Cable car pipe dream

Re­view of R500 mln project in Berg ex­poses fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity con­cerns

The Witness - - NEWS - ED­WARD WEST

A RE­VIEW of the busi­ness plan for the R500 mil­lion cable car in the Drak­ens­berg has raised se­ri­ous con­cerns about the fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of the project.

Newman Ac­count­ing and Tax Ser­vices, which did the re­view for African Con­ser­va­tion Trust and Wilder­ness Ac­tion Group, said the busi­ness plan drawn up for the KwaZulu- Natal Depart­ment of Eco­nomic Af­fairs and Tourism does not in­di­cate how there will be a 526% in­crease in visi­tors to the Drak­ens­berg re­gion, enough to make the pro­posed cable car sus­tain­able.

The busi­ness plan also does not in­di­cate any mar­ket re­search done to in­di­cate that visi­tors will pay R350 per adult and R200 per child to go on the cable car, given that the prices are more than most of the other cable cars in the world, the re­view said.

A reg­u­lar round trip on the Ta­ble Moun­tain cable car costs R215, ac­cord­ing to the Ta­ble Moun­tain Aerial Ca­ble­way’s web­site.

Depart­ment of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Tourism spokeper­son Bheko Mad­lala said yes­ter­day that not all ca­ble­ways are equal and there is great vari­abil­ity in length, lo­ca­tion and pur­pose.

“Com­pa­ra­ble ca­ble­ways around the world that of­fer sim­i­lar in­creases in al­ti­tude or length typ­i­cally cost ap- prox­i­mately dou­ble the pro­posed R350 re­turn fare,” said Mad­lala.

“The suc­cess of the ca­ble­way lies pri­mar­ily with the ticket price and num­ber of tick­ets sold. The busi­ness plan does not ad­e­quatelty ad­dress th­ese key as­pects,” ac­cord­ing to the re­view. In fact, the busi­ness plan quotes no mar­ket re­search. The re­view also said cap­i­tal costs were likely to be higher than ex­pected be­cause of rand de­pre­ci­a­tion and a fail­ure to con­sider the main­te­nance and de­sign re­quire­ments of a dif­fi­cult op­er­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment in the Drak­ens­berg, com­pared with other cable cars. In ad­di­tion, the busi­ness plan did not con­sider the ad­di­tional cost of hav­ing to take sewage down the ca­ble­way, ac­cord­ing to the re­view.

The re­view also quotes Sabine Lehmann, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ta­ble Moun­tain Aerial Ca­ble­way Com­pany: “I think vis­i­tor num­bers [ in the Drak­ens­berg] are too small for the project to cover its costs … an at­trac­tion such as a board­walk or treetop walk­way could be just as at­trac­tive at a frac­tion of the cost.”

Mad­lala said they were do­ing a full con­sul­ta­tive process with all stake­hold­ers. A meet­ing of more than 15 000 peo­ple late last year gave the project “a ring­ing en­dorse­ment”, and the project was given the “thumbs up” at a meet­ing of busi­ness­men in De­cem­ber, said Mad­lala.

Si­gungu Miya, the spokesper­son for the tra­di­tional lead­er­ship of the AmaZizi, said in a state­ment the DEDT had never for­mally in­tro­duced the pro­posed Busin­gatha ca­ble­way “to the late Nkosi Miya and they have never come to consult at the AmaZizi tribal of­fice”.

The cable car will tra­verse the land of the AmaZizi com­mu­nity.

“Con­trary to the claims of some peo­ple, Inkosi Miya never agreed to have the ca­ble­way in our area … We do not want this ca­ble­way in our area,” said Miya.

The DEDT said the de­vel­op­ment ap­proval process is set to start once the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions are over. A num­ber of views for or against the project had been re­ceived.

“A prod­uct of this na­ture will at­tract hol­i­day- mak­ers from a wider cir­cle than what the north­ern Drak­ens­berg at­tracts at present. As for the is­sue of the fund­ing model, we are look­ing at a num­ber of fund­ing mod­els which will be an­nounced once the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion is over,” Mad­lala said.

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