- The South African government today announced major eco-tourism investments for the St Lucia Wetland Park, the country's first World Heritage Site. Foresighted planning is to reduce poverty while protecting the environment and building a vibrant tourism industry.
Environment and Tourism Minister Mohammed Valli Moosa today announced an investment on rand 432 million "to go towards the improvement of the lives of local communities" in the St Lucia Park in KwaZulu-Natal. The park has turned into one of South Africa's main tourist attractions during the last years.
The Environment Minister made the announcement, marking the largest rural eco-tourism boost for the province, at a press briefing held at Durban's Hilton Hotel. He said eight winning bidders have been given concessions to develop lodges, self-catering resorts, camping facilities and adventure travel activities at eight sites in the Park.
This was expected to "create more than 800 new and redeveloped beds as the new investments come on stream, offering a range of luxury and affordable accommodation to domestic and international tourists," according to the South African government.
- This latest investment is the culmination of efforts by the national government to uplift one of the poorest regions in the country, said Minister Moosa, further hailing it as a major step in the transformation of the tourism industry: "The developers represent investment companies with more than 70 percent black ownership," an important political aim in South Africa.
The Minister pointed out that up to 50 percent of the construction work for the new resorts would be conducted by local small businesses, further contributing to the alleviation of poverty.
- This investment has also ensured that local communities are truly empowered as the developers have included significant equity shares for local residents, said Minister Moosa. "In addition, at least 900 permanent jobs will be created, heightening government's fight against joblessness."
The tourism scheme also involves the development of regional infrastructure, including the completion of the Lubombo road from Durban to the Mozambique border.
It follows the successful implementation of a malaria control programme which has resulted in a decrease in infection rates of up to 94 percent, and the consolidation and redevelopment of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park under a new dedicated World Heritage Authority.
This has included the reintroduction onto the shores of Lake St Lucia of oldest, fastest and largest land mammals the rhino, elephant, and cheetah which now live alongside the oldest and largest sea mammal whales and ancient turtles.
Minister Moosa said that the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park was now "set to become an international model of the way in which the protection of wilderness can contribute to the alleviation of poverty and benefit social groups way beyond their boundaries - in accordance with new conservation principles recently adopted at World Summit on Sustainable Development as well as the World Parks Congress in Durban."
- The new investments will also establish the Wetlands Park as one of South Africa's key tourism and conservation icons, added Mr Moosa.
The new facilities at the Park will accommodate between 80,000 and 100,000 guests a year, who will spend about 200,000 nights in the Park annually, generating over rand 300 million a year in direct spending, excluding the "knock-on" effect on secondary development, indirect expenditure and ancillary spending in and around the region.
- The tourism investments will conform to strict international guidelines designed to preserve the biological diversity of the St Lucia Wetland Park, according to the Minister.
Today's announcement comes within weeks of the announcement of a multi-million rand joint partnership to development the province's Zimbali Coastal Resort, which will see a Kuwaiti-listed company invest US$ 100 million in the development over the next decade, creating hundreds of jobs for local residents.
Minister Moosa said he was confident that this kind of investment into tourism will continue well into the future. KwaZulu-Natal could very well become South Africa's future tourism industry engine.
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