A huge trend in travel today is the authentic travel experience, but how many South Africans have experienced this in their own country?
Ask 10 different South Africans what would make a travel experience feel genuine and authentic to them, and you may well get ten different answers. For some, it will be culinary exploration through cultures as yet undiscovered, perhaps via neighbourhood crawl, while for others it may be a connection with nature in a landscape they’ve never ventured into before: think shark diving, zip lining or white-water rafting. For others, a travel back in time to discover heritage and history, from a visit to the Cape Town Castle to the Cradle of Humankind.
Of course, an “authentic” experience can be a highly subjective one, open to many different interpretations and therefore – particularly for a newbie to the authentic travel scene – a difficult choice to make in terms of deciding on destination and determining the things you hope to encounter.
“The most important concept that many South Africans need to get their heads around, particularly the more experienced traveller is to understand that local travel can be as exciting and exhilarating as travelling to an exotic destination abroad," said Siphesihle Penny Ndlela of local group touring company Soul Traveller
A seasoned globe-trotter herself, Ndlela has turned her own love for authentic travel into a business aimed at creating experiences for South Africans in their own “backyard”.
“The fascinating thing is that travellers from overseas often arrive in our country with a well-researched idea of the things they want to experience, particularly authentic ones. But South Africans themselves aren’t very clear on or know where to begin. A company like ours enables the decision-making process to be targeted around specific themes.”
“Many of us will happily travel across South Africa to visit family and friends, but we don’t think to immerse ourselves in whatever local experiences may be on offer – even when travellers from overseas come here to do exactly that.”
The themes which Ndlela offers on her Soul Traveller routes coincide with the colours of the South African flag: “Green and gold represent sporting events, red is urban culture and local cuisine, white is all about heritage, green connects travellers with the natural wonders of our amazing country, black is all about adventure, blue is for those who want to experience our beaches and yellow is a soul experience where you really get to grips with a local experience within a few hours.”
Converting South Africans to the idea of exploring their own country also creates important ambassadors for the travel industry in the country. “We want South Africans to connect with their own collective history and heritage. It’s part of who we are – just think of the collective pride we develop whenever we get behind an international sporting event in which we’re involved. Imagine if we could translate that pride of an event into a pride of place in terms of homegrown experiences we’ve had ourselves," she said.
“We’re a nation of storytellers. Imagine the wealth of stories we’d then have to tell each other.”