When it comes to school sport, few would dispute that touring is one of the most valuable and memorable experiences of all.
South Africa is seen as the gold standard, with its sporting passion, diverse culture, and the incredible range of excursions and opportunities.
We wanted to know more though, what is it that makes a tour so special, and why South Africa in particular, and what actually is the role of a touring company, what difference can they make to your experience.
It was with great excitement then that Fifteen Rugby teamed up with Edwin Doran Sports Tours to join their Familiarisation Tour of South Africa over half term. Joining the Edwin Doran team and six sports staff from schools around the country, we were exposed to the experience of a lifetime that is a tour of South Africa.
Almost instantaneously we had an answer to the question of what difference a touring company can make to your experience. A 12 hour delay to our flight meant we lost a full day of our itinerary and were set to be staying far from the airport with a late arrival time. However by the time we had landed the schedule had been re-written, and new hotel just minutes from the airport found, and a full list of school visits for the morning booked in. It is an impressive feat at the best of times, but in a world where health and safety is now so important it is all the more impressive. Every hotel, excursion, and facility used has to meet rigorous health and safety standards and assessments, and is perhaps the hidden aspect of a tour that is taken care of so well by Edwin Doran, ensuring that on the rare occasion when crisis does strike, everything is in place.
Thanks to the combined efforts of Edwin Doran’s offices in London and South Africa, and the brilliant efforts and knowledge of their two main people on the ground in South Africa, Sean and Hillary, while calm authority of Jon and Pete leading our party meant that everyone felt comfortable right from the moment of the delay that things would be fixed, and that the standards in terms of quality and health and safety would be outstanding.
Being able to change schedule so fast and at such short notice is about more than just knowledge, passion, and experience, it is about relationships. It is all very well to decide to switch hotel, but you need a strong relationship with them to be able to book that many rooms that late and keep the price under control. Those relationships proved to be key throughout the tour, and are perhaps the key difference that Edwin Doran makes to your tour.
From surfing lessons at Muizenburg Beach to dinner on the Cape Town Waterfront at Greek Fisherman Restaurant and Meloncino’s Restaurant, each location, excursion, or activity felt like returning to an old friend, someone who was glad to see you and who welcomed us as the guests of honour wherever we went.
Perhaps the most telling relationship came in the Langa Township. Langa is a huge part of what makes touring in South Africa so special. It provides an experience and a reality check that will stay with anyone who visits, forever. A legacy of the apartheid era, Langa is home to over 150,000 people who originally moved to the outskirts of Cape Town looking for work. In those times the jobs they were given were low paid, and the only available housing was to form these slum style townships.
Undoubtedly these Townships have improved in the last 25 years, and indeed there are some very wealthy people now living in the townships. But that poverty and deprivation still exists too, and is a moving and potentially life changing experience for any school tour that witnesses it.
Over their 40 years of operating tours, Edwin Doran has paid for a restaurant, Sheila’s Restaurant, to be built in Langa. It feels like the hub of the community, and employs at least 10 people, and playing a fundamental role in increasing sustainable tourism to the township. Not only that, but their commitment to helping the township have seen them help to develop the Goedgeacht Trust, and work alongside the well known SKRUM charity.
Schools touring with Edwin Doran will have lunch at Sheila’s Restaurant, which is an experience that will truly never be forgotten by anyone who visits. It felt like perhaps the most important relationship of all for its sheer importance to the Township, and for the life changing experience it gives any touring party. Meanwhile by touring and visiting Langa they are aiding Edwin Doran in their work with the Goedgedacht Trust and SKRUM.
Schools have played their part in the development of the township too, supplying kit and equipment, and even in some cases contributing towards the development of the sports facilities that now include a superb astroturf.
Langa is but one of hundreds of unforgettable experiences in South Africa. Those differing but equally memorable experiences are what make any tour special, they are where the memories that last a lifetime are made and the bonds with your fellow tourists forged
The sheer number and breadth of those experiences are what makes South Africa such a unique and sought after destination. It really is like touring five or six different countries at once. In how many countries could you be on a Safari seeing Lions, Rhinos, and Elephants up close in their natural environment in Mabula Game Reserve one day, before the next day visiting a world-class training facility such as the High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria?
Between those two there was a visit to a cultural village, teaching you about Zulu life, which again feels like a different world to either Safari or Pretoria. Surfing lessons at Muizenberg Beach feel like something that cannot possibly be still in the same country, while the wine regions of Stellenbosch present something totally different altogether, similarly Cape Town, a thriving modern city that feels almost Mediterranean.
What is constant is the backdrop, which is always staggering in its beauty. Perhaps nowhere more so than in Cape Town with the wondrous Table Mountain rising above the city. That dark past is always there too, and a visit to Robben Island is a moving experience that all tours will take in.
That range of experiences, cultures, and even geography is what truly sets it apart as a place to visit and to tour. What sets it apart as a touring destination in terms of sport is just as impressive.
Visiting South African schools you are exposed to school sport on a different level. Crowds for 1st XV rugby fixtures can reach 25,000 in fixtures such as Paarl Boys High School v Paarl Gimnasium, while even in smaller school fixtures average attendances can be between 4,000 and 5,000 with bigger games expected to reach over 10,000. As a touring side you might be in front of a slightly smaller crowd, but compared to what we are used to in the UK it would still feel like playing in Twickenham. The passion for, and competitiveness of, school sport in South Africa is on a level that is barely conceivable to those of us in the UK, and the experience of playing in that environment is something that nobody would ever forget.
It is not just the passion for sport and school sport that is impressive though, the facilities of South African schools are quite brilliant, and the scenery and the quality of the grounds at some, such as Wynberg High School just outside of Cape Town, are truly breathtaking, and all at a staggeringly fair price. Top South African schools are roughly a fifth of the price of their UK equivalents, and that is with a weak pound.
Here again we were given an insight as to exactly what it is that a touring company can do for you and what a difference they can make. As is clear from above, touring South Africa is hugely popular, and there are only so many touring fixtures that schools can take given the relatively narrow timeframe that is the UK schools’ touring season. Good relationships with the South African schools are therefore crucial because in a fight for fixtures, you need that relationship to count. Time and time again it was made clear by the Directors of Sport at the schools we visited that their relationship with Edwin Doran was one that they considered of the utmost importance.
Overall the lessons learned were clear touring is special because you can experience things that you many never do so again, and form bonds with your fellow tourists that will last a lifetime. South Africa is the gold standard because those experiences and memories are almost on tap, and the sheer diversity of culture and experiences can be mind blowing.
Your tour company is there to facilitate that, and to have the relationships on the ground that mean those experiences are the best they can possibly be. Edwin Doran’s knowledge of touring, South Africa, and South African sports was naturally impressive, but it was that depth of genuine relationships that made the difference, it meant they could fix any problem, such as the flight delay, with ease, and could ensure the best of every single opportunity and experience. Be it zip line tours of the Cape Peninsula, or a simple dinner in a beach restaurant, whatever the occasion, your tour is the most important group in the room.
Without doubt, a tour of South Africa is a trip of a lifetime and an experience nobody will ever forget.
Since the turn of 2016 Edwin Doran have taken over 7000 passengers on 227 sports tours, to 31 destinations across the World. With over 43 years’ experience, Edwin Doran have been leading the way in school sports touring for almost half a century. To find out more please visit www.edwindoran.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org