Racism and travel: why bother with bigots?

Posted on 25 March 2015

Hospitality is about making a guest feel absolutely welcome and comfortable. If they don’t feel that, it will be bad for business.

Dinner at Wandu@eKasi

Hospitality, in essence, is about making people feel welcome at your table.

My parents were impeccable hosts. When they held a dinner party, there would always be excess – too much food, and more wine than was strictly necessary. They would rather put matchsticks in their eyes to stay awake than show guests it was time to take their full bellies and slurred stories home. If someone came for dinner with an unexpected body in tow, a place would simply be laid and my mother would retire to the kitchen, away from visitor’s eyes, to quietly panic that there wasn’t enough food (impossible). They, naturally, would be made to feel warmly welcome and told, in fact, the dinner would simply not be the same without them. It would have been unthinkable to make guests feel anything but absolutely comfortable, let alone awkward because as the host, that’s one’s duty and pleasure; after all, if someone’s taken the time to visit you…

To my mind, this applies as much if someone has taken the trouble to pay you for staying at your establishment. An interesting question, then, when one brings discrimination into the equation: can a prejudiced person still be a good host?

Last year, I did research on gay travel in South Africa. Some of the agents I spoke to said there were areas in the country where gay clients had been made to feel uncomfortable; they had stopped recommending that accommodation. Last month, we sent a black photographer and writer to the beautiful Waterberg to write a road-trip story on the exquisite area. They had doors closed in their faces by white establishments; they were refused service (look out for our Waterberg story in the June issue). For one of our ‘On The Chart’ features, our journalist visiting Magoebaskloof was phoned by a white homeowner and told, ‘I’m not racist, but you know how I like to keep things…’ We do, and the establishment is off any list we recommend.

Racism and prejudice are real in SA. We’re hearing about it more in the travel context and it’s evident that travelling in our country can be an uncomfortable experience if you’re a person of colour. The sad thing is, prejudice runs counter to the concept of hospitality and what we, as South Africans, are known for as hosts: warm, welcoming, friendly, going the extra mile. If hospitality comes with caveats – be they about race, sex or religion – then what is ultimately pure rudeness and bad manners will be felt by guests. The word will spread and it will start eating into any hospitality enterprise’s bottom line. South Africa is a big and beautiful place, and there are just too many alternatives out there – why bother with the bigots?

This month, journalist Sibongile Mafu writes about SA’s most popular city in ‘Does Cape Town heart you back?’ (page 36). The Mother City has recently come under some criticism for its lack of hospitality. She asked Cape Town Tourism to comment.

Cape Town has featured many times over in our Luxe for Less special feature, in which we’ve rooted out the best winter deals across the country, and then pushed for extra discounts for our readers and more for subscribers. It’s not our usual story, but our aim is to let you take advantage of the best winter deals coming up. Please let us know if you find it useful.

Click on the cover below to see more from our April issue, and to buy your copy in print or digital.

April 2015

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