E Cape: big sky, big fish, Big Five!

5 May 2003

The Eastern Cape’s tourism sector is pitching to align its Big Five game reserves with the popular Cape Town and Garden Route international tourist destinations.

The Eastern Cape, still the poorest part of South Africa, has experienced massive growth in the tourism sector. Tourism MEC Enoch Godongwana announced last week that the sector netted the province a staggering R4-billion last year, ascribing the success to the government and the Eastern Cape Tourism’s marketing drive abroad.

The success can also be linked to positive contributions from the private sector, and the department of health’s effort to keep the province a malaria- and bilharzia-free zone.

Tourism operators say tourism infrastructure in the Eastern Cape has grown to take advantage of the province’s newfound status as a “happening” international destination.

Emergence of world-class game reserves
One critical area of change has been the rapid amalgamation of stock farms into massive game-viewing reserves or hunting and game-producing farms.

Johannesburg-based Lodge Logistics MD Keith Stannard said the emergence of world-class reserves like Shamwari and Kwandwe has placed the province “within striking distance” for international tourists visiting Cape Town and touring the Garden Route.

Cape Town is one of the world’s top tourism destinations, and the Garden Route is regarded as a prime self-drive option.

One tourism observer said tourists seeking the Big Five game experience to complete their trip to South Africa are often forced to fly or drive to KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga reserves. According to this observer, the Eastern Cape’s bite of the Cape Town-Garden Route package has grown by 3% in the last two years, up from 8% in 2001 to 11% last year.

According to local operators, tourists are saying that their Eastern Cape add-on tour was “very convenient”, “cost-efficient”, “saved time”.

Big Five? How about the Big Seven!
Frontier Country Marketing Association chairperson Peter Repinz says the Eastern Cape, once the “forgotten jewel of tourism in southern Africa”, has been building up its infrastructure for over a decade.

There are now at least 12 game reserves in the market, some more advanced than others, but soon most will be offering the Big Five – and a cheeky extension of the formula, the “Big Seven”, that includes southern right whales and great white sharks.

Inspired by the world-class Shamwari reserve, and then the Kwandwe on banks of the Great Fish River, Repinz said new reserves like Amakhala, Kariega and Lalibela had expanded the market to offer great opportunities to international operations.

While Shamwari has captured the world’s top awards and the patronage of British royalty, Kwandwe’s elephants, lions and leopards are also packing in top-paying clients. Since Kwandwe opened its doors in 2001, not a single bed has gone empty.

Kwandwe managing director Angus Sholto-Douglas said Desantis, an American eco-tourism investor, has invested R100-million in the 20-farm reserve, creating 140 jobs.

From ‘soft’ to ‘extreme’ adventure sports
Unspoilt landscape is a strong point cited by most role players, who say that such landscapes attract both “soft” and “extreme” adventure sport lovers interested in activities like 4×4 trail riding, mountain biking, fly-fishing, surfing, windsurfing, diving, sailing and, lately, even government-sponsored bolted rock-climbing, one of Europe’s huge pursuits.

Mountain tourism routes have shot up around Hogsback in the Amatola range, Barkley East, Rhodes Village, Nieu-Bethesda’s Owl House and historic Graaff-Reinet, all of which offer a baseline benefit of simple tranquillity under big blue skies.

Local promoters add that the Eastern Cape can also trade on its controversial frontier history. Europeans, particularly, are fascinated about how their Dutch, British and German colonial ancestors struggled and prospered on the turbulent Eastern Cape frontier – or met a grim fate on the battlefields during the 100-year war against the Xhosa (1779-1878).

Big drawcards for such visitors are the well-maintained settler architecture of farmsteads, homes and public buildings in places like Bathurst, Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth and East London; eateries and historic pubs; and African arts and crafts.

With its growth in infrastructure, rapid market repositioning, and unspoilt landscape, the Eastern Cape is starting to offer a winning tourism package.

Source: BuaNews