As one of the largest industries in the world, the tourism industry has a positive economic impact on countries. This is especially true for developing countries where tourism is an essential driver for economic growth and development. In this regard Africa and specifically Southern Africa has plenty to offer tourists. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a regional economic community comprising fifteen member states, namely Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (SADC, 2017). The tourism industry in the SADC region has been growing rapidly and the region has prioritized tourism as a means of promoting economic development and regional integration (SADC, 2017). For the fulfillment of these goals, a protocol on the development of tourism was created. The protocol aims to use tourism as a means for sustainable development drawing on the region’s natural and cultural resources (SADC, 2017). Southern Africa has large rural areas and many communities in need of local economic development (LED). LED is thus an on-going concern. Route tourism is often seen as a means to attract tourists to rural areas and to ensure that product owners, community members and governments are involved in a coordinated way (World Bank, 2017). The paper intends to reflect on the local economic development activities of two areas in Southern Africa where local economic development tourism has been contemplated. This includes the Maloti Drakensberg Tourism Route in South Africa and the Four Deserts Tourism Route in southern Namibia. The aim of the paper is to contribute theoretically and empirically to the development of approaches that enable growth for rural areas and to identify how LED has been implemented or not in the two study areas. Although the paper reflects a southern African perspective it will provide valuable insights applicable to other local economic tourism initiatives.
Keywords: Sustainable tourism development,local economic development, Southern Africa, Maloti Drakensberg Route, Four Deserts Tourism Route, South Africa, Namibia.