The 1000 Hills Community Tourism Organisation

A group of 10 people pose for a photograph at a tradeshow called "the Tourism Indaba". One of the individuals is the author, Shelldon Wells

Back around 2014 I was convinced to join my local tourism association and I figured why not, it would be a great way to network and do a little good for the Valley of a 1000 Hills area. I had absolutely no idea just how much time and work would be involved, but as I close out my final year, I must say I’m pretty proud of the work that has been accomplished! Oh and by the way, the image shown above is not the 1000 Hills CTO but rather the chairpersons of all the CTO’s posing for a picture at the Tourism Indaba held in Durban (yes, I’m there as well).

What is the 1000 Hills Community Tourism Organisation (CTO)

The Past

Up until CTO’s came into being (I want to say that happened around 2015?) most tourism organisations around Durban were small “associations” with little to no budgets available to market their particular areas. In fact, if a tourism association needed some money to promote the area or an event, they went cap in hand to their Durban Tourism liaison and asked for money.

The problem with this (from the associations point of view) was that it took an awful long time to receive funding (if at all) and the associations were forced to clear red-tape on an industrial scale; Durban Tourism is a government department after all.

From Durban Tourism’s perspective, it meant they were being held responsible when funding was late, or being blamed when funding was turned down regardless of the reasoning. So clearly not a state of affairs that everyone was happy with.

And then a “white paper” was published bringing into being the concept of “CTO’s”.

The Present

So, CTO’s were legislated into being and adopted by Ethekweni. The idea is simple; create organisations that were managed and run by volunteers in the tourism industry and provide them with a budget that they could use when needed. So no waiting on Durban Tourism to approach the city for funding, instead an agreed upon amount would be deposited into the organisations account at the start of the financial year; so no running to the city every 5 minutes.

It’s a really good idea, it means that organisations such as the 100 Hills CTO can react to trends quickly, case in point the “Jerusalema” phenomenon that spread about the globe in crazy record time. Having money in the bank means a videographer could be sourced and paid without the weeks of delay the old system guaranteed.

Of course from Durban Tourism’s point of view, it also means that they can focus on bringing tourists to Durban without having to worry about other areas – the CTO’s now just need to convince those tourists visiting Durban to spread their wings and explore nearby areas. Win win.

Being a member of a CTO

There are 9 CTO’s spread about Ethekweni. All of them are manned by volunteers that are members of the CTO. And to be a member of a CTO is pretty easy, simply stop in at your local tourism office (ours is in Bothas Hill) and ask for some forms. Most CTO’s do ask a membership fee; it varies from CTO to CTO – the 1000 Hills charges R400 per financial year per member.

A group of Zulu dancers dressed in traditional gear perform for onlookers at the 1000 Hills CTO AGM held in 2013.
Random image of the 1000 Hills AGM held in 2013 at the Chefs School in Bothas Hill

Each CTO had (and still has) the opportunity to put in place their own rules and procedures, dictate membership fees and so on. At the end of every financial year there must be an AGM where new committee (or directors) can volunteer.

One thing that you should know; any business that deals with tourists, must be a member. So if you own a B&B, a lodge, you’re a tour guide or a tour operator (there are a few other vocations as well) then you must be a member. Actually, it’s not quite that clear – you must be a member of EDTEA, but in order to be a member of the EDTEA, you must be a CTO member – so in a long winded way, you must be a member of your local CTO.

You can also be a member of a CTO even if you don’t make your living primarily from tourists. From restaurants to videographers, craft stores to train enthusiasts, pretty much anyone can join the CTO (provided the CTO’s rules allow it).

So why be a member?

There are many good reasons on why you should be a member of your local CTO;

  • Networking – when I started out as a freelance tour guide, I happened to have a chance meeting with a colleague at a CTO networking event who over the years I was able to work with; a relationship we both benefited from.
  • Website Listing – every CTO listing their members. In this day and age where prospective tourists use the internet to research their trips, it’s madness to not have a presence.
  • Vistors Guide – Durban Tourism publishes a “visitor’s guide” for every CTO. Again, members get a free listing (at least for the 1000 Hills CTO they do) and members are able to advertise in the book for a fraction of what it would usually cost; and these guides go across the globe!
  • You have a voice – here is the most important reasons to be a CTO member, you get a voice. CTO’s get to decide for them selves on how to market their areas, that means you as a member can attend and AGM and get feedback on marketing plans and you can volunteer to assist the CTO setup marketing plans. It’s pretty awesome.
  • Trade Shows – all the CTO’s get to participate in trade shows such as WTM and Indaba. Typically these shows would be out of reach to small businesses that want to participate (they are horrendously expensive) but by being a CTO member, you get representation at the shows, and if you’re a CTO member, you’ll even get an opportunity to attend the trade shows.

Now these are just some of the benefits to being a paid up member of your local CTO – each CTO has extra benefits that are particular to that CTO so it’s worth asking. Oh, and you can be a member of two or three (or more) CTO’s if you want!

About the Valley of a 1000 Hills CTO

So, getting back to the point of this post, I thought I’d chat a little about what the 1000 Hills CTO. I joined just before it became a CTO and quite honestly there wasn’t a lot of work. The association met once a month (there are 5 of us) and we would brain storm to come up with ways to promote the area, and then ask Durban Tourism to actually carry out whatever we had come up with; it was a bit more complicated than that but that’s the jist of it.

When the association become a CTO though, all of a sudden I (and others) were doing a lot more work. It seems that getting a budget from eThekweni also meant being responsible for spending said budget (not as easy as you would think) and doing so with fiscal responsibility. Out of the blue we were preparing budgets, marketing plans, adverting, inspecting requests for funding – so much work that some committee members (actually more correctly, directors) quit withing weeks of coming on board.

In the last few months we’ve achieved an amazing amount of work considering a great deal of it was accomplished during lockdown. Here are just some of the projects we’ve managed to complete;

  • The creation of a fun new map of the Valley of 1000 Hills area that will be launched in early December.
  • Created a new website for the 1000 Hills launching in a week or so.
  • Created a new Jerusalema video (launching at an Gala event in Kloof come December).
  • Designed and updated a new layout for the Visitors Guide.

Make no mistake, the last two or three years as a CTO committee member have been hard work, but I’m rather proud of the work that I and my fellow CTO members have accomplished. I still have quite a few months left as a director but I am looking forward to seeing what the new directors will bring to the table.

Join your local CTO

Joining your local CTO will help grow your business simply by offering opportunity you may never have had before, so don’t be shy and get involved! Not sure what CTO you fall under or who to get in touch with? I have you covered.

And that is the story of CTO’s in a netshell. Even if you’re not directly involved in tourism, maybe you own a coffee shop, maybe manage a craft store, you should still consider joining your local CTO, the benefits from networking alone are totally worth the annual fees.

See you there!

About Shelldon

Hi, my name is Shelldon and I'm a tour guide based in the city of Durban, South Africa. For years I've been taking visitors from around the world on trips throughout South Africa. I write about the places I've visited and things I've done.

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