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A Travel and Wine Destination: South Africa

Sign outside the SA Embassy in Washington, DC

Early in October we visited the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa in Washington, DC for a presentation emphasizing the wonderful experiences of visiting South Africa. Before our visit, we already were aware of the wine industry in the country. We were impressed by the enthusiasm of all the presenters at the embassy event. The word “beautiful” was liberally sprinkled throughout the presentations. 

Symbol of South Africa

We were first welcomed to the event by Ambassador Mahlangu. In addition to his smile, he talked about South Africa as if it was a country he was in love with. Inspiring comments by Ambassador Mahlangu included: that they “always welcome visitors,” there is a “people to people engagement, people should “experience South Africa as a country.”  He also encouraged people that if you have not been there, then you should go there. He noted the importance of tourism. “We are the ambassadors of South Africa.”

After Ambassador Mahlangu’s welcoming notes, Ms. Banger Masisi spoke about tourism to South Africa. She noted that 2017 tourism to South Africa was successful with 70,000 visitors traveling to South Africa. The country is ranked #3 in the top 10 travel destinations.  She emphasized  the friendliness of the people. “The people are so nice. The people are naturally friendly.” Visitors are welcomed not as travelers but as friends. She added the many attractions in South Africa including wonderful beaches, safaris, changing vegetation from one area to another, walking or hiking trails, skydiving, golf and visiting wineries. Wineries may offer wine tastings, art galleries or restaurants. This is not a once in a life time  trip but repeat visits are encouraged.

A large portion of the talk was about South Africa sports tourism especially Comrade  Marathons. Mr. Bruce Fordyce is very passionate about South Africa especially in the area of sports. “So many sports we like you don’t play.” His talk also included other sports such as cricket, a five day game. He referenced the tourism related to marathons. His talk included different types of marathon events including one that goes through Kruger Park. Sometimes they have to move the elephants and lions off the road. Other marathons included the Cape Town marathon and the two oceans marathon that goes from the Atlantic to Indian Ocean. The phenomenal Comrades Marathon, with a 56 mile race, started with 20 runners and now has 20,000 runners. “The entire nation comes to a standstill,” comparing the Marathon to the Super Bowl.

Mr. Patrick Kongsilp is the US Ambassador for the Comrades Marathon. He noted that the Comrades Marathon is a part of South African culture. Participants feel what it is like being South African. It is not just the race , but also the culture of the race and and culture of South Africa. “Every South African knows about the Comrades Marathon.” Spectators are supportive of runners from other nations. He talked about a special song that everyone sings before the Comrades Marathon, Shosholoza. The song shows solidarity. Since 2010 Patrick has returned to South Africa six times, participating in the Comrades marathon multiple times. 

In describing the Comrades Marathon, Patrick said that everyone must complete the course in 12 hours. Any runners not completing the course are cut off from the finish line.

The next speaker of the day was Ms. Debra Droke from the South Africa Airways. She portrayed the airlines as being the most authentic airway. She commented that when you step on our flight you are in South Africa. She provided the example of a flight attendant taking a fussy baby on her back to give the mother a break. After serving the passengers the flight attendant gave the sleeping baby back to the mother. This example typifies the people of South Africa. Every seat has a story. The flights are authentic with great fares.

The final speaker of the day was Jim Clarke, who represents Wines of South Africa. Jim has made 19 trips to South Africa and has another one scheduled during 2018. He talked about visiting wineries noting that each winery tries to make their wine experiences unique. Most wineries are open daily and visitors can just walk in. Jim compared the experience of visiting wineries in South Africa with wineries in Napa. 

In 2019 South African vineyards will be harvesting their 360th harvest. While the wine industry dates back to 1659, it was in 1994 that modern wine industry began. Wine tourism began in 1971. Today more Chenin Blanc is produced in South Africa than any other country.

After the South African tourism event ended, we were invited into a room for a light lunch; outside that room several distributors were offering wine tastings of wines from South Africa. More about those wines in a future blog post.

The presentations of tourism in South Africa were impressive with so many examples of why South Africa is a great place to visit, that surely we put South Africa on our list of countries to visit in the future.


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