by Lindsay King


Merging heritage and tourism

South Africa’s new Minister of Tourism, Nkhensani Kubayi-Ngubane

Nobody can argue the fact that township tourism in South Africa is important for poverty alleviation. And we can also agree to the fact that the tourism industry is one of the country’s fastest growing sectors.


So if there is a focus on tourism development that results in increased net benefits for poor people, it will enhance the linkages between tourism businesses and poor people, so that tourism’s contribution to poverty reduction is increased. This is according to an abstract on Township Tourism in South Africa – A Successful Tool for Poverty Alleviation? By Philip Sloan, Claudia Simons-Kaufmann, Willy Legrand and Nadine Perlick focussing on Advances in Hospitality and Leisure.

In recent years there has been much talk about creative tourism, an interesting way of referring to a section of an industry in dire need of expansion.

In order to avoid any confusion, let’s start by defining the new term “creative tourism”. According to, probably the most detailed report in South Africa on this term, the work Creative Township Tourism by Dr Irma Booyens and Prof Chris Rogerson, is associated with the arrival of the ‘new tourist’ interested in active learning experiences and meaningful interactions with locals.

Booyens and Rogerson says that creative tourism has a potential role in reshaping township tourism in a responsible manner and it provides a number of avenues for catalysing economic opportunities to locals, thus upgrading physical township spaces and offering alternatives to voyeuristic forms of slum tourism.

Explore caught up with South Africa’s new Minister of Tourism, Nkhensani Kubayi-Ngubane, to get her take on this fascinating topic.

In terms of heritage and creative tourism, there is probably more interest from tourists to experience township heritage and culture than any other culture in South Africa. This creates huge opportunities for township businesses and it is important that township companies embrace this and incorporate their diverse heritage when doing business in the tourism sector.

Kubayi-Ngubane says township tourism has huge potential to provide ever-growing economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs to enter the ground tour operating business. If supported, it has a great contribution to make to overcome the legacy of social and economic exclusion, which has for too long characterized township life.

“Support from big business and Government is a critical factor in making township tourism a success and to address the challenges faced by township tourism proprietors, such as crime, perceived crime communicated by less objective media, and sometimes, badly maintained tourism infrastructure in heritage facilities, particularly those in deep rural areas and older townships.

“Currently, provincial tourism departments and South African Tourism (SA Tourism) together with the private sector have included liberation heritage sites in their packages and marketing material, which include tourist attractions such as Robben Island, Freedom Park, the Apartheid Museum, and the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. Provincial tourism authorities have also developed their own tourist routes such as Inanda Heritage Route in KwaZulu-Natal,” says Kubayi-Ngubane.

In terms of what can be done to increase the numbers of corporate travellers to townships to channel revenue to small business in these areas, she says township tourism has been positioned as one of the key drivers of township economy, while growing and supporting a number of black-owned tourism business. In addition, she says, township tourism offers an exciting, amazing tourist experience which most foreigners want to brag about when they return to their respective countries.

The minister agrees that not enough is being done to attract business travellers to township businesses.

“We need to develop networks between township tourism, business tourism, urban tourism, paleo tourism, and the usage of events to increase visitation and repeat visits. Companies need to provide unique and relevant information on market preferences and perceptions, accessible, usable information to attract and guide tourists and effective and interactive distribution channels and sector co-ordination.

“In getting a taste of this unique lifestyle experience through immersive tours, museums and its African cuisine, international travellers also get to mingle with the locals, where they learn to read and dance to local sounds at contemporary lounges,” she says.  

Looking at the biggest challenges for township businesses in the tourism industry initially getting noticed outside the township, Kubayi-Ngubane says the main challenge is the perpetuation of negative perceptions about safety and quality of offerings of township products. The second is the need to change the stereotype of township life and people, and to understand the unique offering of townships from food, accommodation, heritage, history, entertainment, sports and even conferencing.

“Equally, local government and development agencies must begin to prioritise socio-economic infrastructure in townships. What we need to do is make investments ranging from bicycle lanes to free WIFI, to planting trees and to signage for attractions in these townships. To do this, local operators and tourism associations need to keep on knocking on the doors of mayors, city engineers and everyone in the business of local development,” she says.

With regard to marketing township brands nationally and internationally, the minister says the challenges are to package township offerings and form a collaboration with the local community, Government and the private sector and use various marketing channels to promote township products and attractions to a wide audience including domestic and African markets.

“We need to address this, by creating a link or network between the main hubs within townships to increase the geographical spread of tourist numbers, repeat visits and increase economic, socio-economic and environmental impacts.”

Though, it is not all doom and gloom as there is an increasing interest in travellers to experience township life. And a number of establishments are doing really well. But what is needed to take this approach to the next level?

“Bidding and hosting events - the objective is to identify, attract, bid and secure, and host hallmark, MICE and local events that provide major significant economic, socio-economic and environmental impacts in townships. The implementation of travel trade marketing services is one of the most effective ways to market and sell the township as a destination that offers a variety of signature experiences. This must be done through the collaboration with travel agents and tour operators who provide the latest information about new emerging products and experiences to visitor who are seeking new, exciting and dynamic experiences,” Kubayi-Ngubane told Explore.

In conclusion, she says that commemorative tourism is another sector that has not yet been explored.

“The great bus boycott of the 1950s – staged to protest fare increases – saw many commuters travel to work on foot. This route and the one that was followed by Soweto schoolchildren during the 1976 protests against the use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction could be developed into great tours which, I am certain, backpackers would find attractive.

“The story of South Africa’s struggle for liberation is increasingly becoming a tourist attraction of interest among South Africans and international travelers alike, as it provides unique experiences that give South Africa a competitive edge. Tourism is also a platform in which tourists can be informed and educated about the country’s road to liberation,” says Kubayi-Ngubane.


Lindsay King


Kubayi-Ngubane’s advice to township tourism business owners

  • Be realistic and know yourself, know what you want to achieve and know your passions are.
  • The development and implementation of relevant digital marketing channels play a crucial role in promoting your existing tourism offering to a broad audience. This channel has the ability to attract, act as an engagement platform and enhance word of mouth while converting and retaining users.
  • Brand and the use of brands and campaigns act as platforms to spread the well-targeted message. Every South African township has well-established brand values, whether it is its political history, the stars it has produced, or unique events it hosts.
  • Make sure you go out there and network. And find out which develop agencies there are within your industry.


A prime example

Explore Magazine was recently honoured to be a guest at the amazing Batsumi Luxury Guesthouse in Galeshewe, Kimberley. Here Kamogelo Mutsumi, who co-owns the lodge with his brother, Kagisho, shares their experiences about owning a highly successful township business in the tourism sector.


What were your biggest challenges initially getting noticed outside the township?

Setting up a location that would be safe for tourists and competing with already existing five star establishments were our biggest challenges.


What is your biggest current challenge with regard to marketing your brand nationally and internationally?

We lack the training to understand the demands of our national and international clientele and markets.


Business tourism is booming. Is enough being done by authorities to drive especially corporate travellers to townships?

Sadly, there still lack in appreciation for the value of the township guesthouses. The authorities are not making a concerted effort to encourage the business traveller to use the township guesthouses.


What can be done to increase the numbers of corporate travellers to townships?

Marketing through various social platforms is a must. Inviting corporate travellers or well-known business people for a night or two at no expense to experience the luxury of the establishment.


The interest from tourists to experience township heritage and culture creates huge opportunities for township businesses. Why is it important that township companies incorporate their heritage when doing business in the tourism sector?

South Africa has an immense amount of culture to offer, which international and local travellers are always interested in. Incorporating and embracing our heritage is a unique key to attracting travellers and fundamentally growing the establishment.


Many township guest houses include conferencing facilities. How many requests are you getting for conferences etc?

We get the occasional request, but this is more sporadic than targeted. Government and corporates need to come to the party and make a concerted effort to support the township conferencing facilities because we compare very well and in many instances out-do the more popular venues.


Have you seen an increase in business travel in your business and area?

We know the potential is there but the increase has not been consistent.


There is an increasing interest by travellers to experience township life. And a number of establishments are doing really well. What is needed to take this approach to the next level?

The township is an exciting place. The vibe and energy is what we need to promote to the international market. That is our goal. To bring more African, Asian, American and European travellers to Galeshewe.


How have you managed to boost your venue in terms of drawing customers locally and internationally?

We have utilised social media. We have also invited the local tourism authorities to visit and inspect our venues to see if it meet the demands of the business traveller as well as international guests. We have also marketed our property at business fairs and conferences.


You own a very successful township business. What do you put your success down to?

We are passionate about what we do. We value our clients and ensure that they only get the best service. Hard work in a fun way is what drives us.


What would be your best advice to fellow township business owners in terms of marketing their tourism related companies outside the townships?

Use every marketing opportunity you can (word of mouth, social media, friends, and contacts) to put your facility out there. As a guesthouse owner, always, raise the bar. Clients must want to come back to your guesthouse and or conference facility.

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