Rural and Community-Centric Tourism in Focus at Public Lecture
The impact, opportunities and challenges in rural and community-centric tourism were explored during a public lecture hosted on the Westville campus by UKZN and the national Department of Tourism.
Themed: Rethinking Tourism: Opportunities Await in Rural and Community-Centric Tourism, the lecture was attended by key stakeholders, policy-makers, industry practitioners, academics and students. The programme was directed by Mr Septi Bukula, founder and director of Seeza Tourism SME Network - a collaborative network of South African tourism SMEs which focuses on enhancing the domestic and international competitiveness of tourism small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Welcoming participants, UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Mosa Moshabela said he was grateful to the Department of Tourism for holding the lecture at UKZN. ‘We at UKZN embrace opportunities like this because such platforms are crucial for exchanging knowledge. This event also serves as a practical expression of our MOU with the Department of Tourism which has allowed UKZN and other universities to provide research to the Department.’
Moshabela said the lecture was being held at a crucial time when the sector was trying to recover from the effects of COVID-19. ‘Apart from COVID-19 and other diseases, many factors affect our tourism industry. These include, but are not limited to, violence, social instability, and climate change, resulting in natural disasters such as the floods experienced in KwaZulu-Natal. Universities and scientists have a huge role in resolving or attending to these challenges which call on academia to strengthen existing partnerships with the sector and the government while exploring new ones.’
EThekwini Municipality Councillor and alumnus Mr Thanduxolo Sabela welcomed guests to the municipality and province, saying the City and province provide a unique experience that was not found anywhere else, which is why tourism is an integral part of the Municipality’s recovery process.
Deputy Director-General at the Department of Tourism Ms Shamilla Chettiar said academia and the state had a common interest which was to serve the public good. The co-operation ensured the state promoted evidence-based policies and strategies and ‘that our programmes are informed by real-life research and by realities on the ground with the aim being to also grow the next generation of tourism professionals and researchers who are interested in aspects of tourism.’
Deputy Minister of Tourism Mr Fish Mahlalela said with COVID-19, people preferred to move around in smaller groups with a preference for outdoor experiences and rural tourism.
Mahlalela said he regarded the public lecture as a significant event on the tourism calendar because it afforded the Department and sector stakeholders an opportunity to engage and share ideas on critical issues affecting tourism in the country. ‘I am hopeful that the outcomes and recommendations of these discussions will be communicated with relevant implementers to be taken forward. Developing the Tourism Sector Recovery Plan was a response by the sector. The Plan acknowledges the need for targeted, co-ordinated action to mitigate the impacts of the crisis and sets the sector on the most optimal path to recovery, transformation and long-term sustainability. It outlines a set of interventions to ignite the recovery anchored in three strategic themes namely: protecting and rejuvenating supply, re-igniting demand, and strengthening enabling capability for long-term sustainability.’
Mahlalela said responsible tourism was important for the tourism sector in the plan to re-think and re-build the sector in the wake of the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The community-based tourism programme was designed to be a catalyst in realising the mandate of tourism transformation, fostering much needed change in the tourism sector and recalibrating the balance of power between marginalised communities and established business.
‘Let me once again express my heartfelt appreciation to the University of KwaZulu-Natal and all students and academics involved for the sterling work you are doing with the Department for the people of this country,’ he said.
In her presentation titled Rural Tourism: Pathways for Growth and Development in South Africa, UKZN’s Professor Urmilla Bob said reference should stop being made to rural tourism as a niche as it was central to tourism in the country, playing a key role in the recovery process of the Department.
‘It is also naïve in the South African context when we do not fully understand that most of our urban areas have a large rural spatial footprint. Essentially opportunities for rural tourism are in the backyard of our urban spaces if not in urban areas.’
A panel discussion comprising academics, industry entrepreneurs and key role players in the tourism industry was held together with a question and answer session involving the audience. Some of the challenges raised from the discussion were the need for improving roads and infrastructure in the rural areas; more support for entrepreneurs in the tourism sector; and more co-ordinated communication between the department and the youth, especially university students who undertake a variety of research and those that need to access development programmes that are rolled out by the department.
Words: Sithembile Shabangu
Photographs: Langa Mathe