The 31st of October marked the launch of West Coast Way – an initiative that has been conceptualised to become the gateway to the West Coast, and which will be actively marketing and showcasing the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor, with a view to increasing visitors to the area and thereby improving economic growth for the stakeholders and people of the area.
West Coast Way was introduced to Cape West Coast community members, land owners and attraction owners at an event held at Ganzekraal on the West Coast. Notable at the launch were keynote speakers Professor John Parkington, and Dr Dan Sleigh. Professor Parkington is from the Department of Archaeology at UCT and spoke about the natural history and the first people of the West Coast. Dr Sleigh is an award winning novelist who was born on the West Coast and who delighted guests with his talk about Ganzekraal under the VOC from 1710 to 1791.
This exciting new initiative has been founded by destination marketing specialist Carmen Lerm who has also been responsible for the marketing of heavy-weight tourist attractions such as City Sightseeing Cape Town and City Sightseeing Johannesburg, Hylton Ross and the Groot Constantia wine estate.
By far the most richly and uniquely abundant natural area in South Africa is the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor – home to thousands of species of plants, including fynbos which is found nowhere else in the world. The region is also home to a rich diversity of marine life and wildlife and has been identified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area. The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor, which stretches from Blaauwberg to Saldanha and back to Darling, also hosts world famous cultural heritage sites such as Mamre, !Khwa ttu and the West Coast Fossil Park.
Around the world 35 areas qualify as Biodiversity hotspots. They represent just 2.3% of Earth’s land surface but they support more than half of the world’s plants species and nearly 43% of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species. For an area to qualify as a biodiversity hotspot a region must have at least 1500 endemic plants – that is plants that are found nowhere else on the planet and it must have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation – in other words it must be threatened.
“Every year, millions of tourists fulfil their urge to see and experience the wonders of nature,” says Carmen Lerm. “Biodiversity tourism is a key source of economic income and employment for local communities, which in turn provides direct income for nature conservation.”
Lerm explains that the objectives of West Coast Way are to significantly increase the number of quality visitors through the marketing of the Biodiversity Corridor. “The aim is to increase the frequency that people return to the West Coast as well as the amount of time and money spent in the area by marketing the 101 things to do and see and attracting visitors to a wider range of experiences on offer. Increased tourism to the West Coast will also provide opportunities to community members in towns such as Mamre, with its Moravian Mission Station, and Atlantis, with its unique and beautiful Bluegum tree lane, to start new tourism directed businesses – such as walking tours, horse riding tours, bicycle tours, arts and crafts market and food festivals etc.”
“West Coast Way will build a strong image of the Biodiversity Corridor as a must-visit, unique, affordable and accessible destination that offers memorable, fun experiences for the entire family through various marketing and PR initiatives, media liaison, strategic partnerships with tour operators, and by hosting events and festivals in order to attract visitors to the area,” says Lerm.
The West Coast Way initiative forms part of the West Coast Corridor Rural Development Programme – which is being driven in terms of an agreement amongst SANParks, the Development Bank of South Africa and the Green Fund.
“SANParks welcomes the efforts of West Coast Way which delivers on South Africa’s development objective of building inclusive and integrated rural economies,” says Willem Louw from SANParks. “Furthermore it delivers on the vision identified in a workshop held in 2013 to establish a vibrant corridor where appreciation of its rich biodiversity, cultural heritage and partnerships deliver sustainable jobs, skills and opportunities.”
“It is extremely exciting that the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor now has West Coast Way championing it,” says Helena van Rooyen of West Coast Tourism. “This region has so much to offer and yet many people do not realise that they have such a vibrant ‘playground’ right on their doorstep. We look forward to working with West Coast Way in the marketing of the Biodiversity Corridor and feel confident that with the services of destination marketing specialists the businesses and communities in the corridor and surrounds can only benefit.”
According to Catherine Constantinides, Executive Director of Miss Earth South Africa and West Coast Way spokesperson, there is an international consciousness around biodiversity and a key approach of West Coast Way will be to position the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor area as a crucial biodiversity area, thereby attracting visitors from all around the world.
To start, West Coast Way has developed several circular routes that will be proactively marketed in an ongoing, planned and staged campaign that will generate focused interest on the attractions. These routes, which can take between half a day to a full day to complete, depending on the amount of time spent at each stop point, are modular – which means that visitors can connect one route to another for an extended stopover – and create a way for people to easily visit the many wonderful attraction in the Biodiversity Corridor.
“The routes are designed to showcase the attractions and activities that are already on offer in the Biodiversity Corridor but are unknown,” says Lerm. “Whether your focus is sightseeing, photo opportunities, history, culture, fauna and flora or adventure and activities. The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor has so much to offer and we feel that it is important that potential visitors see the bigger picture. The Biodiversity Corridor is about the rich experience, it is about the vibrant people, food and colours you will find here, it is about the beautiful unspoilt environment and it is about the myriad of attractions and activities that can be enjoyed.”
In celebration of the launch of West Coast Way, a Guide will be published and distributed at Hotels, B&B’s and other tourism locations in Cape Town’s CBD during December and January, inviting visitors to the Mother City to visit the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor. Aptly named the West Coast Way Guide, this publication – launched by West Coast Way – will be further supported by an informative website showcasing places to see and things to do in the Biodiversity Corridor and beyond.
It is West Coast Way’s goal to create a website that is factually correct and that will give visitors to the site accurate facts from one reputable source. “It is our objective to become known as the West Coast experts, giving all stakeholders the best possible service and experience – from a source of information on what to do over weekends, to offering dependable information that is an accurate reflection of the history and people that make the Biodiversity Corridor such a special place.”
“We will be working closely with businesses and attractions in the corridor to market them to South Africans and visitors alike. Various packages have been designed which offer a sliding scale of marketing activities. A basic business listing starts at just R250 per month, however, for true effect there are also more premium membership packages available that offer a myriad of services to effectively market businesses.”
Any attractions that want to be featured on the West Coast Way website should contact Carmen Lerm on +27 (0)861 321 777. For more information on West Coast Way and the West Coast Way Guide publication, as well as the marketing packages available visit www.westcoastway.co.za or call West Coast Way on 0861 321 777. Connect with West Coast Way on Facebook and twitter at WestCoastWaySA.