KwaZulu’s iSimangaliso Wetland Heritage Park needs huge amounts of hard cash to manage conservation of the wilderness area which is comprised of a number of reserves that stretch from the border of Mozambique to Mapelane just South of St Lucia on South Africa’s east coast. The South African economy is not in a healthy position, so they rely on tourism to bring in a large percentage of the funds needed to protect the African wilderness and endangered species such as elephants and rhinos. Africa is not the top destination for foreign tourists, despite the beauty, a diverse cultural heritage, and incredible wildlife so State-run parks in Africa need to up their game in service delivery to the tourism sector.

Americans want a certain level of comfort

When Kenya bid earlier this year to host the next global tourist convention The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) made it clear that Americans want a certain level of comfort and they want to get what they pay for. Pretty sunsets, cultural experience,- and diverse wildlife are big draw cards for Americans, but low service levels are simply not acceptable. Africans believe their wonderful wildlife is a tourist magnet, but they forget there are plenty of other places in the world where tourists can spend their money. A forum comment nut-shelled the situation. “I have the luxury of going anywhere in the world so Africa is the last destination I would go for.

I can experience Turkey or even sunny Croatia, where the service standards are outstanding,” said one traveller.

Kenya works to meet USA tourist standards

Kenya is putting in a lot of hard work to meet the standards of USA visitors. On a visit to the country in January this year, the President of the ASTA, Zane Kerby, said that they had been satisfied that of the six Kenyan destinations they had visited they were satisfied with the wildlife, hospitality, and services.

Gaining the approval of the American Travel Society is vital as they influence whether tourists choose an African destination or not.

Basic maintenance issues are annoying

After a recent visit to the uMkhuze reserve, which is part of iSimangaliso, it is with regret that I cannot write that the reserve management is ready to compete for Kenya’s American tourists.

The lovely tented Safari Camp needs basic maintenance. South Africans may settle for shortcomings such as a toilet repaired with plastic bags and bits of rubber, fridges that do not work and broken zips on the tent, but an American would be upset and angry, especially when the Rhino–Dino bar runs out of beer. Roads are being repaired, hides are being upgraded, and some accommodation facilities are slotted for upgrade, but there is no excuse for sloppy maintenance and lackadaisical attitude. A vague wave of a hand and the comment that if you drive around you will find your allocated tented camp does not cut the mustard.

Tourists want to feel wanted

A young German couple on a self-drive safari commented that the large numbers of construction vehicles had not spoiled their visit.

The lack of beer disappointed them but they got by. “It’s the impression that visitors are a bit of a nuisance that got to us,” they said as they prepared to book out. That impression is not going to have the USA tourists lining up to hand over their precious currency and will certainly not generate American travel interest.

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