What attracts tourists to the Little Karoo?


There has been a very rapid expansion in the number of people involved in the tourism  industry over the last 5 years in the Little Karoo. There is consequently an increasing  emphasis on the potential of tourism to support sustainable development in the region. There  is however very little information on the region’s emerging tourism market. Most provincial  and national studies tend to group the Little Karoo with the Garden Route which has a very  different economic and environmental character. This study used a series of three  questionnaires (for tourists, service providers and regulators in the tourism industry) to  determine which aspects of the Little Karoo environment were important to tourists visiting  this region and whether the service providers and regulators were aware of these  preferences. We supplemented the questionnaires with an analysis of 84 brochures to  determine how well this awareness was translated into marketing of the region.  

It was found that during both the July and January school holidays just over 60% of South  African visitors interviewed in the Little Karoo were Afrikaans speaking. The majority of the  remainder (at least 35%) were English speaking. Thirty percent were first time visitors and  over 80 percent of the visitors during both time periods were South African. Our data did not  show a relationship between income and expenditure or with what people enjoy most. The  mean median total daily expenditure in January was R190 per day excluding explicit  reference to transport while in July the mean expenditure was R550 per day including explicit  transport estimate of R300 (median value).  

When tourists were asked “What did you enjoy most about the area?” the most frequent  response was scenery followed by nature. In terms of scenery preferences, the mountains  were significantly more popular than the open plains and the small towns were more popular  than the cities. Many people indicated that it was the undeveloped nature of the area which  appealed to them. Gravel roads attracted at least as many people as were deterred by them,  and were especially popular with those who were staying in remote rural areas. Repeat  visitors were particularly attracted to the peace and quiet of the region and frequent visitors,  (who visited the region more than 10 times), highlighted the regions genuine and hospitable  people.  

The local brochures do not feature the climate very prominently, unlike the regional  advertising campaigns which promote the area as a sunny area close to the Garden Route.  The local approach is supported by our survey which shows a mixed tourist response to local  climate.  

First time visitors, particularly those without families were attracted to the Cango Caves and  had a very positive experience there. The ostriches were also very popular, especially with  the younger adults, and they were the features most frequently mentioned in local brochures.  In contrast, the regions high number of endemic plants is only mentioned by one brochure.  Over 20 percent of tourists surveyed indicated that they were interested in seeing rare plants  but are probably unlikely to experience them due to a shortage of access and information. 


As a consequence of ongoing challenges in the agricultural sector, tourism is increasingly  seen as a potential vehicle to promote sustainable development in the region. Over the last  decade the tourism industry in the Little Karoo has grown tremendously. For example, ten  years ago only two places provided accommodation in Calizdorp whereas by 2006 there  were 44 members of the local tourism bureau. This growth has accelerated over the past 5  years and is reflected in both a growing number of tourism establishments and a significant  increase in property prices. This is reflected in our surveys of service providers where over  20 percent had been in business for less than a year. Indeed, as we tried to interview the  larger and more successful establishments wherever possible this is likely to be an  underestimate of the percentage of new role-players. Many of these new role-players were  very optimistic about the potential of this market and saw the key growth area as being  independent travellers. There appears to have been a greater increase in accommodation  availability than in the diversification of activities over the last 5 years. Many service  providers are using the additional income as a supplement rather than their primary source of  income.  

Local government’s support of this sector is mixed and some local municipalities do not see  this as a priority area for expenditure. There is consequently very little information on the  regions emerging tourism market. Most provincial and national studies tend to group the  Little Karoo with the Garden Route which has a very different character. Even within the  region there is a strong focus on the attractions of Oudtshoorn rather than those found in the  adjoining rural areas (Kannaland). The objective of this study was to obtain some baseline  data on who was coming to the Little Karoo, to develop an understanding of what attracted  them to the region, and what their experience was once they arrived there. We then spoke to  service providers and regulators to determine their perceptions of the tourist experience and  used an analysis of brochures to examine how this understanding was translated into  marketing.