About 250 tour guides and delegates from the national Department of Tourism and the Robben Island Museum gathered on the island on Thursday March 2 and Friday March 3 in celebration of International Tourist Guiding Day.
The two-day celebration, held in various parts of the city and Khayelitsha, was also used to promote tourism, with a special focus on township tourism in South Africa and to introduce new programmes implemented by the national Department of Tourism for tour guides. Among these are the registration of new tour guides, addressing concerns of guides in the country, content development programmes and a chance for tour guides to share their success stories.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, said the city centre and surrounds were hard at work preparing for tourists as the industry had picked up substantially.
“Cape Town definitely ranks as one of the top cities in the country for tourism, and what you see in the CBD is a mushrooming of new developments and hotels.
“Cape Town is doing well. There are not many cities that have Table Mountain up there, the Waterfront down there and Robben Island across the water, so it makes sense that Cape Town CBDs will focus on their one economic asset, and they are doing it well. Cape Town Tourism is also doing a tremendous job.”
The Deputy Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa, said International Tourist Guiding Day was an opportunity to interact with new guides in the industry, and inspire them and others to do better.
She said the Department of Tourism had implemented skills development programmes to help tour guides. “When people knock on the doors of our country, tour guides are the first people to greet them,” she said.
“Tour guides are the face of tourism in South Africa. They share our stories and they are important as guides create an understanding between people and their history, as well as tourists and our history. There are about 2 000 tour guides registered in the country, but there are much more as some are not registered with the Department of Tourism.”
The celebration of International Tourist Guiding Day has also put a spotlight on Robben Island as a tourist destination, and has seen the department invest in a solar power plant for the island.
The Robben Island Museum this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The CEO of the Robben Island Museum, Mava Dada, said the new solar power plant would cut the costs of electricity on the island substantially. The island is currently using diesel to generate electricity.
“We are thankful for the support the island is getting from the Department of Tourism. Robben Island has lots of character, tourism and history, but also a living history of the veterans who share the story of Robben Island. However, the island is not as full of character as we want it to be. We want it to be vibrant, a space of triumph, and we want a story of hope to be told here. “
He said one of the challenges Robben Island has been facing was ferrying people to and from the island safely.
“We have paid special attention to a ferry operational model to ensure the safety of passengers, and we are in the process of implementing it.”
He also said he would like to see a new generation of tour guides taking over from the veterans who run tours on the island, “but can tell the story with the same passion as the old prisoners do.”
Some of the concerns raised at the conference were the fact that there were more “white” tour guides than other races; tour guides who could not cross to other provinces because they were only registered in one province; and the measures implemented by the department to promote township tourism.
Ms Xasa said that township tourism was in demand, and was a huge focus for the department at this point – and with that demand comes the demand for additional registered tour guides..
“We are working with other entities, such as Robben Island, and in Khayelitsha, to help recruit new entrants, and while township tourism grows, it will see many new black entrants come with it.”
Mr Hanekom said they were working to address the fact that tour guides could only register in a particular province, because guides sometimes take tourists into other provinces where their registration may not necessarily be recognised.
He said the department was also helping to develop tour guides, with 28, two of whom are from Robben Island, having been sent to China to learn to speak Mandarin.
“So when Chinese people visit Robben Island, there will be guides who can speak to them in their mother tongue.
“We want guides to reach their full potential and enhance visitor experience. It will be interesting to see the change take place and how it is received.”
The department will also be releasing a mobile phone application this year which will give tourists access to a directory of registered tour guides, as well as rate their service.
Another concern raised was the over-saturation of tour guides in one space. And with the Cape Town CBD’s rich history, many tour guides seem to be operating many tours in and around the city centre.
Speaking to the CapeTowner, the national Department of Tourism registrar, Nonkqubela Silulwane, said there was no limit to the number of tour guides allowed to operate in a certain area.
“Although there are many tour guides, not all are active. Some guides are also registered as site guides, and some as nature guides, for example. The levels are not the same, so the stories are not the same.
“We allow people to be guides if they choose to be. It’s up to the guide to find the area that suits them most.
“There are many aspects of the CBD to tell stories on, and if it doesn’t work for them, they can move to another area.”