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    It’s March and I am still seeing a number of our delightful spots hosting not only a lot of foreign visitors but also many folk from up country- it is after all probably the beginning of the best and most comfortable time of year to visit.

    I usually return to the South Coast from my home in the Midlands on a Sunday and being a very poor DIY cook I go to some or other local to have a supper and prepare on my laptop for the week ahead.

    Last Sunday was one of those magic South Coast days- sunny skies, beautiful sea and hardly a breeze.   I parked off at St Michael’s beach and in between writing up the beginnings of the tourism plan for nearby Gamalakhe I took in the sights and sounds of sundowner time at one of our favourite beaches.

    A family of eight from up country (Vereeneging I think) was at the table next to me and as their children played happily on the generous lawns the adults sipped away at cocktails as if they were on some exotic tropical island. Then at supper time their order arrived accompanied with gasps at the generosity of helping for what the inexpensive menu may have suggested. One happy family- tick.

    Other couples were private and content in their togetherness and at a large table a birthday gathering was in exuberant swing. The mix of isiZulu, English, Afrikaans and German speaking people was there and all very content getting on merrily with the end of a lovely weekend and socialising.

    It’s days like this that capture the essence of the South Coast- unhurried, chilled, inexpensive and something for everybody. That is why we remain that special place with an endearing recipe that really reinforces us as a likable leisure land for weekenders and holidaymakers. As one visitor I spoke to said “Who needs to live in cities if we can have all of this”.

    For me it was a pity I had work the next day otherwise I would have stayed there a lot longer. Who knows one day I may take time out and holiday here-  the stay will not dent the pocket and I am sure the blood pressure will get to acceptable levels!

    What a pleasant Sunday in the Paradise of the Zulu Kingdom.

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     Before we know it, the first school and long weekend breaks will be on us and as usual our beach activations will be clicking into gear up and down our coast. We and other event related service providers are ready to provide multiple activities and events which we have incorporated into our seasonal events programme. There will be lots to do and see for those who will be taking that well-earned first break in 2018. I feel that March and April are actually ideal time of year for a getaway. Our weather is classic and not as humid as January and February and the temperatures are excellent to really soak in the sun and enjoy the ocean to its fullest. At this time thousands of kids will come down for sports related training and events as presented by the Margate Sports School which will be presenting their programme for the 25th year. What a boon it will be if we can grow the number of sport codes at the same time and create a South Coast Sports Week? This is something we are in fact working on. At the end of April (27-30) we again host the vibey South Coast Bike Fest which will be a blast for motor cycle addicts and the general public who will be spoilt with an entertainment programme par excellence. This will be really rainbow festivity here in our palm fringed paradise. To locals I say invite your best pals and family from out of town to the event- we want the better our 60 000 attendances from 2017! We advise that people who know of visitors coming down to please access hospitality and accommodation options via the South Coast Tourism’s, Southern Explorer and South Coast Bike Fest websites and consider using accredited letting agencies to ensure that their choice of stay meets expectation. We want everybody to return home mega satisfied. Here’s to great upcoming time in our lovely leisure land.

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    Public safety in our seas is of critical importance especially when we are predominantly a nationally and internationally recognised seaside destination.

    Our beaches are considered of the best in South Africa but when a situation arises and people get into difficulty and the lifeguard teams are out of reach, it is the local NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) that springs into action and more often than not a good outcome results.

    The dedicated NSRI teams are selfless volunteers who at short notice are called upon to drop what they are doing, get to launch and go out and save lives.  They are local heroes who provide a year round service much to the comfort of the many thousands of beach and sea users.

    This is why we have made an award to the NSRI stations at Shelly Beach and Port Edward. I am told that another station is earmarked for Rocky Bay near Scottburgh and if true then we can be comforted that our entire stretch of the coastline will have excellent service coverage.

    From our own funds we have in the past provided much needed equipment for the NSRI and will consider doing so again. Tourism in both the private and public spheres does need to recognise the daring work carried from the stations.

    I suppose that this is a bit of a plea for individual donors, the corporate sector and philanthropists to donate to our own NSRI stations-  their sustained efficiency does depend on such gestures.

    When we go to tourism shows many people from up country (who may not be used to being in the sea or have limited swimming skills) ask “Is the sea safe down there?”

    Because we have a number of permanently managed beaches with life guards (and of course our Blue Flag beaches with beach stewards) and the additional support from the NSRI, we are in a strong position to neutralise their concerns.

    Let’s continue to keep our maritime gem on that even keel of being sunny and safe.

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    Laid back Munster now has a new tourism attraction to boast about.

    Besides some lovely seaside homes and hospitality properties there is now the Munster Motor Museum.

    Before the launch last week, I took a trip to the site and was shown around the property.

    In a nutshell the collection of classic cars, motoring library and motor racing memorabilia are really worth the gentle drive down to Munster. Rod (the owner) has plans to in time expand his collection and at times have “guest” displays of collectable vehicles.

    He also has a collection of things maritime which may well be of interest to curators at the Maritime Museum when is gets formally launched in Port Shepstone.

    His property overlooks a scenic lake and no doubt in time there will be some sort of outdoor hosting areas as well.

    Hats off to Rod and his team for their endeavours and may their attraction accelerate to success. What with the Dezzie South Coast Raceway at Oslo Beach and this new addition to our product mix I have a good feel that motoring tourism may well become a bigger feature in our destination sell.

    I believe that towards the end of the year some 150 Porsche owners are coming for a visit and will be hosting some sort of public display as well. It goes to show that car owner organisations love to travel and pout their mechanical wonders – so where better then here on the South Coast.

    With the South Coast Bike Fest at the end of April, we will encourage bikers to take rides out inland and up and down our lovely coastline.

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    We all know from recent experience how disruptive and infuriating an issue like water supply can be for the tourism and leisure sector. Thankfully it appears that most of the South Coast is sorted and we can look forward to a well hydrated Easter season.

    Just imagine what Cape Town is going through! Over 4 million people and this time of the year being a very important time for many hundreds of long haul tourists escaping the coldest months in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Cape Town Tourism has reported a worrying number of cancellations because of the Day Zero prospect and there is also the distinct probability that supply recovery will be a very long process. Given that scale of Cape Town’s tourism economy this has to be of dire concern in the short to medium term.

    I empathise with the tourism sector down there because the Western Cape is justifiably a must see destination that is often a springboard for visitors to tour the rest of South Africa. This is where we come in.

    Shortly we are to attend the Cape Getaway Show to promote the South Coast and our intention is to glean interest from the people of the Cape especially during their own cold (and hopefully wet) months. Now that there is an air service between Cape Town and Margate this too is something we want to push.

    We have noted that our golf courses are hosting an increasing number of European golfers and the unbelievable value they get here will be a plug we will use when engaging with the long stay foreigners at the show.

    The Cape is realising that there are great touring options beyond the scenic Overberg the charming Winelands and a bit further out the Garden Route and this is why we want to quench their travel thirst to come here. After all our winter waters are still noticeably warmer than down their way in Summer!- hence us being very much a 365 day destination.

    At Easter time, there are few places in Africa that can boast a better maritime climate than here on the South Coast and our ventures to the Cape and to the Beeld Holiday Show in Johannesburg will we trust bring loyal and new tourism customers over the next few months.

    Finally just a reminder that the South Coast Bike Fest (27-30 April) looms and we will soon announce a great biker and entertainment programme- who knows the Cape Bikers may trek up for that extravaganza as well?

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    In December our staff in conjunction with helpers from the WESSA Beach Stewards Programme conducted a visitor satisfaction survey in Ramsgate, Margate and Hibberdene and the South Coast did very well thank you!

    Some 94% indicated that they were likely to more than likely to return here in holiday- it’s our great beaches (again 94% were happy with the cleanliness of the beaches) and value for money folks! This is a high market retention and/or return prospect.

    92% Showed satisfaction with beach and visitor information staff and 91% were pleased at the beach activity options, family orientated activations and events- something the South Coast is famed for during our holiday seasons.

    There was also a good satisfaction level (90%) in terms of accommodation and given our variety of things to see and do 83% felt that there is ample choice based on their preferences- and we continue to add new experiences- take our enjoyable cultural outings in rural areas through our Great Drives Out brand for example.

    98% Found the attitude of VIC staff and residents on the plus side- well done South Coasters we did better than the grumpy gang may wish to think!

    Only 5% felt that product information was lacking- the rest gave us the big thumbs up. Hey all they need to do is check out our website or that for the Southern Explorer Route Guide or take a hard copy of the guide and also call in at any of our friendly Visitor Information Centres and all’s sorted.

    9% Of respondents were not satisfied with the presentation of ablutions and 5% relating to security. These are aspects that we do keep and eye (or nose) on so that even higher levels of satisfaction are achieved.

    So in a final analysis this sampling suggests that as a destination the South Coast is still a very worthy holiday option.

    We cannot be complacent about this good set of indicators- hence our commitment to our visitors to ensure they have a sunny (weather and happy) and safe time in our sub tropical pleasure-land.

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    So the rich man with an intriguing hair style and a finger on the nuclear button has been remiss in allegedly referring to African countries as sh**h***s – not a good move by Mr Chump because the fallout from a supposedly glib comment has gone global with very serious diplomatic and PR consequences.
    In tourism a begrudged visitor may also resort to getting onto their media high horse and refer to a destination or service in a similar vein – one cannot reign them in once they have. The horse in such instances will have bolted and the tourism sector ends up with piles of reputational dung to deal with.
    So what can one do? In short we should never give visitors valid cause and generally our excellent hosts on the South Cost do just that- they really do their utmost to have guests thoroughly enjoy their stay.
    I contend that tourists get peeved at a particular place and at a particular time which may be in public space or at a venue operated by the private sector. If we are confronted with such issues it is at that precise juncture when a problem can be rectified or unfortunately gather offensive steam (that dung thing again). We all should be on the ground problem solvers to avoid publicity pitfalls.
    During the year we do get complaints from the public which we address as promptly and as efficiently as possible and in four years when we have assisted, none of the complainants have sought to do a Donald and create media frenzy.
    I am pleased to say that because we are not a sh**h**e of a destination the complaints are few yet there are the odd individuals who bypass the option of bringing concerns to our attention and they clog the fan with their frustrations on the net. 
    So what can we learn from dear Donald? Not follow his example is my short answer.
    My belief is that if visitors are aggravated we should immediately encourage them to avoid spontaneous gravitation to social media, try and resolve the issue with the originator of the problem and then if necessary use us as an arbitrator. 
    Our tourism and leisure industry depends largely on reputation and I have found that in dealing quietly with issues at hand with those who can actually rectify things is a much better way.
    After all what if one’s viral outburst in the media is factually wrong? There is an ever increasing incidence of litigation when that happens. Then the one who vented has to really duck and dive- something our daring Donald is expert in.
    Maybe he and the North Korea’s “Rocket Man” could have their first chilled meeting here on the South Coast? Now that would get the media abuzz!

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    We are in the process of finalising content of this year’s edition of our great Southern Explorer Route Guide and in sourcing possible photos, I Googled our area and scrolled through literally hundreds of great shots. It was motivating.
    We have arguably of the best land, cultural and seascapes in South Africa and this is why for many decades we have been a popular destination and intend to remain so. One often forgets how special this part of KZN it actually is.
    Notwithstanding the testing and very frustrating issues around things like water supply in certain areas, we need to remind ourselves of the wonderful tourism assets we have and be part of sustained destination success as opposed to being sappers who undermine the good intent, can do actions and commitment of so many.
    This week, global market research consultancy Ipsos released its 2017 findings based on surveys in 38 countries and guess what- South Africans were cited as the most miserable lot in the world and we are perceived as being very much a half empty nation.  Not without reason some may say.
    I do not necessarily subscribe to what the research may indicate but it does raise flags. 
    We on the South Coast are known for that ever friendly easy come easy go hospitality where hosts more often than not get outstanding reviews from guests and visitors. It will be such a pity if for whatever correct or wrong (e.g. fake news or misjudged messages on social media) reason we allow the levels in our collective glass to diminish. Being exceptional is far more rewarding especially when it comes to tourism.
    So when one is at a point of possibly tearing one’s hair out (and I am sometimes tempted to) maybe a bit of refreshing therapy could be that scroll in Google and being reminded of the absolute beauty of our district. This may kindle that resolute belief in what we have and the worthiness of collaborative and constructive effort to rightly keep us up there as one of the best destinations in South Africa.
    In the words of one of my favourite authors Dr Wayne W Dyer “Being against anything weakens you while being for something empowers you”. I’m all for topping up the glass.
    May 2018 be a most fulfilling year for everybody.

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    Bird watching of the feathered kind has become a significant part of our tourism mix here in the Ugu district.
    Avi-tourism as it is known in tourism parlance has for years been a growing aspect of our tourism offer and many destinations profile this pastime in their marketing mix.
    Our destination is no exception because we are blessed in having an abundance of birdlife at the coast and our lush forested hinterland as well. There are a number of birding guides and experts down here who can show our visitors our choice of over 400 species in some magnificent natural settings.
    For example, the new bird hide at Mpenjati situated on its picturesque lagoon provides binocular and Roberts Bird Guide junkies with an excellent spot to view the comings and goings of endemic and migratory species. Their view however may be distracted by some bathus naturalii who sometimes soak in the sun near there and do not feature in the guide.
    At the precipitous Oribi Gorge, the Cape Vulture colony is a sight to behold which is testimony to the outstanding conservation work done by local farmers and enthusiasts. Then in our uplands, KZN’s second largest indigenous forest at Ingeli is the habitat of many rare species including the reclusive Cape Parrot.
    In between all this, our many conservation areas and other Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife properties such as Vernon Crookes near Scottburgh and Umtamvuna Nature Reserves provide wonderful locations to ramble in nature and click away to one’s heart’s content.
    Birding is addictive- a friend from cricketing days who seemed to be very urban-social has now taken to this hobby and now he is on another tangent- no more beer with sports talk but more of where he saw some unpronounceable (Latin) bird in a tucked away place. To him seeing a bird from his bucket list is like finding treasure on some exotic tropical island.
    Avi-tourists are usually people in the 50 plus age group who are professional or retired, have disposable income and travel great distances at any time of year. So if you see folk in khakis, multi pocketed flak jackets, cameras with a zoom as long as an elephant’s trunk and binoculars with lenses more expensive than a Kruger Rand, you will know birders mean and are the business- great tourism business.
    Where better for them to do their sleuthing stuff than here- we are after all a birding paradise.
    Tweet your friends about it.

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    This is the last item for 2017 and no doubt all our locals and visitors will be soaking up all that we offer during this much needed year-end break.
    To me it is a time to shelve the stresses and strife of daily living and do so in a place where re-creation can flourish in the company of those precious to us.
    The South Coast and environs is the sort of destination that accommodates all visitor’s leisure needs.
    Our glorious beaches and multiple sand side entertainment programmes are legendary and for the more sedate, our seaside hamlets and tranquil coves offer that disarming respite from 21st century pressures. A water world day out is also a worthy option.
    In our main resort towns like Scottburgh, Margate, Shelly Beach and Port Edward the combination of sea, wining and dining and late night fun is always on the visitor’s menu. All our hosting towns and villages are spoilt for choice when it comes to having and ice cold pint or enjoying an inexpensive yet quality meal.
    There are those who love the presence of nature and our forests at Ingeli and the ever imposing Umtamvuna and Oribi gorges provide a playground for eco activity and adrenaline driving experiences. In addition our many conservancies and nature reserves from Umdoni all the way down the coast give us those special green spaces to relax and take in the diverse and unique flora and fauna.
    The more adventurous can go out to sea on dive and fishing charters and the rock fishing and camping folk can cast out and chill out next to the breakers. Those that like swinging (not that type!) can jump of cliffs or tee off at one of our ever hospitable golf clubs. Taking to the air in a plane of helicopter is another fancy of many as are beach horse rides and doing hosted beach hikes. This is excellent hike-bike and ride country.
    This is explore time in the rural byways where one can feel part of our proud cultural mix and the scenic environs in which people of our south live.
    One can also get revved up at our Dezzie South Coast Raceway where the excitement of motor sport will enthral those with a need for speed.
    This is shorts, T shirts, slops and light summer wear time where watches and cell phones are kept out of sight and our sub tropical nights and daily delights are enjoyed. 
    The retail junkies will be spoilt for choice at our many malls and shopping hubs and with over 200 event days (for all ages and interests) our summer event programme is worthy of checking out (www.tourismsouthcoast.co.za).
    In the similar words of that WW1 song “pack up your troubles in your old kit back and smile, smile smile”- have a very jolly holly here in our paradise.     

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