Let me lay it out for you: 250 people – media, tour operators and investors; four busses; ten Land Rovers; three ministers – and their entourage; eight 4 x 4 taxis; drivers and all the staff associated with the organisation and facilitation of this massive media trip through three southern African countries – South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland.
This is the crazy operation in which I’ve been enveloped.
It’s the final night of our three-day trip (yes, did I mention this was all happening within three days?) as I sit in my hotel room at the Royal Swazi Sun, I’m amazed to have made it this far in such a short time.
I must say, beyond the stampede of TV cameras, cars and busses, is the silhouette of a very worthy initiative.
The idea that we have been asked to promote is called the East3Route, and it is a collaborative effort involving the Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mozambique and Swaziland tourism authorities. The concept is to connect the three countries via this well-publicised tourist route, thereby opening up economic, social and financial investment opportunities for the respective countries.
At least I think that’s the objective – It’s been a little tough to keep up.
To say it has been madness would be a gross and unforgivable understatement.
The entire operation has been outsourced (at the last minute I think) to a marketing company called BLOOM IN ACTION, resulting in a horde of luminous green-shirted girls constantly herding people into cars, busses, marquees and banquet halls. The group is so large, we’ve had to get most of our tour updates via SMS and word of mouth.
Some people have been moaning that it’s all been horribly disorganised.
My opinion? To have made it this far, with so many people, in so little time, is frankly a miracle.
I’ll go into the details of the trip another time, but briefly: We started in the St Lucia area of KwaZulu Natal, where we were taken into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park for the first of many over-the-top marquee banquets – a lunch on the banks of the Catalina Bay. Here we were introduced the park’s bright future, and told how it will provide one of the many attractions on the East3Route. Day two took us north, over the border into Mozambique, where we ended up at Ponto do Ouro for the night, and day three had us push west, in clapped up old 4 by 4 taxis, into Swaziland.
I’d like to be able to write paragraphs of long, wafting descriptive prose about the beauty and cultural mystique of the areas that I have experienced; only I’d be making it all up.
All I can do is tell you what I’ve read in the supplied brochures and observed through dusty windows as scenery flew by.
There’s no doubt about it, some amazing locations are covered throughout the trip, and the potential for an unforgettable holiday is certainly evident.
The iSimagaliso Wetland Park is South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, with an amazing diversity of plants, animals and beaches (stand by for a full story on this amazing area in an upcoming issue of Safari). Ponta do Ouro is a quaint beach village with snow-white sand, great diving sites, whales and dolphins. And the Kingdom of Swaziland is best known for it’s attractive inland wildlife, hotels, golfing and cultural heritage.
Linking these three countries in one trip has the makings of a truly fantastic package for anyone looking for a taste of Africa in one hit.
But we blazed past these attractions in a haze of press conferences, gala dinners, media networking and the odd organisational mishap.
An accommodation catastrophe in Mozambique had many people thinking they may well sleep on the beaches of Ponta do Ouro, while the roads (or lack thereof) to Swaziland had me worrying that my final moments on this planet would be spent banging around in the back of a buggered out old 4 x 4 taxi.
I dunno, maybe that’s how all these trips are. As for my intended job as a guest on this route – to promote the area as a travel destination to you, the discerning African traveller – my only advice would be this:
If you do embark on the East3Route through KwaZulu Natal, Mozambique and Swaziland – make sure, for God’s sake, you take your time to enjoy it and steer well clear of any media expeditions that may be in the vicinity.