A recipe for serious fun!

Guy Rogers, Brian Hayward and Janine Oelofse

FESTIVAL season is set to grip the Eastern and Southern Cape this week with three mega- events – just the recipe to chase away winter blues and bolster local coffers, tourism analysts say.

The Absa Wildsfees in Kirkwood, National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and Oyster Festival in Knysna kick off on Thursday and Friday and will be followed mid-July by the Billabong Pro surfing competition in Jeffreys Bay.

The events, all predicted to be “bigger and better”, are also spelling good news for the tourism industry, which is in a lull following last year’s boost as tourists poured into the region for soccer’s Fifa World Cup.

The Wildsfees (Friday to Sunday) is expecting to top the 38000 people who attended last year.

Wildsfees director Jenni Honsbein said she and her team were hoping for at least 40000 people.

“Last year, we generated R21- million just from the food traders and the game auction, not including accommodation. As with last year this time, accommodation is already completely sold out, right down to the last backpackers’ in Addo,” Honsbein said.

The National Arts’ Festival is due to run in Grahamstown from Thursday till July 10 and is set to attract almost 200000 visitors.

Last year, 180000 people visited the City of Saints and organisers are forecasting at least as many will arrive this time, judging by advance ticket sales and accommodation booking figures.

Results from a University of the North-West 2009 study showed the festival generated R60-million in Grahamstown alone, not including ticket sales. “It doesn’t take into account, for instance, the petrol or food visitors bought in Port Elizabeth or elsewhere in the province before they drove through to us,” said festival chief executive Tony  Lankester .

For the first weekend of the festival, accommodation in Grahamstown is already booked out. Typically, visitors who cannot get accommodation in Grahamstown stay in Port Alfred and Kenton. Shuttle buses had been scheduled to transport people from Port Elizabeth, said  Lankester .

To cater to the large number of day visitors who like to travel through from Port Elizabeth and surrounding towns, the organisers have slashed ticket prices on the last Sunday by half. Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism boss Mandlakazi Skefile said that with the three festivals due to launch at the weekend and the Billabong Pro not far behind, the metro was excellently positioned to benefit.

“We have positioned our marketing around … a campaign titled ‘Feel like a kid again’ and the Bay as a gateway to a province filled with festivals,” Skefile said.

“We are encouraging visitors to make the most of the (lower) winter rates.

“The festivals are quite big and they are being attended in a big way.” Many international visitors attending the popular Billabong Pro in Jeffreys, held over 11 “surfing days” from July 15, are also expected to spend time in the Bay. Event spokesman Paul Botha said a big component of international visitors was expected.

“This group will include … about 100 of … the creme de la creme of the world’s surfing media who will be here covering the event,” Botha said.

Knysna’s Oyster Festival, first launched 28 years ago to attract tourists to the town during the traditionally slow winter season, is expected to attract 65000 visitors. Knysna Tourism spokesperson Cindy Evans said accommodation in the town was fully booked for the second weekend of the festival, while the first weekend was almost fully booked. The midweek bookings were also higher than last year.

Evans said the festival was expected to bring about R55-million in total revenue into the town.

Some of the highlights of the festival include the South African Navy’s entrance through the Knysna Heads, the naval parade and a performance by the naval band, as well as the Pick n Pay Oyster and Wine Mardi Gras, which takes place on July 6.

Tourism consultant Peter Myles said “activity-related attractions” like festivals were extremely valuable, especially during economic lows.

He said the global recession was continuing to bite, but overseas tourists were not so much cancelling their holidays outright as looking to get the best deals.

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