Tourism is about people

Places and attractions can stand alone and be admired for their natural beauty, but real travel is about the people of these places. The richness and diversity of interactions with the local people is what makes a place memorable.

A tour guide can give you interesting facts and take you to a regions iconic places as well as lesser known, favourite spots of the locals. For me the majority of places I remember are coupled with the people I met there.

The pyramids will always be linked with Akil, who picked me up and plonked me onto a camel as I emerged from the pyramid. He was cheeky, quick to laugh and after the shouting was over he chatted with great pride and passion about Egypt, making a living, and life in general.

Ifafa Beach on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal is another place I will never forget. It was way back in 1980. S and I arrived there on our large motor bike, picked a spot and started setting up camp.

A beaming Zulu called Nicholas came up and asked if we would like a cup of tea. We laughed and said yes we would be making tea as soon as we had unpacked the gas stove. Five minutes later, Nicholas re-appeared with a silver tray, teapot, milk jug the works. He proceeded to arrange our bags into chairs and a table and served as as though we were at Buckingham Palace.

With infectious enthusiasm he told us all about the area. We discovered later that he was employed to rake up leaves and tend to the gardens, but he went the extra mile and was a great ambassador for the area.

Pre World Cup 2010, Cape Town tourism had a campaign encouraging people to “be a tourist in your city” and  “My Cape Town Ambassadors”. I would love to know if this campaign still exists. I cringe every time I hear people spouting negative comments and regaling visitors and tourists to horror stories of violence, corruption, doom and gloom.

I am not saying we should pretend that South Africa is a perfect place, it is not, but neither is the country the tourists have come from. By all means enter into a discussion if a visitor asks about specific topics, but it would be nice if we could all try to present a balanced view of our country and make sure our pride in all that is good in SA is what is remembered.

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