Funding tourism for great dividends
Funding state-of-the-art tourism destinations is not only about tapping into a growing market, it is also about uplifting rural communities and giving those communities a new lease of life
Tourism is regarded as a modern day engine of growth and as one of the largest industries globally. In 2012, G20 heads of state recognised tourism as a driver of growth and development, as well as a sector that has the potential to spur global economic recovery. South Africa’s scenic beauty, magnificent outdoors, sunny climate, cultural diversity and reputation for delivering value for money have made it one of the world’s fastest growing leisure and business travel destinations.
The National Empowerment Fund (NEF) has invested, since 2005, more than R100 million in South Africa’s tourism sector.
The money has been used to develop state-of-theart accommodation facilities in the booming industry. The tourism sector has the added advantage of being one of the areas expected to continually contribute to the development of rural areas and the culture industries.
One of the NEF’s flagship investments is the Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal.
The lodge is a 22-bed four-star safari lodge located within the Mpembeni Community Game Reserve. Attractions in the reserve include the Big Five, game drives and walks, birdwatching, and spa treatments. The shareholders are the Mpembeni Community Trust (33.3%), promoters Henri and Gerhardus Frencken (33.3%) and the NEF (33.3%).
The Mpembeni Community Trust represents the interests of approximately 600 households who fall under the traditional authority of iNkosi Hlabisa and the Empembeni Tribal Council. The project has been endorsed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority and the office of the MEC for economic development and tourism.
The NEF has funded Rhino Lodge with R23.7 million. Wellman Khumalo, chairperson of the Mpembeni Community Game Reserve committee said: “Not only will this establishment create job opportunities for the Mpembeni people, but it will also create a market for fresh goods and traditional craft works that are produced locally. By creating a hub for visitors to buy local products, the project is a catalyst for our poverty alleviation programme.”
The lodge will educate the youth about the environment and wildlife conservation.
Community members are given job training which will teach them business management and marketing skills.
At Rhino Ridge Lodge, inside Africa’s oldest proclaimed game reserve, you can be as active or as idle as you wish. But one thing you can’t do is get away from the view. You can start your day tracking and viewing big game on foot in the Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Reserve, swim laps in the infinity pool afterwards and enjoy a relaxing spa treatment before embarking on a sunset game drive with, of course, drinks provided.
Or you can simply laze away the day on the deck of your luxurious villa, blended into the hillside and surrounding bush to ensure total privacy. But hey, whatever you do, there’s always that view.
Oh, and never mind missing breakfast or lunch – there’s a sumptuous mid-morning and late-afternoon tea on the deck of the main dining area for those guests who’ve been stomping around the bush while you’ve been ordering cocktails. All served with, you guessed it, one hell of a view.
You don’t want to miss dinner though, when a fire under the starry Zululand sky adds that special bush experience. As a special treat, staff members may join you at your table. You’re on their land, after all, and your African bush experience at this amazing ecofriendly lodge is creating jobs, skills and opportunities in their community.
For decades, Mpembeni community land has bordered the northern fence of the game reserve. But, in a visionary move with the support of the NEF, the community donated its land to the game reserve.
The fence between the reserve and the community was dropped and moved back, the land now inside the game reserve was leased back to the community, and there you have it – a seemingly endless view crying out for a very special lodge.
Rhino Ridge, owned by the Isibindi Africa group, was duly built and opened about three years ago. About 65 of the 80 or so staff members – cleaners, waiters, chefs, game guides and receptionists – were recruited as unskilled labour from the community and trained on site, explains Shaun Maitre, commercial manager of Isibindi Africa Lodges.
“Conservation without community support and involvement makes no sense,” he explains.
“Building the lodge created a micro economy in the community. Apart from creating direct employment things like refuse removal and eventually even laundry can be contracted out. Everybody benefits and has a sense of pride and ownership.” .
DESIGNED FOR RELAXATION The outside dining area at Rhino Lodge
WELCOME Lungile Nkosi and Glenn-Anne Christie