Dusty Miller: No Authentic Tourism In Africa, Say ‘experts’

DESPITE Zimbabwe’s and the region’s many undoubtedly unique, well-established firm favourite tourist attractions, neither this country, Mozambique, Botswana nor Zambia

occur on a new list of the world’s greatest “authentic” travel destinations published by an influential airline magazine.
 In fact, neither Africa, generally, nor Southern and Central  Africa in particular, do well in the search for “authenticity”, the latest tourism buzzword.
Zanzibar, with its breathtaking architecture, Arab dhows, crystalline palm-tree fringed beaches, headily redolent of exotic spices, Port Elizabeth, the 1820 Settler port in South Africa and Sossusvlei, famous for its soaring red sand dunes (the highest in the world) in Namibia are the only three relatively local destinations to feature.
No Kenyan attraction appears on the list, nor do any of Africa’s largely unspoilt, offshore islands. The only West African holiday spot is on little known Cape Verde, at even less famous Santiago, the largest island there. Nearby is the airport of Sal, where SAA jumbos had to refuel in Apartheid days. Many Zimbabweans will remember this baking, shimmering strip in the middle of nowhere.
“Sal” is Portuguese for “salt”, not “sun” as mendacious versions claim. I forget who described the place (with some degree of accuracy) as a “festering pimple on the suppurating body of Africa!”  Sal is now a destination of choice for thousands of European package deal holidaymakers.
Oddly, nowhere in Egypt or Tunisia makes it to the Top 50; one wonders whether judges visited Libya, currently gingerly experiencing the first influx of nervous travellers,  after almost four decades as a no-go, unwelcoming, pariah state under Col Gadhaffi’s dictatorship.
Roman Empire
After 39 years of hardly a visitor, surely most Libyan attractions, many dating back to the Roman Empire, must be authentic? Even, possibly, uncomfortably so.
Morocco has two resorts listed: Imlil, which I had to Google: at the entrance to the Toubkai National Park in the High Atlas Mountains, where conventional summer and ski-ing and other winter sport holidays are enjoyed.
Morocco’s other destination is Sidi Ifni, which I happened to know was a Moorish former Spanish colony, an art décor survival of what was Spanish Morocco, on the shores of the Atlantic, ruled by Madrid until 1969.
If amazed at the spots which didn’t make it onto the list of “50 Most Authentic Places on Earth” I’m bemused at some which did.
I was born, brought up and earned my first pounds (actually “guineas” then), in and around Leeds. I gather travellers visit mainly for literary and TV tourism: as a jump off spot to the Bronte country in the rugged Pennines, James Herriot’s Yorkshire in the spectacular Dales and actual locations where, among many others, Last of the Summer Wine, Brideshead Revisited and rural soapie Emmerdale are, or were, shot.
But you don’t bump into genuine travellers in Leeds’ pubs, bistros or clubs. Not like neighbouring York; Oxford, Cambridge or London and Edinburgh, which Leeds lies almost equidistant between (neither being, apparently “authentic!”)
Most Leeds’ authentic slums have gone, including the hideous, Stalinist Quarry Hill Flats, a purpose-built huge 30s hovel. Much industry: wool, engineering, mass tailoring, chemicals went to the Far East, replaced by media houses, advertising agencies, PR outfits, web-site designers and sundry spin-doctors
You can, until 2011, still buy authentic Tetley’s beer, brewed for 200 years from the city’s superb soft water, which attracted the wool trade. You can probably still find an authentic Tetley pub in a less Yuppie suburb of the former City of A Thousand Trades (which, oddly, Hitler virtually spared in the Blitz).  
But if a fellow boozer overdoes Tetley’s Bitter, and you look at him the wrong way, after hours of convivial toping, he may well give you an authentic Yorkshire head-butt (“Castleford kiss!”) as a warm welcome to Wild and Woolly British West Yorkshire!
Scotland’s Wigtownshire, along with far-flung destinations such as Battambang, Cambodia and the whole of newly democratised Albania, was chosen to go on the list by a panel of travel experts and writers –– including novelist Will Self, and Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler –– as it remained “true to itself”.
The only Scottish destination listed was glowingly described as being “on the way to nowhere”.
The final 50 destinations are published in the latest up-market British Airways magazine High Life.
One judge, Prof Harold Goodwin, director of the (wait for it…!) International Centre for Responsible Tourism, at Leeds Metropolitan University, admits one traveller’s idea of “authentic” could be anathema to someone else.
“Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to use words my father used. He always said, when travelling, he wanted to get into the back streets ‘to see what it’s really like’.
“It also means your destination is still part of a community with people going about everyday business. Fewer people go on holiday just to lie in the sun. Travel is evolving, meaning tourists need experiences and to mix with locals. This may mean they’re more inclined to book walking holidays, wildlife tours or visit small festivals.”
List compiler, Mark Jones, said: “Authentic tourism grows popular because it’s more inclusive, more liberating and maybe because it’s more open to personal interpretation. An authentic tourist is one changed by a place; who doesn’t seek to change it.”
Rules stated places would be disqualified for faking their own history, had given up their own culture merely to make money or over-packaged natural attractions.