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Cape Town - Repeated ferry delays and bad service have hit tours of Robben Island.
Some tour operators have now opted to organise private guides or to phone ahead to reserve guides, at extra cost, for the Robben Island Museum’s tour.
“It’s luck of the draw,” said Lionel Pead, director of Wilderness Touring. “Some of the guides are good. But, the day you strike one who can’t articulate himself properly or who [speaks inaudibly], it’s almost like the tourists’ money is wasted. It doesn’t just reflect badly on the island, but is also bad for our business.”
On a visit to the island, the Cape Argus seemed to have struck it lucky. Tour operator Thulani Mabaso was articulate, funny and had an array of touching personal anecdotes about his relationship with Nelson Mandela in the 10 years that they were incarcerated together.
“He seemed like the kind of guy that I’d like to sit down for dinner with,” said Canadian tourist Stephanie Charbonneau of Mabaso.
Tour operator Peter Pitout said the museum’s service shouldn’t be judged on a single experience: “I have been organising tours to the island for decades. Almost every time I go, or send a group of tourists, there seems to be some sort of a problem.”
Pitout expressed most anger about the fact that the Sikhululekile (the museum’s most comfortable ferry) has been out of action for over four months for routine maintenance. “When have you ever heard of maintenance taking that long?”
Confronted with these concerns the Robben Island chief executive, Sibongiseni Mkhize, said that the fact that tour operators told their personal narratives inevitably meant that there would be subjective responses to their styles. “I think the diverse narratives, histories and stories that our guides tell is one of our strengths. We are however willing to take constructive criticism and to look at how our service can be improved upon.”
On the issue of the ferry service, Mkhize said that the more rustic and “authentic” experience offered by the older, less comfortable ferries (Susan Kruger and Diaz) should be seen as a “privilege” because the experience was more similar to the one that political prisoners had while being transported to the island during apartheid. - Cape Argus