Hotel and taxi representative stand in front of the arrival gate at O.R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg Aug. 25, 2014.
Hotel and taxi representative stand in front of the arrival gate at O.R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg Aug. 25, 2014.

JOHANNESBURG - Readers of the international travel magazine Conde? Nast Traveler recently voted South Africa’s biggest metropolis, Johannesburg, the world’s most unfriendly city for tourists.

Some called its roads hazardous because of reckless, speeding drivers while others complained that Johannesburg’s transport system is “confusing.” Many also said the city’s high crime rate makes it “dangerous.”

Residents, however, are largely dismissive of the survey. 

Charles Visser is a writer whose beat is Melville, a Johannesburg suburb frequented by many foreign tourists because of its pubs, restaurants, and backpacker hostels. The bearded 50-something-year old wears a straw fedora and his friends call him the “unofficial mayor of Melville.

Visser enjoys guiding visitors around Johannesburg, a city he loves. Like many residents, his reaction to the Conde Nast poll is one of outrage.

“I think it’s absolute and utter crap,” he said.  While he agrees there’s crime in Johannesburg, he says it’s no more dangerous than any other big city.

“You have to be careful, you have to be alert, and you’ll be fine,” he said. “Follow the advice of the locals; always ask the locals.”

Laura Tensen, a visitor from the Netherlands, said Johannesburg is one of the “best places” she has ever been.

“Joburg has a very nice vibe,” she said. “There’s a lot to see, people are nice; I have never felt in danger, or threatened, like I have done in many other big cities.”

Some tourists report problems

But Simon Khompela, a security guard at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, admits the city has a dark side. He said foreign tourists always tell him the same thing.

“They just tell me Johannesburg is nice but the problem is that the crime is too high,” he said.

Sidney Lebea, a toy salesman at the airport, agrees.  He said foreigners often tell him about being victims of crime in Johannesburg.  A pickpocket recently robbed an American tourist just meters from him.

“So that guy took that money and then he went off - $500,” Leba said. “He was robbed [of] that money and then he came to us and he asked for help.”

'Paranoia' and 'negativity'

But veteran tour operator Peter van den Heever encouraged people to ignore the “paranoia” about crime in the city.

“There’s an old saying that if you live in fear you only live half a life,” he said.

German visitor Nic Dohman is glad he never listened to what he called “all the negativity” about Johannesburg and was sad to be leaving Johannesburg to fly back home to Dusseldorf.  

“It’s so vibrant, so diverse, like you meet so many people, like from white guys [to] black guys,” he said. “And they always have a good time; they are very friendly, very open to you. I really love this city.” 

James Ganga, a waiter, asked why so many people return to Johannesburg if it's such an unfriendly place.

“They always leave here happy and they always say, ‘We’ll come back.’ And then we see them after a year,” he said. 

Visser said Conde Nast naming Cape Town the 8th friendliest city in the world is further proof that its survey is “fatally flawed.”

“Once again, I have to ask: Where on earth did they go to?” he said, laughing. “Because in my experience - and I have a facility for meeting strangers - Cape Town was one of the worst places in that regard.”