Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kevin Cole

Image: Kevin Cole with what is believed to be the only remaining dodo egg in the world, which is housed at the East London Museum.

This week I was extremely happy to be able to meet with Kevin Cole, who I introduced in an earlier post. He's the principle natural scientist at the East London Museum and has been very involved in the promotion and implementation of conservation measures and ecotourism around East London. I showed up at the museum on Thursday hoping to set up an appointment with him through Rachel, the librarian, who I've talked to a few times. She just walked right to his office and brought him back to the library, where we shook hands, sat down and talked for over an hour. It never ceases to surprise me how willing people are to work me into their schedule. Kevin told me a lot about the natural and cultural diversity of the area around East London, which gives it an incredible but underutilized potential for nature-based tourism. He is a big supporter of ecotourism efforts and thinks they could be very beneficial for East London and the Eastern Cape, but the problem is putting the area on the map. There isn't a very widespread recognition of what this area has to offer, and it will take a lot to get people to choose it over big names like Capetown, Johannesburg and Kruger National Park. Then, if people do decide to come, there are the issues of infrastructure. There isn't very reliable public transportation from the airport or between destinations, and there aren't roads that go right along the coast, so it takes much longer to get from one place to the next. Then of course there's the question of funding - when you have schools that are horribly under-financed (thus all the striking) and many other basic quality-of-life issues to think about, it's hard to see nature parks and reserves or enhancing tourism as a high priority.

Kevin told me this and a lot more, and also told me that I should talk to people who work with marketing and operating tourist destinations in the area. Of course he has all kinds of connections, so he said he would help connect me with them, which will be extremely helpful. He even offered to take me to some of the parks and reserves where he's worked on conservation and ecotourism projects, which will be wonderful. I left the museum nearly skipping. I know Kevin will be such a big help for my project, and I'm so happy that I was able to finally talk to him.

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