Public-private partnerships in national parks to boost tourism

Six-million people visited our 19 national parks last year. This presented a huge opportunity for private investors, delegates were told at the inaugural South African National Parks Tourism Investment Summit held in Johannesburg this week.

tourism public private partnerships
Opportunities in the Sanparks public-private partnership programme include accommodation, bottled water, wellness centres and adventure activities. (Image: South African Tourism, Flickr)

Melissa Javan
More than 50 public-private partnership (PPP) opportunities are available for investors in South African National Parks.

This emerged at the inaugural Sanparks Tourism Investment Summit in Johannesburg on Tuesday 4 April 2017. Sanparks, which falls under the Department Environmental Affairs, manages South Africa’s 19 national parks – from the massive Kruger Park in the east to the tiny Bontebok National Park in the west.

The summit showcased a range of opportunities available to private investors in 10 of these public-owned parks. The opportunities include the development of tented camps, lodges and boutique hotels, activities such as helicopter and hot air balloon trips, zip-lining and hiking activities, and retail kiosks.

Business and conservation

In 2016, over 10-million foreign tourists arrived in South Africa. According to Sanparks, 6-million people visited its parks in the past financial year. The country’s tourism sector accounts for some 730 000 jobs – 4.5% of total employment.

In her keynote address at the summit, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said partnerships between the government and private sector could only increase tourism’s contribution to employment.

The Sanparks summit, she said, would help public officials and private businesspeople working in the tourism sector to engage and network with each other.

“The national parks don’t only play a conservation role,” she said. “We cannot just rely on the fiscus and say, please government, give us money.”

There are currently 45 PPPs in operation in South Africa’s national parks. These give private partners access to state property for a certain period, allowing them to conduct business there.

This model transfers risk to the private sector and allows Sanparks to focus on its core function: wildlife conservation. According to Molewa, seven national parks are currently being used for PPPs. She said there was a possibility to include all 19 parks in these partnerships, nationally.

Return on investment

Tokozile Xasa, South Africa’s new minister of tourism, said at the conference that many of today’s investors want more than just profit. “They want to make a contribution in the lives of people.”

Tourism investment would help reduce poverty and inequality. “Tourism is the one sector all over the world that countries can look at to turn around the economy.”

tokozile xasa tourism public-private partnerships
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa at the inaugural Sanparks Tourism Investment Summit in Johannesburg. (Image: Melissa Javan)

Xasa said those who did invest in South Africa’s tourism industry would get value. Her department provides skills training to entrepreneurs to ensure tourism businesses survive and thrive.

She added that PPP opportunities would encourage local and international businesspeople to visit Sanparks’ attractions. “We are hoping to attract more business events to our parks. The businesspeople can then be exposed to what else South Africa has to offer.”

Boosting domestic travel

Sisa Ntshona, head of South African Tourism, said that although international tourists were flocking to the country, domestic tourism was weak.

If each South African could link their economic well-being and prosperity to tourism, he said, it would help grow the domestic sector. “We need to cultivate a travel culture into South Africans, especially the youth. We should look at how we can inform and educate our children to increase domestic travel.”

Ntshona said the country needed more tour guides, especially those able to share the stories and experiences of historical sites. “We need more young people, but they need to be knowledgeable. We’ve got to make tourism everybody’s business.”

It was also important for small businesses to build networks in the communities in which they operate, he said. “If you are not plugged in, you will not make it. Look at how you can become visible, and who the tourism operators are within the community.”

tourism sanparks summit
Discussing opportunities and challenges in South African tourism at the Sanparks summit. From left: moderator and former talk show host John Robbie, Sisa Ntshona of South African Tourism, Hannelie du Toit of South African Tourism Services Association and Blacky Komani of Tourvest Holdings. (Image: Melissa Javan)

Bringing black South Africans into tourism

An important issue raised at the summit was the lack of black people taking part in South Africa’s tourism sector.

Hannelie du Toit of the South African Tourism Services Association said more local heroes were needed need to promote tourism. “We need our black entrepreneurs to be involved and say that they want to get involved in the tourism industry.”

Rob Cilliers of Sun International said specific products should be created for specific markets. The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, for example, was well supported by the black market.
“Put on the product to bring the people. We cater for the full community of South Africa.”

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