Africa is the cradle of mankind.
The iconic skull is currently being kept in a vault at the Wits University, but our guide tells us that plans are underway to return it to Taung, for tourist attraction purposes.
The route spans more than 45km, and includes several natural wonders including Thomeng- an unusual limestone waterfall and Blue Pools which is a collection of rock pools, streams and caves in a valley.
Visits to other heritage sites continue in the morning and we also have the opportunity to visit the Olive SA, a multimillion Rand Hartswater based company that produces olive oil and other by-products.
We get to learn about its origins and value in the South African economy and the global olive market.
The day ends as we settle at the majestic Madikwe Game Reserve where we are treated to an evening game drive and get the opportunity to see some of the Big 5 in their natural habitat.
As I join other colleagues in an extended morning drive the following day, the cool breeze brings with it a renewed kind of thrill as we get to witness a lion kill.
The experience has been pure exhilaration and after a tour of the game park amid the astounding variety of wildlife, we settle in the bush for a quick breakfast.
My endeared colleague Dimpho Gopane from SABC cannot contain her excitement as she entertains the possibility of a return trip. “This is such an unforgettable experience. It is the best game drive I’ve ever taken and I wouldn’t mind visiting this place again on a pleasure trip. I’m so excited, I don’t know what to say,” she exclaims, falling silent as she takes in the sights and sounds of the pristine landscape.
The tour continues in Mafikeng on the fourth day as we traverse the length and breadth of the city.
Among the areas of interest we visit Barolong Boo-RaTshidi where we get the chance to appreciate their cultural linkages and common heritage with their cousins in Botswana.
The Mafikeng Hotel school also welcome us as they share their successes in taking the country’s hotel industry to new heights over the years.
We also get the chance to visit the Mphebatho museum, a Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela information centre in Moruleng before we check in at the luxurious Royal Marang Five Star hotel in Phokeng.
The climax of the trip sees us heading to Ukutula Lion Park near Johannesburg where we get the unique opportunity to interact with lions and handle their cubs.
We also get to learn about the other big cats in the enclosures that include the Lynx, Bengal Tiger and Cheetah.
The fun continues in Hartbeespoort dam where, apart from the enthralling views, we get to ride in a cable way to the uphill restaurants for our meals.
We then head to Lesedi Cultural village and as we arrive, the ‘welcome’ sign posts are emblazoned all over the place in different languages.
But it is the ululations and whistles of traditionally dressed women and men receiving us in the lyrical embrace of song and dance that make the warmest welcome of all.
A Zulu man, Xolani, dressed in traditional warfare attire takes us on a tour of the premises where we learn about the different cultures of the ethnic tribes found in South Africa.
I reluctantly wake up the following morning and after breakfast conversations become difficult as words of gratitude get stuck in my throat amid emotional goodbye hugs from the remaining colleagues.