Tourist operators throughout the country have hit the ground running and have welcomed an influx of visitors. In an effort to revive the battered tourism industry, the Western Cape government and Wesgro have launched the We Are Open campaign. Noluthando Ngcakani reports.
An early spring bloom is always a sight to behold. After soaking and chilling through winter, flower season is underway – and we have been given the official thumbs up from nature for new beginnings to unfold.
If you thought that flower viewing was limited to the Cape West Coast during spring, you are sadly mistaken.
From fields of cosmos and flowering aloes in Mpumalanga to sunflowers in the Free State and proteas in the Eastern Cape nature puts on a fantastic display throughout the country at this time of the year.
Good rains are set to have produced the best flower season in years, just in time for Tourism Month.
The timing could not be better following four months of (forced) hibernation due to lockdown restrictions. South Africans are yearning to break free, says Jacqui Taylor, founder and managing director of Agritourism South Africa.
There have been reports of overbookings as citizens are scrambling for an escape. This amid the Western Cape government’s We Are Open campaign which officially kicked off on Monday.
The national lockdown has changed the profile of the clientele visiting farms this season, notes Taylor.
“There has been an increase in visits to farms and to rural areas, but the target market is different. Ordinarily at this time of year it used to be pensioners or people who have time on their hands. They have however grown wary and are too scared to travel, we now have adrenaline junkies on the move. Hikers, cyclists and people wanting to catch a glimpse of the flower season are making their way to farms,” she explains.
Blooming with excitement
Following the months under hard lockdown and recent good quality rains tour operators and towns on the West Coast and Namaqualand are gearing up for a busy season ahead.
Mike Spies is the owner of Namaqua Tours in Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. He says jovially that, “the flowers we have got here in Namaqualand is something very special. We cannot even explain how happy we are now that we are getting tourists again.”
He adds that while the past four months may have been debilitating to the spirit, this was an opportune time for mother nature to recover from years of wear and tear by its neglectful inhabitants.
“The lockdown was bad – there is very little good about it, but to be honest with you there is some good.
“The only one that benefitted from the lockdown, was nature – having some time to recover again with no people destroying her for this short period. We could see it everywhere in the world with no pollution in some places.”
Another historical South African beacon with treasures of flowers currently in full bloom can be found in the Northern Cape town of Niewoudtville, the home of Willemsrivier Guest Farm, where Arend Kotze and his wife Erika have been running tourism operations for more than 30 years.
Kotze says he could never have anticipated the massive curveball that was the covid-19 pandemic. He is excited to get the ball rolling again and adds that bookings are already at full capacity.
“Things are absolutely booming,” a joyful Kotze says.
“People actually want to get out, during the lockdown they have obviously been feeling a bit cramped.
“It doesn’t help to cry over spilled milk, what is lost is lost and you will never get it back. Being able to just carry on again is something we couldn’t wait for,” Kotze says.
Western Cape premier Alan Winde has challenged South Africans to support local tourism. Last week the province launched the We Are Open campaign which seeks to revive the battered tourism industry. The country has ample hidden treasures yearning for visitation, he says.
“What we have to do now is focus on pandemic number two. This is gaining back the jobs that we have lost during the lockdown and specifically in the tourism and hospitality industry. It is the major component of our economy, a big sector in the Western Cape. We are now going to make sure that we claw back jobs in this sector,” Winde says.
Western Cape MEC for finance and economic opportunities, David Maynier, announced that the province has received the global Safe Travels stamp of approval from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
“It made sense to apply for this globally recognised stamp on behalf of the entire Western Cape as a sign of our commitment to adhere to the WTTC’s health and hygiene global standardised protocols and to further inspire confidence in the destination,” Maynier says in a media release.