SANParks could toss curbs on boozing, rowdiness to attract millennials
Silence after 9.30pm has been the golden rule for generations of visitors to SA's national parks, along with strict curbs on boozing and rowdiness that might disturb animals and other park visitors.
But this picture could change next year, if new research to learn more about the holiday preferences of millennials is implemented. South African National Parks (SANParks) commissioned the research to woo a younger market.
At a briefing at the Tourism Indaba in Durban last week, officials from SANParks and the University of Pretoria's tourism management division said the current generation of loyal park visitors was getting progressively older and the organisation needed to gear up for a changing market of millennials - people aged between 22 and 38.
University study leader Professor Anneli Douglas said preliminary interviews with a small group of Gauteng millennials produced a range of disparate ideas on what younger visitors wanted, including introducing meeting "bomas" in some camps, where visitors could socialise, be a bit rowdy and enjoy alcohol and music after dark.
SANParks tourism development and marketing executive Hapiloe Sello said she quite liked the idea of social bomas, but this created a conundrum as it could spark conflict with traditional visitors who preferred a peaceful atmosphere during their annual pilgrimage to rustic rondavels or campsites.
"There is a conflict between old and new and we have to find a balance," she said, suggesting it might come down to setting up social bomas in some camps, while maintaining post-9.30pm noise bans in other camps.
Kruger National Park camp rules stipulate a stringent noise restriction from 9.30pm to 6am. Consuming alcohol in public areas is also prohibited, and day visitors are not allowed into the park with alcohol.
Commenting on the research, the country's oldest conservation society said it had long recognised the importance of getting young people into wild spaces."This is not only to support the financial bottom line of our conservation organisations but also because of the huge transformational and healing powers that travel to these areas can have on people [of all ages]," said Wildlife and Environment Society of SA spokesperson Vincent Shacks."There is also no doubt that if our youth do not 'discover' this transformational power of nature, there will be no incentive for these future generations to maintain these large spaces of undeveloped land. There is a very fine balance required between the need to attract young people to our parks and the desire to protect our wild areas in a way that maintains the feeling of wilderness."However, any park facilities or services that disrupted or disturbed the ability to see and hear nature went against "the very point of visiting these natural spaces and getting the full value of what they have to offer us".Others believe the concept of noisy social bomas is "crazy", including the Aikona group, which has bumped heads previously with SANParks managers over plans to develop upmarket hotels and resorts in Kruger.Aikona convenor Gerhard Smit said national parks were set up to conserve wild nature, not as holiday resorts."Unspoilt nature is diminishing rapidly and this type of activity will contribute further to the destruction."SANParks said it could be too early to draw firm conclusions from the initial research - involving only 54 millennials from Gauteng - and that in the second phase, the research would include another 1,200 respondents from Gauteng and then 1,200 from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban.