Telling or selling? Experiencing South African cultural heritage tourism products

02 March 2015

With the advent of the experience economy the unique experiential value of cultural heritage products comes to the forefront of cultural tourism development and is the main value proposition for emerging destinations, including South Africa. As South Africa’s democracy divedends had paid out by 1998, South African Tourism was left with an array of dormant cultural heritage resources (still) unable to turn them into meaningful tourist experiences. The reason is lack of understanding of tourist experience as opposed to tourist consumption. Consumer segmentation and marketing mantra of telling and selling simply does not work on tourist experience arising from consumption of cultural heritage products. Two propositions underline this type of experience: attractions cannot speak for themselves and we tell the story to sell the experience. The art of telling the story converges on both sides of experiential paradigm (tourist and attraction) thus telling is selling principle is a point of sale for cultural heritage products. Unpacking this principle in creating unique experiential value of cultural heritage products is the main theoretical contribution of this paper to South African cultural tourism discourse. The proposed experiential framework pertinent to cultural heritage sites integrates three paradigms namely product, experience and interpretation and the resultant tourist experience as a gestalt phenomenon. Against this framework the experiential value of South African cultural heritage products is assessed with data from official South African sources