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February 17, 2011

Slow travel in my own home city

Blog Featured Image

City park. Photo courtesy DanieVDM

I was born and grew up in Cape Town. With the rise in tourism, my becoming a local tourist guide was an obvious choice. Numerous times visitors told me how they appreciated being with a local with a passion for my home city and a respect for all Cape Town’s people and nature – and the enthusiasm to share it. A first step in responsible tourism, without calling it that.

Then a Latin America volunteering visit turned into years (long story) on the other side of the Atlantic in ecotourism and responsible tourism consultancy. Bringing my Latin American experiences back on an extended visit over the last few months (slow travel in my own home city), I found myself confronted by the question: What makes cities great for locals and visitors alike, and where is Cape Town succeeding and where can it do even more? So here a few thoughts:

Upon seeing the advances in Cape Town’s responsible tourism policy, I tried to find similar examples in the rest of the world. I could find none ... Cape Town really is a leader in formulating its responsible tourism commitment!

Responsible tourism is about both visitors and locals, and finding ways that these two groups can interact in natural, unforced ways, by creating infrastructure and conditions that make cities better places for living and visiting.

Parks can create conditions that make city life enjoyable – see this Flickr group. Sitting under a tree or in the sun in a park during lunchtime is great for locals, and also a brilliant place for visitors to feel at home. The Company’s Garden fits the bill, but the city could do with a few more similar spaces in the centre to be a real responsible tourism star. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is world-class and the summer sunset concerts are hard to beat. (Question: How can we promote Kirstenbosch being visited even more by locals from all parts of the city?)

On cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, visitors’ and locals’ interests converge if the design and route choices consider both groups. Experiences in Latin America show that the European model of on-road narrow cycle lanes does not work well and is unsafe in cities where formal and informal public transport weaves in and out of cycle lanes. The only alternative is to get cycle lanes off the roads by using adjacent space (or along rivers or canals) and having traffic-free Sunday streets, as Mexico City and Lima, Peru started. The MyCiTi new cycle route is a great advance (Question: How easy are cycle rental options nearby?)

Local guides are central – they share their home with visitors and explain the story behind the story. A survey I worked on concluded that for many visitors, local knowledge and a local point of view are more important than expert knowledge. So, responsible Cape Town: Involve your guides as much as possible to get them on board.

Cities serve as a bridge for visitors into surrounding areas. On my recent visit I was fortunate enough to be tipped off about !Khwa ttu, and there found a fascinating educational cultural centre, through which I was taken by a San guide, and not any kind of artificial cultural “show”. The city should do more to promote such gems beyond the city limits.

The international tourism market is full of uncertainties, so, Cape Town, don’t forget our domestic tourists and their needs. There are increasing voices around the world saying that real responsible tourism is done locally or regionally. And, Capetonians, do visit what our own city has to offer, at a slow pace.

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