South African Snapshots
Africa is a vast continent, with all kinds of wonders to dazzle and amaze even the most seasoned of travelers. The southern part of the continent is also home to several world-class attractions that delight guests and provide employment opportunities to the communities they serve.
Gold Reef City
Johannesburg’s Gold Reef City combines a gold rush-themed attraction with 18 thrill rides, 13 rides for children, the Jump City
Trampoline Park, an underground tour of an actual gold mine resting below the park (once active, the mine closed in 1971), 12 dining options, and seven retail stores. Gold Reef City also has a casino complex with a movie house, several restaurants, and a theater. Two on-site hotels provide park admission with the room reservations.
“We compete with other entertainment offerings in Johannesburg … but we are the only theme park that has rides, as well as a tour of how Johannesburg came to be,” says Natasha Bezuidenhout, Gold Reef City’s brand manager. “We cater to a wide range of markets, from young to old, and also to schools and international visitors.”
Catering to potential guests of all kinds helps Gold Reef City stay competitive.
“The market is very competitive in Johannesburg and the economy in South Africa is down at the moment,” says Bezuidenhout. Gold Reef has found a challenge in adding new attractions. “As most rides are sold in America and Europe, we either have to pay in euros or dollars, and this makes purchasing new rides very expensive for us,” she says, referencing the exchange rate and shipping costs.
Faced with a tight market and new equipment costs, Gold Reef City takes a very disciplined approach to minimizing downtime and maximizing customer satisfaction.
“We are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays—outside of South African school holidays. We ensure that we do all our maintenance on these days,” says Bezuidenhout. “Major maintenance is also scheduled so that we only have one of our big rides down at a time.”
To boost attendance, “we have structured our pricing based on which rides you can ride,” Bezuidenhout says. The park also retooled its marketing plan.
“We changed our advertising strategy to show the value that you get when you purchase a theme park ticket. It comes down to a full day of thrills versus one or two hours at another entertainment venue for the same price.”
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
Built in 1929 and upgraded several times, with the most recent upgrade in 1997, South Africa’s Table Mountain Aerial Cableway (TMAC) provides residents and tourists alike with breathtaking panoramic views of the Cape Town region.
“From the top of the mountain you experience Cape Town as a peninsula surrounded by the cold Benguela Current and the warm Agulhas Current,” says Collette van Aswegen, TMAC’s executive manager of marketing. “You also see the City Bowl, harbor, and iconic Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) from above.” The visuals are enhanced by TMAC’s Rotair aerial cars, which have rotating floors to give passengers a 360-degree view.
Although the South African market is highly competitive, TMAC’s position as the only Rotair cable car attraction in Africa gives this attraction an edge.
“Our major challenge is making the mountain accessible and affordable to local visitors, and addressing the long queues,” says van Aswegen. TMAC plans to address wait times by adding a fast track pathway “for time-pressed visitors,” she says. Weather can sometimes prevent everyone holding a ticket from riding. An upcoming virtual reality (VR) experience will “provide a cable car experience when the cableway is closed due to strong winds.”
Because TMAC operates in a national park, “it is important for us to be mindful of our impact on the environment,” van Aswegen says. “We have put a variety of measures in place to carefully manage water and electricity consumption, and reduce waste sent to landfill.” TMAC is also carbon neutral. “We offset our carbon emissions by investing in a low carbon housing development in Khayelitsha, one of the poorest, most vulnerable areas in Cape Town,” she added.
Other TMAC best practices include offering reduced and free admission to community groups, and sourcing more than 95% of TMAC’s retail products locally. “In order to assist small-business development, we offer a supplier development program to some of our smaller suppliers, thus assisting them with business growth,” says van Aswegen.
Two Oceans Aquarium
Cape Town, South Africa, is sandwiched between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. This fact inspired the focus of the Two Oceans Aquarium, which is located on the city’s V&A Waterfront. The aquarium houses more than 8,000 animals, representing more than 200 South African species.
The Two Oceans Aquarium’s signature attraction is the 423,000-gallon I&J Ocean Exhibit.
Viewable through a 33-foot-long underwater transparent tunnel or a giant window, this exhibit is home to large stingrays, musselcrackers, and sea turtles. The aquarium’s Predator Exhibit has ragged-tooth sharks and giant yellowtails, while all kinds of creatures live in the underwater Kelp Forest Exhibit. The aquarium encourages visitors to jump in.
“The aquarium offers qualified divers the opportunity to dive in any of its three large exhibits,” says Alichia Nortje, the aquarium’s guest experience manager. “Divers can get up close to the turtles or rays in the I&J Ocean Exhibit or swim with the sharks in the Predator Exhibit.” Diving in the Kelp Forest Exhibit, surrounded by a multitude of fish (many of which are native to South Africa), is another highlight divers are willing to pay to experience.
“One of the aquarium’s key focus areas is marine conservation,” says Nortje. “We are actively involved in the conservation and research of threatened and protected species, including seals, turtles, penguins, sharks, and some commercially important line fish.” The aquarium hosts on-site marine science classes for about 75,000 school children annually and rents out space for conference and hospitality functions.
Tough economic times in South Africa are cutting into local residents’ spending power. Still, the Two Oceans Aquarium is soldiering on, buoyed by “continued growth in all of our major revenue streams, with particular emphasis on our local market and annual membership sales,” Nortje says. “Our activities are specifically developed in order to have a positive impact on the environment and on society as a whole, while remaining financially sustainable at the same time.”
Two Oceans Aquarium’s business advice to other operators? “Remain relevant and prioritize your local market,” says Nortje. “They help see you through the tough times when international markets fail you.”
uShaka Marine World
Located on Durban’s Golden Mile in South Africa, the 40-acre uShaka Marine World is one of the largest marine theme parks on the continent.
Seven major attractions are housed on the uShaka Marine World property. They include Wet ‘n Wild, a collection of water slides and rides, including the 1,476-foot-long “Dizzy Duzi” adventure ride. Chimp & Zee Rope Adventure Park consists of a series of rope bridges, obstacle courses, climbing nets, zip lines, and crossings, featuring one of the longest continuous belay systems in Africa. Meanwhile, the 3,230-square-foot Dangerous Creatures attraction houses fearsome creatures such as the king cobra, black mamba, Gaboon viper, crocodiles, poison dart frogs, tree vipers, and tarantulas.
uShaka Sea World is one of the largest aquariums in the Southern Hemisphere. The marine life center is home to 10,000 sea creatures, plus a 1,200-seat dolphin stadium and a 450-seat sea lion stadium. The park’s Sea Animal Encounters Island allows visitors to enjoy more personal encounters with marine creatures in the Snorkel Lagoon, Ocean Walker, Shark Dive, a ray touch pool, and a stingray feeding area.
For kids under 12, uShaka Kids World offers activities in an interactive area that include Africa’s biggest jungle gym, “Crabby Beach” (a giant sandpit), “Polly’s Paint Pen” (a painting paradise), “Cast-Aways” (a live show with interactive mascots and characters), and a wet area called the “Splish Splash Sprinkler Zone.” Finally, guests of all ages can shop at uShaka Village Walk with its 80 stores and food outlets.
To stay ahead of the competition, uShaka constantly reviews and refreshes its entertainment offerings, says Mpume Mabuza, the park’s marketing director. To maximize success and stay on top of trends, “we benchmark ourselves against similar attractions and theme parks within the global tourism industry, whilst also conducting continuous market research in order to stay relevant to our home-grown market,” Mabuza says.
James Careless is a Canada-based writer who covers the attractions industry for Funworld.