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.