The tourism industry in the Garden Route in South Africa suffered a hard blow following devastating fires that ravaged a large part of this popular tourism area last week. However, tour operators say the area is open for business and tourism.
Henk Graaff, MD SW Africa, explains SW Africa will continue to support the Garden Route as a fantastic leisure and MICE destination. "The majority of our international clients to Knysna (both leisure and MICE) stay at or around the Waterfront and on Leisure Isle, which has fortunately been spared from the fires,” he says, adding that although some of their future bookings at affected establishments are in jeopardy as a result of the fires, the situation could have been even worse from a tourism point of view, had this happened in the high season.
A total of 33 tourism establishments have been damaged, the majority of which are in the tourist town of Knysna. However, authorities have ensured that travellers holding reservations for hotels and establishments that have been destroyed in the fire are being accommodated elsewhere.
Tim Harris, Wesgro CEO, says: “We encourage all tourists who have unfortunately been displaced by the fire to consider completing their stay in one of the region's scenic surrounding communities. This will help benefit the local economy during this difficult time.”
Knysna Tourism Board chairperson Elmay Bouwer adds all planned tourism activities and events will continue as planned. She says: “Our activities on the Garden Route haven’t been affected. Some of the biggest providers on the estuary are operational and in full force.”
The Knysna Waterfront with all its restaurants and shops had not been affected in any way. Also the animal sanctuaries between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay including Knysna Elephant Park, Birds of Eden and Monkeyland are all operating as usual. The Featherbed Company is still organising lagoon cruises, but unfortunately had to postpone its eco tour operations for a few months.
Bouwer explains the renowned Knysna Oyster Festival, which is scheduled for next month and is the town’s biggest tourism drawcard, will go ahead. “The event will take place. The festival will be a great opportunity for people who want to help our residents to recover from this disaster and we are looking forward to welcoming a record number of people to our beautiful town.”
“Knysna is recovering from the devastation of the fires but for local businesses to survive, tourism must play a vital part,” says Bouwer. “We need to get the message out there that we are open for businesss and the Knysna visitor experience will be as good as ever.”
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