Travel to South Africa in the heart of Kingston with immersive experience

Kingston residents can get a taste of South African travel with a free pop-up installation in the Ancient Market Place this weekend. 

Discover Your South Africa hooks willing volunteers up to a headband-mounted EEG reader, scans their brainwaves and measures their travelling tastes. 

The free 20-minute experience, organised by South African Tourism (SAT), takes visitors through five themed rooms reflecting the country’s destinations and cultural hotspots. 

Tolene van der Merwe, hub head for UK & Ireland, said of creating the innovative tech-based experience: “The tech came first, because its so unique. We built everything else around it.

“It’s phenomenal, and something I never thought you could bring into travel.” 

The installation was designed by East London creative agency BD Network, who also created eight-metre-tall Lurpak Christmas trees as part of a campaign in 2017. 

Tolene thinks that South Africa is especially suited to an immersive experience due to its variety. She said: “Trying to tap into every single experience, you can’t do that through just a couple of pictures and a signage board, you have to bring people to it.

“Without bringing every single British person to South Africa, this is a great alternative.”

Highlights of the tour include an impromptu language class – our guide testing us on key phrases in Xhosa and Setswana – as well as a railway coach wine tour, tasting biltong and wine as another guide gives us context and local colour. 

The EEG, worn like a camping head-torch, feeds to an attached smartphone app and monitors the attention level throughout the experience. 

From the smells of South African spices behind the doors of a simulated Bo Kaap district in Cape Town to the taste of amarula under a starry LED sky, cicadas chirping noisily, the app records a wide range of senses. 

Based on the attention level in the various rooms, the app then decides what type of traveller you might be, from ‘urban nomad’ to ‘culture junkie’. 

Tolene said: “It’s about changing the perception of South Africa being a once in a lifetime, bucket-list trip.

“It’s more than safari and wildlife – it’s got culture, gastronomy and scenic beauty, with something for every single taste of traveller.

“We focus heavily on trying to break that barrier of luxury.”

On completing the short tour, visitors are given a ten-day itinerary based on their recommended interests. SAT has also partnered with Trailfinders, who are on site to offer further tips and pricing for visitors wanting more information about South Africa. 

For Tolene, her mission is to encourage repeat visitors to the country, newly opened up by a direct London flight to Durban. She said: “People go to South Africa once, fall in love with it, and want to come back.

“We need to showcase the reason why they come, and the variety of experiences and value for money that South Africa offers.

“You don’t have to come every five years, you can come once a year.”

Discover Your South Africa will be in Kingston’s Ancient Market Place until 6pm on Sunday 9 September. The tour will continue around the UK, with dates in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester.

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