The recent visitor experience upgrade at The Old Fort on the Constitution Hill precinct. Picture: Shawn Driman.

Visitor attractions form the backbone of tourism, but to stay on top they will need to be at the forefront of global visitor attraction trends and technologies.

Tourism is one of South Africa’s most reliable economic sectors for showing growth. According to the Department of Tourism, tourism contributed R136.1 billion (about 2.9%) to the total gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. The department also identified the potential for this sector to grow from around 1.5 million jobs to 2.1 million over the next decade.

As a major tourist destination, South Africa has much to offer international and local travellers – of which 10.3 million and 17.2 million were recorded respectively in South African Tourism’s most recent annual report.

But how do visitor attractions ensure they are the first choice for tourists?

“South Africa has a lot to offer, but we cannot lean back and rely on Table Mountain, Safari parks and Robben Island,” Michael Wolf, the CEO of Formula D Interactive said.

The recent visitor experience upgrade at The Old Fort on the Constitution Hill precinct now allows the use of technology and innovative design to showcase South Africa’s history and journey to democracy. The exhibits included cutting edge innovations, like a hologram of Joe Slovo, bringing him back to life in a cell.

Wolf said it was this kind of innovation that visitor centres needed to adopt in order to remain relevant to their audience.

“It’s crucial that the tourism industry considers international trends and the exact needs of the target audiences. Innovation in attractions design doesn’t necessarily mean that the content of the offerings is revolutionised. We believe that innovation can be expected when classical formats are being disrupted.”

International research indicates that tourists are constantly requiring new attractions or more innovation at old ones. Modern visitor centres are employing a model of “Entertainment, Excitement and Education”. This has seen tourism destinations looking at ways to entertain visitors, excite them – often using adrenalin-inducing activities such as at amusement parks, and to provide thought-provoking content or opportunities for reflection.

Embracing social media, immersive audio-visual technology and virtual reality will become important to the future of tourism destinations, Wolf believes.

With the demand of travellers to the country, tourist attractions will also have to adapt to include new experiences, such as audio tours and digital signboards, as well as real-time social media engagement.