Fast facts at your fingertips
The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Government has positioned tourism as one of the mainstay economic sectors with the potential to unleash massive business and employment opportunities in a sustainable fashion.
Tourism is the sector that continues to be prioritised by many nations of the world that have acknowledged its resilience and impact on economic growth in the face of global and regional market turbulence.
This is a fact attested to by the United Nation's World Tourism Organisation's report, which points out that tourism is not only growing rapidly in terms of the numbers of people travelling to various destinations, but also contributes significantly to the socio-economic wellbeing of the host nations and the world in general.
Over the past 10 years this industry has grown from $6.03 trillion to $7.61 trillion last year with advanced countries in Europe, North America and Asia leading the pack in terms of attracting more visitors and revenue because of their improved travel services and critical facilities that appeal to tourists. The emerging economies, including our own continent Africa, have also registered considerable growth rates, having noted the importance of investing in tourismrelated infrastructure to be able to claim their equitable slice from tourism benefits.
KZN a holiday mecca
In KZN we are investing our energies on a variety of attractions that make the province an attractive darling of visitors wishing to explore our natural topographic and cultural beauty.
The eastern seaboard of the province is renowned for its all-year round clement weather, making it a holiday mecca for domestic and international tourists − all eager to enjoy the warm Indian Ocean.
Our subtropical weather patterns make the province very popular with visitors from colder regions. Here they can explore the coastal splendour that features warm beaches from the south coast up to the north, where it becomes part of the United Nations protected biodiversity haven of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, home to worldclass game parks, such as the Umfolozi-Hluhluwe and Tembe Elephant Park.
This is where travellers looking for a unique safari experience are spoilt for choice as they get to see the Big Five and other game. Equally, those interested in marine life can catch a glimpse of various coral species of fish, dolphins, whales, sharks and giant turtles.
The hinterland equally boasts numerous tourism attractions, such as the spectacular uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site, the plateau-shaped Midlands Meander and the battlefields – all providing a unique tourism experience. These range from energy driven activities, such as hiking, gorge swings, rock climbing, snow skiing and gliding as well as 4x4 mountain driving through the fascinating Sani Pass that links the province to neighbouring Lesotho.
Improving infrastructure to boost tourism
Working with stakeholders, we continue to improve our infrastructure to enable our tourism industry to grow in leaps and bounds.
As part of our endeavours to boost tourism, we have decided to prioritise the upgrade of our regional airports. Just recently, we launched the rehabilitation of the Mkhuze Airport runway, a move which will, without a doubt, see the airport playing an enormous role in
unleashing economic opportunities for the district of uMkhanyakude.
The Mkhuze Airport is strategically located in the prime tourism destination of the uMkhanyakude District which has the highest concentration of game reserves in the country. These include Thanda, Phinda, uMkhuze, Pongola, Hluhluwe, Leopard Mountain, Rhino River, Bayete Zulu and Tembe Elephant Park, among others.
Within the bigger picture of the airport development, we want to see a more integrated collaborative approach with the many public and private reserves and lodges in the area, many of which have their own air strips, to consider using Mkhuze Airport as their primary port of call.The airport can serve all the reserves and other organisations in the area.
A prime model we follow is Skukuza Airport, which serves not only the Kruger National Park but many of the other surrounding reserves, and Ezemvelo Wildlife can assist with this. We do not only want Mkhuze Airport to cater for the overflow from the Kruger National Park, but to create its own globally recognised identity, where international tourists can be flown into King Shaka International Airport and directed to Mkhuze for a better safari experience.
We strongly believe that it will be a futile exercise for government to invest all its resources to improve the performance of tourism in our province, without also addressing what should be everyone's priority − the transformation of the tourism sector.
We need to transform this sector precisely because it makes logical sense to get more people into the mainstream economy than to have a majority that sits on the periphery or only occupies the lower rungs of the economy because that is a recipe for disaster.
In this regard, inclusive growth becomes key.The World Economic Forum's 2017 Inclusive Growth and Development Report argues that when we look at the concept of inclusive growth, we should consider it as a strategy to increase the extent to which the economy's top-line performance is translated into the bottom-line result society is seeking, i.e., broad-based expansion of economic opportunity and prosperity.
The task of the tourism sector and, by extension, key players in this sector, is to ensure that while we grow and develop this sector, our ultimate objective is for tourism to contribute positively to our national economic performance, get our people out of poverty and, critically, assist us in building a national democratic society characterised by unity, equality and prosperity.
While our department and Tourism KZN run programmes to empower emerging black-owned tourism businesses, this intervention alone is not enough to address true transformation in tourism. We are working closely with all tourism stakeholders to ensure that there is commitment, not only with regard to job creation, but to ensuring active and meaningful participation of black businesses in major tourism transactions, as well as tourism investments made in the province.
While work is ongoing in transforming various industries within the travel and tourism sector, we are pleased about the progress we have recorded in transforming the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibition industry.
We will also continue to seek out events that attempt to transform the tourism sector through support for historically disadvantaged groups seeking to enter it, thereby ensuring the spread of benefits from tourism-related businesses to rural and township areas.
KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Sihle