South Africa can’t seem to get enough of Indian tourists. And the admiration is mutual. In 2007, about 52,000 Indians visited the country, up from 36,000 in 2005. Medha Sampat, country head of South African Tourism, spoke to Lounge about why South Africa should be a permanent fix for adrenalin junkies. Edited excerpts:
What do you offer Indian tourists now?
Hic hic holiday: South Africa is known for its vineyards.
South Africa is known for the beautiful vineyards in and around Cape Town and for the surfing spots along Durban, up on eastern coast, besides game resorts and safaris. Building on this image, we are showcasing adventure sports as well as promoting South Africa as a luxury/indulgence/shopping destination. For adventure-seekers, there’s bungee jumping (South Africa has one of the world’s highest bungee jumping spots—216m—in Western Cape), cage diving to watch sharks, sky diving, rock climbing, trekking and hiking. The country also offers whale watching, ballooning, rafting.
Doesn’t the high crime rate discourage travel? What about the recent incident of an Indian photojournalist dying in mob violence?
Most Indian tourists come in through organized tours and in South Africa, they are always accompanied by experienced guides. In our experience, safety has never been raised as a serious concern by Indians.
The recent violence did get quite a lot of media attention in India. But we are sure that the effect, if any, will only be short-term and, in the longer term, South Africa’s attractions will make up for whatever apprehensions Indians may have.
What safety advice do you have for Indian tourists?
Plan well in advance to ensure all arrangements are in place before you reach South Africa. All major Indian travel agents have existing business relations with South African tour operators; make use of them. Landing up in Johannesburg and then thinking about accommodation may not be the best idea. As anywhere else in the world, always be safety conscious.
What kind of tourist inflow is the country expecting during the soccer World Cup in 2010?
We are aiming for 10 million tourists in 2010.
With last year’s Twenty20 Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup in 1995, we have proven our ability to host international events. For the Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, we have new stadiums, hotels and better transportation infrastructure coming up.
Roughing it in Reshi
There’s a reason why Sebastian Pradhan, who owns the eco-tourism centre at Reshi, has opted for word-of-mouth publicity. “It brings the right set of people,” he says. Who, then, are the right people for Reshi, on the east Sikkim-north Bengal border?
If you can make do with a mattress for a bed, a feeble filament for a light source, tolerate the occasional sorties of insects and turn your back on some worldly comforts (including a motorable road), you have nearly made the cut. The pay-off lies in panoramic night skies, butterflies, the constant gurgle of the Reshi river running alongside the huts, mountain views, jungle walks and chhang, the local millet-based drink. Add to that a delectable spread from Pradhan’s own kitchen, the vegetables almost entirely sourced from within the eco-tourism complex and the trout, rohu, crab or whole frogs (if you care) from the river.
Reshi is 36km from Kalimpong in West Bengal. The 14,000ft Jelepla Pass, Tsomgo Lake, Renock and Pedong are motorable distances from the Reshi riverside. Contact Sebastian Pradhan for details on +91-9932744407.
Time machine travel
For exactly 80 minutes on 1 October, around 100 members of the Leading Hotels of the World across the globe will offer just under 6,000 rooms at an unimaginable $19.28 (around Rs850) per night (for a maximum of two nights) to commemorate their founding year, 1928. What better reason to organize a guilt free, snappy little winter get-away that is light on the wallet?
So what do you need to do? Log on to www.lhw.com/1928_SIGNUP.aspx?ext=1928 and sign up (registrations opened on 5 September). At exactly 5.30pm IST, in tandem with time zones across the world, you will be able to book your rooms in your choice of hotel. Do have second and third options ready, just in case your first choice isn’t available—time will be precious and you can bet competition will be fierce.
Among the participating hotels are the Adlon Kempinski in Berlin; the Tortuga Bay in the Dominican Republic, with its private beach; The James in downtown Chicago; the Pezula Resort located amid cliffs and beaches in Knysna, South Africa; and the Santiburi Golf Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand.
The full list is available on the website. Even with taxes and other charges, the offer ensures a holiday so delightfully cheap and superlatively luxe, you won’t bat an eyelid at the airfare. Go ahead, step back in time. Confirmations will be immediate.