[Originally published 25 February 2013] In my opinion this past weekend could prove to be a watershed moment for tourism in Joburg's inner city. For the first time I can remember not only was every major commercial and non profit tour operator out on the streets but they were running at or near full capacity.
The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (previously the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust) had a bumper turn out for its tour of the 'Original Chinatown' which included the unveiling of a plaque on the Transvaal Chinese United Club Building. This early 20th century club provided residential and social amenities to Chinese immigrants looking to establish themselves in the City. The JHF in its various forms has been running tours for decades and is well known for its ability to organise access to heritage sites that other operators could only dream of. It is able to do this because of strong relationships with owners built up over many years.
The Gauteng Institute for Architecture (GIfA) ran a 'Past and Present' tour organised and conducted by Brian Altshuler and Kelly Arendse. Almost 70 people attended including acclaimed architects, philanthropists, academics, students and business people. Considering all the other events on the go this was a spectacular turn out. Gerald Garner of 'Joburg Spaces and Places' fame was out and about as usual inspiring locals and international visitors with stories of the city he loves. As far as I'm aware both his Saturday and Sunday tours were sold out. Past Experiences ran a creative flash tour programme and, although I am unsure of the final numbers, I have no doubt business was good. Add to all of this Joburg's new hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing Bus and the many small solo groups that hit the city and the picture is pretty rosy for Joburg tourism.
Many stories from the first half of the 20th century that I have seen in the archives describe Joburg as a 'wonder city' with people coming from far and wide to see the 'miracle on the veld'. Business tourism aside, very few people over the last twenty years would describe Joburg as a tourist hotspot. Maybe I'm being a bit bold describing one weekend as a watershed moment but I wouldn't be surprised if this exciting trend continues to strengthen in the coming years.