Cash in on Cultural Tourism

Turn Your Tavern into a Tourist Destination

While cultural tourism is not a new travel trend by any means, South Africa has only recently jumped on the marketing bandwagon by promoting our diverse offerings as cultural tourism destinations. Here’s how you can turn your tavern into a tourist destination and cash in on cultural tourism.

What makes a travel destination rock for you? Is it the people you meet, or the history of the place? Maybe it’s the unique architecture and décor quirks that get your pulse racing. But what about the food, art, music, and the lifestyle of the environment? Cultural tourism is a growing travel trend that feeds your need as a curious traveller to learn more about the culture of the place you’re visiting.

Most tourism bodies all over the world consider cultural tourism an important potential source of tourism growth. Cultural tourists, it is believed, are high spenders who are sensitive to the environment or local culture and can contribute a great deal to the economy of a place. In fact, the World Tourism Organisation says cultural tourism accounts for a staggering 37% of global tourism. If you haven’t caught on yet, now is the time to cash in on the upswing and attract cultural tourists to your tavern.

While cultural tourism is not a new travel trend by any means, South Africa has only recently jumped on the marketing bandwagon by promoting our diverse offerings as cultural tourism destinations.

Cultural Tourism in South Africa

Think South African tourism and you immediately think of safaris, which have, since colonial times, been one of the country’s draw-cards. However, in 2012, the department of tourism launched the National Heritage and Cultural Tourism strategy to unlock the economic potential of cultural tourism, and stimulate tourism growth in South Africa that reaches beyond just driving through the bush in search of the Big Five.

Former minister of tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said the strategy marked a significant milestone as the first blueprint for heritage and cultural development in South Africa.

“Heritage and cultural tourism products create authenticity and distinctiveness in the global tourism market and therefore heritage and culture are important drivers in making a destination attractive and competitive as these enhance the image and social cohesion of a destination,” he said.

South Africa’s rich history and vivid cultural landscape make it an ideal destination for cultural tourists. Besides our eight World Heritage Sites, from Robben Island to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and myriad key destinations that commemorate moments on our historical timeline (like the Battlefields route), our lifestyle is fascinating to outsiders. Where else in the world can you explore the traditions of an indigenous community and enjoy a Big Five safari on the same day? Or delve into an emotional exploration of our struggle history followed by shisanyama at a raucous tavern?

When it comes to cultural diversity, South Africa owns the bragging rights. But it’s our township tours that are truly spearheading the growth of cultural tourism. According to NBC News, township tours have grown into a multimillion dollar business, with Soweto being named Johannesburg’s top tourist destination.

Here’s how to turn your tavern into a tourist destination:

Using the key points of the National Heritage and Cultural Tourism strategy means you can’t work in isolation. If you want to attract cultural tourists (specifically people from overseas who bring foreign currency) to your premises, you must attract them to your area. This means you need to get community buy-in, and will more than likely have to partner with existing tourism operators near you.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Proximity: Firstly, map out any existing tourist attractions in your immediate environment. These can include museums, galleries, markets, theatres, sites relating to the anti-apartheid movement, and mapped tourist routes (like the Soweto Heritage Trail in Johannesburg, or the Route 67 Art Trail in Port Elizabeth, for example). Be sure to visit these attractions personally, and decide if they are, indeed, of interest to a tourist. The abandonment of cultural institutions is a sad reality in South Africa, and some of these places may have fallen into neglect.
  • Contacts: Make a list of the tour companies operating at these attractions. When you’ve turned your tavern into a cultural tourism destination, you’ll need to make contact with these tour companies and sell the main features of your offerings to them.
  • Story: What is your unique story? Does your tavern have an interesting history? Cultural tourists want to submerge themselves in the full experience, and that means giving them access to the full story. Dig out old photographs and newspaper clippings, or anything that you can find which will provide a visitor with insight into your story. Display these throughout your premises in such a way that they invite visitors to engage with you (remember, an engaged customer is a spending customer).
  • Accessibility: Make the experience accessible to all kinds of visitors. Include the traditional names of your dishes on your menu, but be sure to include English explanations. This idea can be extended to include background stories about all your offerings, from the food to the music, to the history of the place. If you have a website and are active on social media, use these channels to expand on your offerings.
  • Culture: What are the key cultural experiences you’re offering? Do you offer entertainment (like traditional dancing and singing), or educational experiences (like showcasing how beer is made, or how to braai)? What is the unique cultural experience that tourists will gain from visiting your business?
  • Marketing: Assess what it is that sets your experience apart from other offerings in your surroundings. Use these main features as the basis for your marketing strategy. When you approach tourism partners, give them an attractive reason to book with you; perhaps offer discounted rates for groups that have visited another tourist attraction in the area.

Thanks to the exchange rate, visitors are flocking to our shores to experience our unique lifestyle and our famous hospitality. Whatever you do, be sure to present your offerings to international guests under the umbrella spirit of ubuntu. That’s what they’re here for.

For more information on the National Heritage and Cultural Tourism strategy, please visit

As reported in the March 2015 Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa report, which provides an overview of tourism’s contribution in terms of spending, employment and its impact on the gross domestic product, the tourism industry contributed R103.6-billion to the economy in 2013. Non-resident visitor numbers were estimated at 14.3-million during this period.

International and domestic visitors have different spending habits. For every R100 spent by an international visitor in 2013, R27 was spent on non-specific products, R15 on tourism-connected products, R14 on accommodation, R12 on road transport and R12 on air transport; and R20 was spent on other products. (Source: Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa, March 2015).