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Creating responsible Cape Town: Transport and safety are critical

As part of celebrating Responsible Tourism Week and driving conversation around ways to make Cape Town a better place to live in and a much more meaningful place to visit, we asked for your thoughts on responsible tourism initiatives in the city. Here’s one response, from Sarah Anne Makin, who has travelled extensively, now lives in London, but still sees the Mother City as home.

What do you see as the crucial steps to be taken over the coming three to five years if Cape Town is truly going to deliver on its potential to become a responsible destination? What are the biggest risks?

Having travelled fairly extensively over the past few years, I make an immediate mental comparison when visiting any city, with Cape Town as my benchmark. Perhaps this is because, while I have been living in the UK for the past six years, I still consider Cape Town to be home.

In my slightly biased opinion, I think Cape Town is one of the most fantastic cities in the world. But there are definite opportunities to improve upon our responsibility status. There are two areas of crucial importance that should be addressed if Cape Town is to deliver responsible tourism, namely: transport and safety.

We’re faced with a very real issue in that Cape Town, being located where it is on the world map, means that travel to the city will mostly always be long haul – and I should know, I’ve done it enough times to wish it were closer! For this reason, the carbon footprint is a concern. Anyone with half a “green hat” on, who is lucky enough to be able to make an annual trip to Cape Town, does feel a certain kind of burden every time an Airbus launches into the air to fly 11 (or more) hours down the African continent. But this is not an easy problem to change or measure unless sci-fi-style time travel ever becomes a reality! It does pose a threat in that the super-concerned may choose destinations closer to home so as not to upset their carbon footprint accumulations. A carbon footprint offsetting facility could be something requested by and positively promoted to tourists, however – with or without the involvement of the airlines.

Continuing on from this concern, local transport for tourists isn’t exactly “up there” in the environmental or sustainable department. Neither are the options economical. Transport is also a problem for locals in South Africa – there just aren’t brilliant public transport options available. We have only to look at the number of cars (and the number of single drivers – ie non-carpooling drivers!) on the roads to know there is a bit of a problem. And tourists face a similar problem: From a socially responsible perspective, I’m not convinced that it’s the safest thing to recommend that tourists hop on trains – and as far as buses and taxis are concerned, well I’ve hardly ever used them, so why would or should a tourist? But this doesn’t always have to be the case.

This raises my other key concern, one that all South Africans (and tourists) fear about South Africa – safety and security. If we want Cape Town to be truly responsible, crime has to be properly addressed. It’s not something that can be ignored. It will be costly to solve but it’s equally costly to let it worsen. Why? Well, what happens when tourists stop coming to Cape Town out of fear? A major decline in tourism is a very real risk facing Cape Town, should the safety situation not improve.

If we can manage the security issues, the transport concerns could more easily pick up. From a comparative basis (for example), look at the push for cities to invest in public bicycle schemes – in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and London, the trend is taking hold, and for every one cyclist on the road, there is one less person guzzling petrol. And locals and tourists both utilise cycling facilities available. In fact, cycling is not just the norm, but also the expectation on some of these certain routes. All of these cities also boast effective public transport options . Consider improving upon and refreshing the train transport to the city. The impact would be greatly noticeable on the roads and should also show positive results in cutting down on drunk driving (an issue that also shocks and impacts upon tourists to the city).

These aren’t difficult issues to address. Cape Town and South Africa as a whole proved that safety could be addressed during the World Cup. The world was watching us, expecting failure on this point in particular. While crime was contained for the 2010 World Cup, it most certainly has not been tackled since – but we know it can be done.

By improving upon the safety of the city, implementing reliable and effective public transport options, and communicating and incentivising responsible travel to and within the city, Cape Town can leap forward to becoming a truly responsible tourist destination.

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