Small-town regeneration through tourism: A major window of opportunity

Posted on November 06, 2015

A very successful inaugural Small Towns Conference with the theme, ‘Small towns, new futures’ was held in Bloemfontein from 22 to 23 October 2015. The conference was hosted by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and Prof Ernie Heath, from the Department of Business Management at the University of Pretoria (UP), was the facilitator of the Tourism Commission, which dealt with key challenges and opportunities, as well as proposed strategic interventions to optimise the tourism potential of small tourism towns in South Africa. 

A key issue highlighted by the Tourism Commission was that many small towns in South Africa have excellent untapped tourism potential that was in line with global trends towards authentic, exciting, engaging and educational tourism experiences. During the Tourism Commission deliberations, it was agreed that the next step should be to reach a consensus on practical and implementable strategies and actions to unlock the tourism potential of South Africa’s small towns, and to encourage their leadership, as a matter of urgency, to engage local stakeholders in focussed participative planning processes to agree on a shared tourism vision for their towns.

Some factors identified as being critical to realising the tourism potential of small towns included appropriate research to inform future tourism strategies, tourism awareness and educational capacity-building programmes for public- and private-sector stakeholders. During the conference the University of Pretoria was commended for the tourism research and education initiatives it had already undertaken at the local level.

Prof Heath said, ‘I was truly excited about the positive spirit and bias for action that prevailed during the Tourism Commission deliberations. If we can now start lighting the [candles of] small-town tourism …, I have no doubt that South Africa’s tourism flame will burn brighter and brighter. … Tourism … provides a window of opportunity to create viable entrepreneurial opportunities and enhance the quality of life of so many people in small towns throughout South Africa.’

During September 2015 Prof Heath was also invited by the Minister of Tourism, Mr Derek Hanekom, to serve on the Review Panel for South Africa’s National Tourism Sector Strategy. The focus of the panel will be to guide South Africa’s Tourism Strategy Review Process and to provide strategic advice on the path to be followed to ensure the continued growth of the tourism sector in South Africa in the next five years.  


- Author Department of Business Management

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