They’ve just opened the first 5 km of the Cross Cape – a project that aims to develop a 600 km mountain biking route from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay – and by launching it, launched a bold experiment in destination management.
Like the USA’s Appalachian Trail (which, Wikipedia tells us, “is maintained by 31 trail clubs and multiple partnerships, and managed by the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy,” and which crosses “forest or wild lands… towns, roads and farms”), or Spain’s Camino de Santiago (a walking route that leads from various starting points in Europe to the shrine of the apostle James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain), the Cross Cape is expected to become an iconic attraction that will draw large numbers of visitors – but which will require the cooperation and buy-in of varied and sometimes even competing government departments, NGOs, landowners, conservation organisations, businesses, business chambers, tourism offices, local economic development programmes, training programmes, and many, many more to achieve success.
Speaking after the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Garden Route Trail Park on Friday, 29 July, Alan Winde, the Western Cape’s Minister of Economic Opportunities (who seems far more comfortable in muddy lycra than snappy suits) saluted the many people and organisations who’ve worked together to get the route off the ground.
Keeping the momentum going is going to be a long and intricate journey – although it’s started well.
“It’s a real diverse mix,” said Minister Winde.
“That is the trick, and I want to say [thank you] to the team that have pulled together – specifically Greg (Vogt, CEO of Knysna & Partners) who headed it up, and got all the partners around the table.
“Our motto here in the Province is ‘Better together,’ and if you can get it right, it is phenomenal.
“We’re seeing a phenomenal partnership being built, and, of course, it’s providing lessons for us” in how to create the bridges that will bring the route to its successful completion – and ensure its long-term success.
Hop-on, hop-off bus
The Minister pointed out that many of the destinations linked to the route have already created their own cycling attractions.
And “linked to the route” is the correct way of putting it, of course, since the Cross Cape probably won’t be a single, winding track – rather, the people involved see it as a golden thread that will weave through an entire web that in turn creates economic opportunities for each individual town in the region, as well as for the entire Province as a destination.
The interesting thing about this project is that users won’t necessarily ride the entire route in one go. Instead, it’ll be a little like a hop-on, hop-off bus – where riders will be able to choose which sections of the route they want to ride, and how they want to ride them (hard technical riding, serene cycle touring, etc., etc.)
But Minister Winde acknowledged that no one really yet knows how this is all going to work.
“I think, as you said, there will be this infrastructure-trail-bucket-list thing with a whole lot of waypoints and towns.”
“We’re still developing it, we’re still looking for best practice… asking what it’s going to look like.”
Equally, no one yet knows how many economic opportunities the Cross Cape will create – although the consensus is that there’ll be many. (And many more even than golf – for which see the companion piece to this article: ‘No. Cycling isn’t the new golf. Golf wishes’.)
Once the spirit of entrepreneurship around the route gets its own energy, said Minister Winde, “then of course we’ll see other things being developed.”
As an example, he said, “I still haven’t seen it, but in Elgin, someone’s taken an old factory and turned it into a bicycle hotel.”
And the Cross Cape isn’t only about experienced riders, either.
“What was very exciting for me this morning was to go into a bike shop where I met a representative from MTO Forestry who was talking with the shop owner about getting little kids onto bikes.
“Obviously it makes sense for a bike shop owner, because he needs little kids on bikes become big kids like us who then buy bigger bikes – that’s growing his future.
“But when landowners also understand – then it means that the ecosystem is developing.
“It’s getting its own momentum.”
… And it’s going to be equally exciting watching, and taking part in, the evolution of a project that looks like it could become both the biggest exercise in destination management we’ve seen in South Africa, and an iconic part of the fabric of life for everyone who lives in or visits the Western Cape Province.
- The launch of the Cross Cape Cycle Route was arranged by Wesgro – the official destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
Bonus article: How do young people think when they travel?
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