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Africa!Ignite’s rural marketplace concept WowZulu utilises craft experience to create cultural encounters for visiting tourists, creating direct impact in local rural communities.
Africa!Ignite’s responsible tourism initiative WowZulu has been developed to create new income opportunities across the rural and remote reaches of KZN Province, South Africa. The WowZulu concept aims to bring new incomes into these areas within an ethical and sustainable framework to ensure income generated through tourism directly benefits the local community.
WowZulu provides a diverse and authentic experience for visitors to KZN, mapping out a range of journeys, just off the well-beaten tourist tracks, which cross paths with dynamic, activated Marketplace sites. Each marketplace provides a hub for the local community to display and sell crafted wares and share local traditions through story-telling, food and performance.
Africa!Ignite and their partner organisations provide assistance in developing crafts that target the tourism market, along with training in the areas of hospitality, marketing and tourism delivery. The facilitatory role of Africa!Ignite ensures the marketplaces remain adaptable to changing consumer needs, whilst engaging in strategies to initiate new market connections across the tourism and craft export industries.
Crafting authentic experiences
The WowZulu tourism framework taps into craft as a highly engaged, local cultural practice which, in turn, increases local engagement and impact of their tourism activities. This approach acknowledges the integral role craft has in local Zulu culture, connecting WowZulu to an existing network made up of hundreds of home-based rural craft producers.
Similarly to consumers’ increased desire for the raw, authentic nature of handmade products, tourists are increasingly seeking authentic, participatory experiences which give insight into the everyday lives of the communities and cultures they encounter.
Crafts-based experiences provide visitors the opportunity to engage with authentic craft products and producers first-hand, greatly enhancing the experience for those who are interested in how inclusive tourism can deliver benefits to rural and marginalised communities. These experiences can also provide great insight into the role of craft in building and expressing local cultural identities, the value and significance of craft in trade and how these translate to fair and ethical products in local or global marketplaces.
The Marketplace concept also provides a visible, local presence of artisan enterprise. Rather than focussing solely on markets that are abstracted from the artisan’s local contexts, it situates the artisan’s work within its place of inspiration and creation allowing for a direct link between consumer, community and artisan.
Sustainably scaling the WowZulu concept
WowZulu Marketplaces are modularised both in the spatial design and layout, through re-purposing disused shipping containers, as well as in the locally owned business franchise structure. This modularisation provides the opportunity for the concept to be scaled and deployed across an extended network, with the WowZulu Marketplace concept to be launched a total of seven regions throughout KwaZulu-Natal Province in 2017.
A significant part of the successful and sustainable scaling of the concept lies in the partnerships established within the local tourism industry, ensuring that the WowZulu experience aligns with responsible tourism practices. Building these relationships, between the consumer and the tourism vendors, has been a process of educating and raising awareness of ‘what responsible tourism means’ for WowZulu: respecting and celebrating the people, culture and the environment throughout the WowZulu experience, and ensuring that the community benefits directly from tourism activities.
The WOWZULU model responds to the needs of a new and rapidly increasing generation of international tourists who want to enjoy ‘authentic experiences’, meet local people and know that their visit benefits the local economy, society and environment.
The sustainable scaling of the concept has been designed to tread lightly, taking a ‘crafts-based’ approach which focuses on engaging local resources, skills and knowledge throughout the experience. Ultimately, the tourism experience allows a deeper, connected and more meaningful encounter which is led and facilitated by members of the communities in which they visit. The facilitation of encounter by community members enables a genuine and respectful insight and internal perspective of local community life.
Through tourism, Africa!Ignite’s fair design brand Ignite!Design has created a new local sales channel to stimulate demand of artisan products from their vast network of producers. It provides the opportunity to explore locally influenced designs for testing in a market where consumers are looking for something connected to people and place – a memento or souvenir for their travel (and craft) encounters in KwaZulu-Natal Province.