Roads Agency Limpopo Key to Unlocking Limpopo Tourism Potential
Nomasonto ‘Sonto’ Ndlovu, the Chief Executive Officer of Limpopo Tourism Agency (LTA) – a public entity mandated by Limpopo Provincial Government to promote, foster and develop tourism to and within the Limpopo Province - is impressed by the investment the provincial government, through Roads Agency Limpopo (RAL), is making towards improving road infrastructure in the province.
Ms Ndlovu says such investment will go a long way to improve tourism in Limpopo. RAL, an agency of Limpopo Department of Public Works, Roads and Infrastructure and LTA, an agency of Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism are two of the province’s five public entities and are thus natural stakeholders.
“We have the support of RAL, they understand that by helping us improve our roads to boost tourism, we will ultimately improve the economy of the province.”
She believes there will be no tourism without good roads. The critical role that road infrastructure plays in sectors of the provincial economy such as tourism, agriculture, trade and commerce were also highlighted in the 2018 Limpopo State of the Province Address (SOPA) earlier this year.
Delivering the SOPA, the Honourable Premier of Limpopo Chupu Stanley Mathabatha also stressed the importance of tourism to the provincial economy.
“The tourism sector continues to play a significant role in the growth and development of our provincial economy. Limpopo remains a leading province in the country when it comes to domestic tourism, increasing from 5.6 million in 2015 to 8.3 million in 2016. This represents a massive increase of 2.7 million.”
These figures are derived from Statistics South Africa’s 2016 Domestic Tourism Survey, which ranked
Limpopo as the most popular destination for overnight travellers or Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) tourism, that includes activities such as attending funerals, shopping and leisure. Limpopo is also only second to Gauteng as the top destination for day travellers, for nearly similar activities.
Besides domestic travellers from neighbouring provinces such Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the North West, Limpopo gets most of the tourists from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as most visitors come through Limpopo from Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
“SADC consumers need the road network to work perfectly because half of the time they come by road and not by air, and these tourists have many activities to do in the province,” says Ms Ndlovu.
The N1 (border of Gauteng to Polokwane) and R101 (Hammanskraal to Polokwane) – the alternative route to N1 - are some of the busiest roads in Limpopo and South Africa around Easter and Xmas.
There is nothing that underpins the coordination of the road network that links or feeds between national (SANRAL), provincial (RAL) and local government (municipalities) roads than tourism.
“Issues of access to the tourism zones are critical because when a tourist has finally made it to their destination, they still want to know how to get from Point A to Point B,” says Ms Ndlovu, recently appointed to her position.
Ms Ndlovu says without a good road network, you cannot do tourism at all because we cannot sell what this province has to offer if the road network is inadequate.
Tourism contributes 3% to the provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The economy of Limpopo Province strives on three sectors, namely mining, agriculture and tourism – the top contributors to the provincial GDP. And all these sectors are reliant on good road infrastructure for growth.
Tourism is regarded in the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 as one of the most important potential drivers of economic growth and job creation in the country. The Limpopo Development (LDP) Plan 2020, a provincial version of the NDP, also recognises the tourism industry as key to growing an inclusive economy for the province. In Limpopo, tourism takes the place of manufacturing which nationally is in top three of the contributors to GDP.
Roads Agency Limpopo is an important player in the provincial economic space.
Since 2015, the Agency has intensified the use of road infrastructure as a vehicle for driving local economy, particularly village economy, through the development of Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and creation of jobs in project areas.
But the impact of roads to the economy and the tourism sector long after the road project is completed, and the ongoing maintenance thereof, cannot be underestimated.
Also, in 2015, RAL adopted a Strategic Partnership Approach where it approaches private sector partners to assist in co-funding of road upgrades and maintenance. R482 million has been raised in this regard. The main source of these funds has been the mining industry, but the Agency also seeks greater participation from the agricultural sector, where ZZ2 has contributed towards a road upgrade, and the tourism sector.
Ms Ndlovu says that the only way for tourism to advance in the province was through their partnership with RAL. RAL itself prioritises economically strategic roads through these partnerships.
“Successful destinations in the world are those that you can self-drive, where you do not need an operator to drive you around in their van.”
“RAL is part of the family because they can make us look good.
They can change a lot of things in terms of tourist experiences,” she says.
Ms Ndlovu also believes that through focused discussions between provincial and local governments they can come up with an action plan towards fixing roads with an intention of boosting tourism, even in the rural areas.
Talking of roads that lead to tourist attractions, Ms Ndlovu expressed her satisfaction about the RALupgraded road in Mutale going towards Sagole Big Tree, in Sagole village between Tshipise and Pafuri near Thohoyandou. Sagole Big Tree is the biggest baobab tree in the world.
“The Big Tree is an iconic site. I was told that for a while that road was not in a good condition. But it has since been upgraded and now the big tree is accessible. There is now the Big Tree Lodge next to it and investors are starting to take interest in that area,” she said.
This has given a fresh fillip to tourism around the African Baobab trees. In South Africa the trees are found in Limpopo province, and particularly the Mapungubwe National Park which also encompasses the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape which was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2003.
“Mapungubwe for instance, is a critical tourism destination for us, and if we are to prioritise it and get the finest roads there - because it is a world heritage site - it can be an iconic destination for us in the province.”
Limpopo domestic tourism statistics are expected to be boosted further by ‘sport tourism’, which is an element of leisure travel. The province now has the highest number of representation in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for the first time at three in Baroka FC, Black Leopards and Polokwane City, across two district municipalities. Popular football clubs such as Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns are sure to visit the province at least nine times between them from the 2018/19 season. Limpopo also has the second-joint highest number in the 16-club PSL with Kwa-Zulu Natal, after historically and economically dominant Gauteng.
A bread and breakfast, lodge or stadium that is surrounded by municipal roads, needs a combination of mainly RAL-maintained roads, and at times SANRAL maintained roads, to lead people to their destination.
The RAL road network currently sits at 19 997 kilometres.
Tour de Limpopo, a property of LTA that relies heavily on scenic routes, is the latest event added to the Limpopo sporting calendar. The LTA hosted the inaugural four-stage cycling race in partnership with Cycling South Africa (CSA), from 23-26 April 2018, to showcase Limpopo’s roads and cultural diversity, and the province as “a premier Adventure Tourism” destination. The Polokwane to Tzaneen to Polokwane race used a combination of national, Roads Agency Limpopo and municipal roads.
“CSA did the inspection of the roads before the race and gave them the thumbs up. It was perfect for the international event,” says Ms Ndlovu, an endorsement to the quality of Limpopo roads.
Tour de Limpopo is the first international road cycling stage race to be hosted in Limpopo. “The Tour de Limpopo will give us the opportunity to showcase the beauty of Magoebaskloof all the way to Tzaneen, including Moria (Zion City), Modjadjiskloof, the Sunland Baobab, Debengeni Falls, Modjadji Royal Kraal and Modjadji Cycad Forest,” said Ms Ndlovu, as quoted during the launch in February 2018.
On the cultural front, Marula Festival in Phalaborwa is another event that attracts as much as 20 000 people who mainly use RAL roads to the venue.
Religious tourism is another form of tourism benefiting from quality roads. RAL national counterparts, SANRAL recently built an intersection around R71 to improve traffic flow to Moria. Moria or Zion City is the headquarters of Zion Christian Church (ZCC), the biggest church in Southern Africa by members, with the pilgrimage around Easter literally stopping traffic. Plans are also afoot to build another bypass to alleviate traffic congestion into the St Engenas Zion Christian Church (the Dove).
The provincial government and RAL made a commitment to continue with the programme of improving and expanding the provincial road network infrastructure that can only help in unlocking Limpopo tourism potential.
“ROADS AGENCY LIMPOPO IS AN IMPORTANT PLAYER IN THE PROVINCIAL ECONOMIC SPACE”
Improved road infrastructure has boosted tourism around the Sagole Big Tree. Roads Agency Limpopo’s successful Strategic Partnership Approach with the mining, agricultural and tourism sectors seek to speed up delivery of economically strategic roads in Limpopo Province.
The economic trickle-down effect of quality roads and increased tourism numbers in Limpopo Province means small business owners and vendors are also benefitting.
Nomasonto Ndlovu, the CEO of Limpopo Tourism Agency, says quality roads are a catalyst to a healthy tourism industry in the province.
Tour de Limpopo is the latest event to be added to the Limpopo sport calendar. The four-stage cycling race passed international grade thanks to the quality of Limpopo roads.