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Going rural post lockdown

by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold on 28.09.2020

The 27th of September marks World Tourism Day, but there was little to celebrate this year as our industry continues to suffer the devastating blow from a worldwide pandemic. 

At the start of 2020 and a promising new decade for tourism, I wrote a piece predicting that a new era in marketing beckoned with predictions that 2020 would mark significant shifts in consumer behaviour and as a result the way in which we engage with our audiences. Nobody could predict just how drastically our world would change overnight. 

Whilst technology and innovation, as well as a growing sense of responsibility and deeper connection with each other, the places we visit and what and how we consume will remain catalysts for change, COVID19 will go down in the history books as the most significant and impactful disrupter of our world in decades.

COVID19 along with increasing natural disasters, health scares, political instability and social movements coupled with tough economic times are putting the spotlight on the fragility of our world and the terrible impact humans have on the planet and on each other.

World Tourism Day is a reminder why tourism is such a crucial sector to support and promote.Now more than ever before as unemployment figures rise and tourism businesses struggle to keep the doors open. 

This year’s theme is Tourism and rural development, a very apt theme for a country like South Africa.

Tourism, if developed responsibly and with the intention of encouraging visitors to explore beyond the well known tourist attractions and urban centers, can benefit rural regions that desperately need economic development. Not only does rural tourism enhance job creation at a local and community level, it protects precious natural resources and cultural heritage.

When tourism at rural level is developed in partnership with local communities, it promotes social inclusion and can break the cycle of poverty to empower local communities to be the champions and architects of their own economic freedom.

Herein lies the power of tourism done the right way. It can uplift an entire community or rural area and change the destiny of people for the good, instilling a sense of purpose and pride.

As more travellers seek out less crowded places, local destinations that were previously undiscovered will now benefit from an uptick in tourism if rural regions can work together to promote themselves as attractive post-lockdown getaways. We are seeing a renewed appreciation of local culture, history and nature, which will translate in continued support for local businesses that will do wonders for reviving the local economy.

So, as travel restrictions are lifted and we start to venture out from the safety of our homes and immediate neighbourhoods, let’s take to the roads less travelled. Let’s explore rural regions where the warm heart of tourism beats without any pretense. Importantly. let’s slow down and take a moment to make sure that our trip has direct benefits for host communities and is not harmful to the environment. Let us ask the uncomfortable questions, let us demand a more ethical and transparent tourism value chain. Let us support small businesses and female owned enterprises.

It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good for the soul.

Let’s go and make new memories.