Rooted in Time: how storytelling built a route

The Garden Route National Park – South Africa’s bold experiment in open-access conservation – has just launched a self-drive tour of the Knysna forests. I’m proud to have contributed to the project.

Martin-Hatchuel-2012-WEBFacts inform: stories stick

Search ‘effects of storytelling conservation preservation’ on Google and you’ll get about 1,960,000 results – and, without needing to read them all, you’ll quickly learn that storytelling is humankind’s most effective persuader.

In ‘The Neuroscience of Storytelling’ (which, admittedly, is aimed at helping people to create better presentations – but we could all do with better presentations), Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, is quoted as saying that, “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different and the result is persuasion and sometimes action.”

This is the genius of ‘Rooted in Time’ – the Garden Route National Park’s new self-drive tour: it uses stories to inform and, very gently, persuade.

Rooted in Time

Parks around the world face a host of challenges: in ‘Issues Facing (the USA’s) National Parks’ – published on – Michael Melford places ‘Untold stories’ first among them. (Others include ‘Crumbling history,’ ‘Adjacent development,’ and ‘Foreign invaders.’)

Here at home, the evergreen forests that constitute 42,000 hectares of the 155,000 hectare Garden Route National Park also constitute one of Knysna’s most important tourism attractions – not least because of the real and imagined stories with which they’re associated.

Woodcutters, elephants, narrow-gauge steam trains, lost boys, hunters, gatherers, the men of the honey – all romping through the leafy undergrowth and sunny glades of our culture and our past, and giving the Knysna Forests a mythical, magical quality that most other tourism attractions can only dream of.

The signboards that have been erected at the ten way-stations on the Rooted in Time route – in the Diepwalle and Gouna sections of the forests, and up to the Spitskop viewpoint (at 918 metres the highest accessible peak in the district) – provide touch-points for exploring the history and natural history of the area through stories, and have now made it possible for visitors to experience the forests on a level that’s often only accessible to the privileged few who know the forests, or who’ve spent time with the old people of the area.

Market readiness

Examine the signboards (uploaded to SlideShare), and you’ll agree: more than a fun excursion into the past, Rooted in Time is a simple solution, but a great example of how an organisation can prepare a destination to meet the requirements of its tourism market.

The good news, according to the Garden Route National Park’s manager of people and conservation, Elzette Bester, is that they’re just the beginning of a much larger project (see video interview).

There’s still much that remains to be learned and shared, of course – see, for example, the talk given at the launch of the route by Prof Mike de Jongh (embedded here) on how the earliest people of the Southern Cape labeled themselves – so it’s going to be fascinating to see where it goes.

  • Printed ‘Rooted in Time’ maps are available from SANParks, Thesen Islands, Knysna. Telephone 044 302 5600
  • The author of this article, Martin Hatchuel, contributed some of the stories, and provided writing and editing services for some of the boards on the Garden Route National Park’s Routed in Time self-drive tour. Please mail or call 084 951 0574 for more information – or if you need similar services.
  • Got something to say about the topic of market readiness? Share your ideas with the world online at

How can This Tourism Week help you?

I’m Martin Hatchuel, a tourism practitioner with more than 30 years of experience in the sector, and I write and publish This Tourism Week as an informed, insightful look at issues affecting tourism in South Africa. (And I’ve been doing it since August, 2002.)

Backed by a team that includes web professionals (iBall Media), a graphic designer (Jo Hugo of Design,Etc.), PR consultants (interface by goji), and others, I’m here to help you develop all your communications tools: text (media releases, reports, business case studies, stories), strategies, web sites, apps, images, adverts, brochures, printing, events, and more.

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Now go away on holiday – it’s in the economy’s best interests. And have a great tourism week!

Martin Hatchuel
Chartered Public Relations Professional

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