News

Sense Africa & Traveleyes bring Blind Tourists to Swaziland

Posted on: Friday, May 06, 2016
news_20160503blindtourists2

In a move unprecedented in the history of the tourism sector in Swaziland, a destination promoter and partner of the Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA), Sense Africa, has successfully courted and brought into the country an organised group of visually-impaired tourists, whose tour was put together by a unique UK-based operator, Traveleyes.

The 15-member group, which had six people with total sight impairment, loosely called ‘blind’, eight sighted tourists who acted as aides and guides, and one official from Traveleyes, spent eight days of adventure and product engagement with Swaziland.

In an interview with local media at Shewula Mountain Camp, in the Lubombo Region, where the group had stopped for lunch, Traveleyes Tour and Operations Manager, Jack Rollason, said his company was founded by Amar Latif 12 years ago, to afford an opportunity to people with visual impairment to travel the world.

“Amar is the founder and director of Traveleyes, the world's first commercial international air tour operator to specialise in serving blind as well as sighted travellers. He lost sight at the age of 18, having developed an incurable eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. In founding this ground- breaking enterprise, he set out to challenge the assumption that visually impaired travellers should ever have to accept restrictions on their world travel aspirations,” explained Rollason.

Since then, said Rollason, the Leeds-based company has organised and sent tours to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Ghana, among other countries in the African region, as well as to many other countries in other regions. He described the Swaziland tour as the most thrilling thus far, and spoke fondly of Swazi people.

“Swaziland has been so friendly. It’s got an amazing sense of culture and heritage, and the people are extremely helpful and friendly. One never gets to see this kind of treatment anywhere else in the world, and honestly; it will be hard to beat this tour,” said Rollason, who said they will definitely be considering more similar tours to Swaziland in the near future.

Rollason revealed that his company got to know about Swaziland from STA’s partner, Jenny Bowen of Sense Africa, during last year’s World Tourism Market (WTM) show in London. Bowen is a seasoned holiday and travel planner, and has recommended Swaziland to various tours of a diverse nature.

Last year, she sent a team of English golfers to the country, who were led by Jason Bowen, her brother. The team sampled the country’s golfing courses, played and groomed local golfers, and went on to publish their experiences with their respective audiences back in Europe.

Bowen has also brought into the country groups of UK students, taking a gap year in between completion of their high school and enrolment to tertiary institutions. Last year, she brought a group of girls from St Helen and St Katherine schools, who donated learning facilities to Mgadzi and Njojane communities in Simunye and Sikhuphe respectively.

Local hospitality and tourism establishments have been given a pat on the back by a group of special tourists with visual impairments, for their unparalleled welcome and service excellence.

In separate interviews, the group said all local establishments they went to did extremely well in guiding and making them feel welcome.

“Although most guides from these places professed that they had not guided blind tourists before, they went on to do all the right things at the right time,” said Christine from Germany.

Sarah, from Blackpool in the UK, who lived in South Africa for 32 years, said she never knew Swaziland was this beautiful, and regretted all the time she spent in Africa without visiting the country.

“I’m excited though that I have gotten time to make up for such loss, thanks to Traveleyes. Swaziland is extremely beautiful, and is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. We also thank Sense Africa for ensuring that our itinerary took us to ‘real Africa’ as opposed to ‘tourist Africa’,” she said.

Jo, from Derbyshire in the UK, said Swaziland was without doubt the nicest place she has ever visited.

A UK senior citizen, Paul from South West, said it was his first time in Africa, and was totally blown away by Swaziland’s tranquillity. He described the atmosphere as relaxed and the knowledge gained as fantastic.

Meanwhile, Sense Africa director, Jenny Bowen also extended her gratitude to the establishments for ensuring that the group’s stay in the country was memorable. She outlined the key features of their itinerary, some of which included lodging at Forester Arms Hotel in Mhlamanyatsi, horse-riding at Mlilwane Sanctuary, sunset drive at Hlane Royal National Park, a boat trip at Maguga dam, a visit to a traditional homestead, a visit to Gone Rural and Swazi Candles in Malkerns, a touching visit to St Joseph’s school in Manzini, a visit to the Sangoma, attending a church service at Shewula, among others.

The visually impaired members of the group used all other senses to engage with products at these establishments. She said she was also grateful to Big Game Parks for the amazing assistance from their tour guides.

Meanwhile, the Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) Marketing Manager, Bongani Dlamini, has expressed his organisation’s gratitude to Sense Africa for their continued engagement and marketing of the country to new and diverse groups of tourists.

Dlamini said Sense Africa work voluntarily in marketing Swaziland as destination to holiday makers throughout the world.

“STA continues to forge similar meaningful partnerships with other tour operators, in the hope of increasing tourist traffic into the country. We are glad that Sense Africa’s commitment to Swaziland has withstood the test of time, and hope to see even more visitors coming to indulge in our promised ‘royal experience’,” said Dlamini.

Dlamini commended Sense Africa director, Jenny Bowen, for ensuring what he termed ‘sustainable tourism’. He said his organisation did not take Bowen’s work lightly.  

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