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For visitors to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), all roads lead to fun and relaxation – as long as you know where you are going and exactly what to expect along the way, that is!

Because this province is filled with diverse experiences and there is such a wide variety of tourism products on offer, route tourism has proven an ideal way to actively market the region, especially when it comes to packaging and promoting rural destinations and attractions.

In KZN, seven routes have been created to focus on related, must-do experiences. This means that both organised tours and self-drive travellers can not only access the very best of attractions but can benefit from the expert local knowledge that goes into curating these routes in the first place.

Acting Chief Executive of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN), Mr Sibusiso Gumbi, says that small and emerging destinations and businesses in more remote centres can be linked together around a central theme and marketed as a single and specific tourism destination aimed at a clearly identified target market.

An example is the Zululand Birding Route. The first Birdlife South Africa avitourism project, the Zululand Birding Route has been running for more than a decade and has created a network of inter-lined guiding businesses that connect a variety of different destinations and increase the possibility that tourists from outside the province and the country with little local knowledge will see some of the 605 bird species that are resident in the area.

Though the creation of routes, small businesses who might not have had the resources to put themselves on the tourism map independently can benefit from the combined marketing resources of an integrated tourism route. As a result, in many small KZN towns, route tourism has proven a catalyst for local economic development, he adds.

KZN’s best known route, The Midlands Meander, was created in 1985 by five artists and crafters. Today, the 150 plus Meander members employ an estimated 2500 people and support more than 36 000 local people.

The value of the Meander tourism industry is estimated to be around R200 million per annum and opens the way for the very best of country living, Africa style! Over the years, the route has grown to include the province’s wine and cheese producers, destressing health and wellness spas and some of KZN’s most skilled crafters. The Midlands Meander is not only home to some of the province’s top chefs, restaurants and delicatessens but to furniture makers, chocolatiers and even blacksmiths. Stunning landscapes provide a backdrop to some of the finest accommodation, conferencing facilities and wedding venues.

It also paved the way for other tourism routes in the likes of Zululand where Route 22 connects the small town of Hluhluwe with the Mozambique border at Kosi Bay and enables travellers to enjoy everything from marine conservation experiences to Big 5 safaris and Route 66 which combines history and heritage experiences.

The latter – also known as the Zululand Heritage Route – covers the towns of Gingindlovu, Eshowe, Melmoth, Ulundi, Nongoma and Pongola and traces the oldest trade route travelled by early transport riders, missionaries, soldiers, settlers and farmers. It winds through sugar cane fields and rolling hills to the town of Eshowe where tourists can visit Fort Nongqayi, a museum filled with intricate basketry and pottery treasures, and walk through the treetops at the Dlinza Forest aerial boardwalk. A visit to Melmoth and Mtonjaneni introduces visitors to the eMakhosini Ophathe Heritage Park and the Spirit of the eMakhosini Monument that overlooks the iconic Valley of the Kings.

According to a January 2020 study conducted by University of Zululand researcher, Thulani Comfort Ntenga, entitled Analysing Tourism Routes for Local Economic Development in Zululand, tourism not only plays a critical role in the economic and human development of persons within the vicinity of any given tourism route in the region but these routes have been at the centre of job creation in Zululand.

Mr Gumbi notes that, by supporting the province’s tourism routes – which will be showcased at the Tourism KZN stand at the Africa’s Travel Indaba – travel industry stakeholders and buyers can support tourism development and job creation in a way that they would not ordinarily do as individual entities seeking out must-see attractions on behalf of their clients.

“We know that every Route has something special and unique about it and this will also help to drive first time arrivals as well as repeat visitors to our province. Most importantly, our Routes allow us to leverage our resources at events such as the Africa Travel Indaba to promote an extremely broad tourism offering for the benefit and enjoyment of the maximum number of tourists to the region,” he concludes.

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