Can cultural tourism be developed sustainably in southern Africa?

In January we published Cultural Tourism in Southern Africa edited by Haretsebe Manwa, Naomi Moswete and Jarkko Saarinen. In this post, the editors discuss how the book calls for sustainable development of cultural tourism in southern Africa.

Nowadays it is conventional to estimate that cultural tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the global tourism industry. However, this association with culture is often absent when discussing tourism in an African context where tourism consumption is still largely seen to be based on wildlife viewing (especially the Big 5) and pristine wilderness settings. If there is a cultural element involved, it typically refers to ‘primitive’ tribal groups and imageries based on the era of nostalgic expeditions by western explorers to the ‘wild’ Africa.

Cultural Tourism in Southern AfricaOur edited book Cultural Tourism in Southern Africa aims to provide an alternative view. What the book and the contributing authors say is that southern Africa is culturally rich, diverse and multi-layered, and while cultural tourism is a relatively new ‘product’ in the region, it is already playing a major role with great potential for the future. Cultural tourism in the southern Africa region is not only about indigenous groups, cultural villages and living museums – which are important – but also arts, modern industrial heritage, urbanised cultures, townships, carnivals and other events. Especially for the domestic and regional tourists, the modern cultural and relatively recent historical environments are key motivations in tourism consumption. The future of the tourism industry in the southern Africa region is increasingly dependent on domestic and regional tourism!

Indeed, southern Africa is endowed with diverse cultural resources and especially in the recent decade cultural tourism has become an important sector of the industry. Culturally-oriented tourism is also increasingly used for local and regional development purposes as it can involve and directly benefit local communities and previously marginalised groups. As we explore in the book, this is a highly important aspect as it can empower local communities in development and contribute to global and regional scale policy aims, such as poverty alleviation and promotion of gender equality. In addition, an inclusive development of cultural tourism which involves local communities and other stakeholders could serve the United Nations new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the region.

Constitution Hill, Joburg 2013
Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Constitution hill was originally a fortress which was later used as a prison where e.g. Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned. Nowadays, the Hill is a heritage tourism attraction and a symbol of freedom (Photo: Jarkko Saarinen 2013)

Obviously cultural tourism does not only bring about positive impacts, particularly if not promoted based on inclusive development thinking. What the contributing authors underline with their versatile case studies is that while the positive impacts are evident, negative aspects of the utilisation of cultural resources in tourism should also be recognised and mitigated. This calls for sustainable and responsible modes of tourism development. This is important in general, but especially crucial in the case of indigenous cultures and other cultural minority groups, who often lack power and knowledge to control the utilisation and commodification of their traditions and cultural landscapes.

Together with the recognition of culture and wider understanding of the diversity of culture and cultural resources in southern African tourism landscapes, this call for sustainability in cultural tourism development is the key message of the book.

Jarkko Saarinen, University of Oulu (Finland) and University of Johannesburg (South Africa), jarkko.saarinen@oulu.fi
Haretsebe Manwa, North West University (South Africa), 23815310@nwu.ac.za
Naomi Moswete, University of Botswana (Botswana), MOATSHEN@mopipi.ub.bw

Sustainable Tourism in Southern AfricaFor more information about this book please see our website or contact the authors at the addresses above. If you’re interested in this book you might also like Sustainable Tourism in Southern Africa edited by Jarkko Saarinen et al.

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