Wilma den Hartigh
The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) has reaffirmed its commitment to the tourism industry in a new tourism investment strategy for South Africa and the Southern African Development Ccommunity (SADC).
DBSA tourism specialist, Kate Rivett-Carnac, explained that the main aim of the strategy is to develop tourism destinations. This is very important for the entire African content, particularly with the depressed global economy. “Tourism will continue to be important because we need to build our domestic and regional markets,” Rivett-Carnac said.
She added that up until now, tourism in South Africa and SADC has performed well, but there is still much more untapped potential. The current economic climate has discouraged some commercial finance institutions from investing in new projects, but she says the DBSA’s investment strategy can build tourism destinations and improve what the region has to offer.
South Africa is in a unique position because it can offer tourists such diversity. “What counts in our favour is that we don’t just offer a beach product, but we also have safaris and events tourism,” she explained.
The DBSA strategy will focus on projects that fall within five investment themes: anchor projects; cluster development; community partnerships; infrastructure and new market development.
Anchor projects will include major attractions, commercialisation of parks and new hotels or conservation centres. She said there is a big demand for such development in the SADC region. Countries such as Rwanda, for example, hardly have any international hotels.
Cluster development will consider projects such as town regeneration, collaboration between small businesses and tourist route development. “The main aim is to uplift spaces that are marginalised,” she said, adding that routes also have to offer complimentary services and facilities. The Orlando Towers Adventure Facility in Soweto is one such successful project.
Infrastructure development will include projects such as airport, transport and road upgrades. South Africa is already progressing well in this area, with extensive infrastructure upgrades currently underway for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Agritourism, disabled tourism and volunteer travel are some of the areas for consideration in new market development. Rivett-Carnac pointed out that one of the keys to a successful agritourism sector, is to create an “experience” for tourists. For example, tractor rides or interaction with farming activities. A study is currently underway to determine a way forward for this sector.
Fanie Joubert, an economist with Efficient Group, a financial and investment management firm, commented that any initiatives to boost tourism in South Africa are positive. “In a country like South Africa it just makes sense to emphasise tourism. Any new development creates employment in the country,” Joubert said.
He added that tourism is one of the sectors that can create more employment for unskilled South Africans. “The aim should be to help people get the experience they need to move up into more skilled work. This is perfect entrepreneurship,” he explained.
Rivett-Carnac added that all projects must be well conceptualised and support a broader destination agenda. The DBSA will consider medium to large tourism projects (greater than US$3-million (R20-million) in South Africa, and exceeding $10-million (R84-million) in SADC countries).
However, smaller projects such as community guesthouses will not be excluded. All projects should also comply with Black Economic Empowerment requirements, undertake to provide employment, protect the environment and promote economic and social development.
Tourism sector is resilient
With the economic slowdown, tourist arrivals have declined and visitors are scheduling shorter trips and spending less. However, Rivett-Carnac is confident that the tourism sector will experience a strong recovery.
According to Rivett-Carnac, there is also no better time to build South Africa and the region’s competitiveness and refocus the sector. “The 2010 World Cup will raise awareness about South Africa. We want to create a positive impression of the country and this is what is really important for long term growth,” she said.
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