There’s plenty to see and to in KwaZulu Natal, but can it be pitched as a standalone destination to overseas visitors? Some members of the trade make a compelling argument for standalone packages, while others suggest creating wider circuits.
While the province remains a difficult sell in the international market, some tour operators make a compelling argument for positioning KwaZulu Natal as a standalone destination.
Both Craig Drysdale, GM: Global Sales of Thompsons Africa, and Rung Button, Sales and Operations Director at Inspirations Travel and Tours, say KwaZulu Natal can absolutely be packaged as a standalone destination. Drysdale argues that, with its diverse offering, there is plenty to entice overseas visitors.
“KZN has enough attractions to give clients a very varied and complete South African experience,” says Button. “We don’t have Winelands, but apart from that, we tick all the boxes that other provinces are offering.”
Other operators are reluctant to package the province on its own, not because its offering is lacking, but because people travel far and want to see as much as possible. Caroline Palazzo, Sales Manager at Wilderness Safaris, points out that, because overseas visitors coming to South Africa have travelled a long way, they often want to visit more than one country during their stay. Likewise, Craig Smith, Founder of New Frontiers, says that while the province has a lot to offer, he wouldn’t push one-province itineraries.
Nevertheless, Palazzo says the adventure and activities in the province can easily keep visitors busy for a week. Tourism KZN CEO, Ndabo Khoza, agrees that there’s more than enough to keep visitors busy. “In the province, visitors can spend more than seven days without visiting other cities outside KZN,” he says. Fairmont Zimbali Resort, Marketing & Communications Manager, Joanne Crow says there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. “As a province we have a lot to offer within one area and visitors to the province are able to experience different things without travelling too far.”
Penny Rice, Marketing Manager at Isibindi Africa Lodges, also emphasises the province’s adventure offering. She describes KwaZulu Natal as an “adventure destination par excellence”. Activities include zip lining at Oribi Gorge on the South Coast, canopy tours in the Karkloof, hiking and mountain climbing in the Drakensberg, surfing, shark cage diving, snorkelling and two excellent mountain trail bike parks – Holla Trails in Umhlali and Giba Gorge in Pinetown.
Speaking to operators, two compelling selling points stand out: year-round great weather and the combination of ‘bush and beach’. “Scenically it’s very varied, weather-wise it is a year-long destination and it has an intriguing mix of rural charm and first-world elements,” says Smith. Rice says the weather is the province’s biggest asset. “We have summer 365 days of the year.” Crow agrees: “The mild weather is a definite selling point as are the extremely friendly and tourist-orientated people.”
Smith explains that the province has remarkably different key attractions: the Drakensberg, the Battlefields, safari experiences close to the coast, and marine reserves, adding that all of these are logistically easy to combine. Drysdale also highlights this offering. Years ago, Thompsons Africa pushed a campaign around the ‘Bs’ offered in the province: Berg, battlefields, bush and beach. He says that as a standalone destination, the province offers safari, history, mountains and beach life. “It’s got it all.”
Both Rice and Palazzo highlight the excellent diving, which can be enjoyed year round. Palazzo says Sodwana Bay is world renowned for its diving, adding that Wilderness’s Rocktail Bay offers the same superb diving, but without the crowds. “A lot of people feel Rocktail offers Sodwana on a private basis.” Guests at Rocktail can dive at a range of reefs, where a maximum of 16 divers are accommodated, although there are usually only a handful of divers.
The turtle season is also a great draw card for overseas visitors, says Palazzo. Both Rocktail Bay and Isibindi’s Thonga Beach Lodge enjoy turtle season between October and March. During October and November, leatherback and loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay eggs, while the hatching usually occurs in February and March.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site, is recognised by many operators as one of the key drawcards of the province. Smith says iSimangaliso, together with the South Coast, is hugely undersold, but also points out that the areas lack the properties that appeal to the four-star-plus international market. “Nambiti Private Game Reserve is on the verge of being discovered as a significant safari area in South Africa and has the product to support this,” he adds.
Drysdale also highlights the province’s heritage offering. He says, for example, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick and the surrounding area have become popular with international visitors. Other highlights in the province that Drysdale notes include fishing, the Nottingham Brewery, and Isibindi’s Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in Hluhluwe. The province is slow and gentle, says Palazzo, adding that it is a great destination for families.
Both Smith and Button suggest that the challenges in selling the province are that it lacks a “hook”, such as the ‘big name’ appeal of attractions like the Kruger National Park, Cape Town or Victoria Falls. However, according to Rice, the international interest is growing. “On a recent marketing trip to the UK, 90% of the operators I spoke to said there was an increased demand for Durban.” She adds that TKZN and SA Tourism should be commended for the effort they have put into putting KZN on the map for internationals.
While Drysdale also applauds the job done by Tourism KwaZulu Natal in marketing the province, he argues that a larger budget allocation should be given to the authority to market. He points out that Cape Town, Kruger and even Gauteng are getting a lot of marketing exposure and says the marketing budget for KZN should be increased so that the province can catch up. He says he has always felt that Durban was treated as the poor cousin to Cape Town and the Kruger Park from a marketing spend perspective.
Button suggests that more could be done to market the province’s golf offering. “Golf is a niche in KwaZulu Natal that is not exploited to its fullest. When the Western Cape has winter storms and rain, KZN is still balmy and warm, so we should attract golfers during the winter months.” Rice says excellent golf courses include Zimbali, Simbithi, Prince’s Grant and Selborne.