Jain food, Gandhi circuit to woo Indian tourists to South Africa

Panaji, July 17 (IANS) From conjuring a South African version of Jain vegetarian cuisine to a 13-day circuit tracking the immortal legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, South African tourism promoters appear to be pulling out all stops to cater to Indian travellers.

Speaking to IANS on the sidelines of a training session for Indian tour operators and travel agents on selling South Africa as a multi-dimensional tourism destination, South Africa Tourism’s India country head Hanneli Slabber said that India currently ranks number seven as far as arrivals to the nation are concerned.

And food, Slabber said, may just be the best way to improve footfalls by making the destination gastronomically enticing to food-loving Indians.

“We have the second biggest population of Indian-origin people outside of India. We are the second biggest exporters of fresh fruit and vegetables in the world. So why do you think they can’t eat here? People were coming in with their own chefs and their own food and we were like whoa!” Slabber said, before realisation dawned on the country’s tourism mandarins that unless South Africa adapted its food to the Indian palette, “we can look at the same (arrival) stats for the next ten years”.

“What we did was that we went to the chefs and said we need to re-look at how we train them because obviously, our vegetarian food is not hitting the Indian vegetarians. We retrained 5,000 chefs in Indian vegetarian, vegan and Jain food. It became such a big thing in South Africa that South African chefs then came up with a Jain cookbook that you can download from our website,” she said.

As a result of the thrust, Jain food in South Africa has blossomed to such a degree that Slabber claimed that even Micthelin chefs were now dishing out French Jain food.

“So it has opened up a new door for us. There is a part of the Jain vegetarian community that likes the idea that they can get non-Indian versions of Jain (food). We also have over 300 Indian restaurants, which is the reason why we put it all together,” she said.

Currently, Britons top the list of tourist arrivals in South Africa with half a million footfalls, followed by the Germans and Americans. India, with 126,000 tourists, currently ranks seventh.

“We get a lot of families and a lot of singles groups (from India) before getting married and same sex groups,” she said, profiling the tourism arrival trends from India.

Slabber also said that apart from adventure and leisure tourism, the Mahatma Gandhi circuit established in South Africa last year was also drawing a lot of enthusiasm from tourists across nationalities.

“The circuit is a 13-day experience. It’s everything from his house in Durban, his house in Jo’burg – literally the whole history. You know he was a stretcher bearer during the Zulu war. Every single point where he touched South African lives is on that map,” Slabber said.

She said that Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa before his arrival in India, had a lot of resonance in South Africa so much so that schoolgoing children refer to the Mahatma as one of their own and not an Indian.

“Gandhi is an integral part of South African politics and children learn about Gandhi in school so if you ask an average 10-year-old who Gandhi is he would not be able to tell you that Gandhi actually returned back to India. They learn that part of history that involves Gandhi and his role is big in South African history. But South African kids consider him as ours,” Slabber said.

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