Park’s new commercialisation strategy has been drawn up
March 15, 2021
Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal: AN ambitious R4-billion development plan is being rolled out at iSimangaliso Wetland Park and interest from prospective investors-including one overseas and three South African billionaires-is already “overwhelming”.
“Our focus is to build lodges, resorts, bush camps, tented camps and hotels and we are surprised at the interest that has been shown. Four billionaires have already shown interest,” said Jabulani Ngubane, the Executive Manager of Tourism and Business Development at iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The plans, which will commercialise some 48 existing and new products at the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, will enable the park to sustain itself and become commercially independent and not government dependent. They have been years in the making and the developments could be completed within 10 years.
The park’s new commercialisation strategy has been drawn up in partnership with the local municipality and the various local communities.
This week’s announcement comes as Tourism KwaZulu-Natal is hosting influential guests on a tour of Zululand, including St Lucia and Hluhluwe (known as The Elephant Coast where iSimangaliso is one of the main drawcards).
The timing of the announcement coincides with TKZN’s own campaign to tell the world what tourism attractions the province has to offer.
The giant awakens
Ngubane likened the multi-award-winning park to a sleeping giant.
“Now, it is time for the giant to wake up,” he said.
Last week, officials held an on-site summit with local stakeholders-mayors, representatives of the communities, and traditional leaders-to explain their plans, which will mean opportunities and jobs for local communities.
Now, a business summit is being planned at Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom on August 26 where the projects will be unveiled to prospective investors. Officials already have a database of some 2 000 possible investors.
Some of the projects will be ring-fenced at the summit to enable the local communities to invest and benefit.
The planned projects, 24 of which are new, will stretch from Maphelane up to Kosi Bay, where it is envisaged a hotel will be built.
“This would have to get an environmental impact assessment and other requirements. If we develop a five-star or upmarket hotel there, we would consider conservation, environment and potential investments,” explained Bheki Manzini, the head of communications at the park.
In preparation for the developments, the facelift has already started and R25-million has been set aside during the financial year for them.
Some projects like roadworks and ensuring that municipal services are available at various nodes are underway while others have been completed, including park signage, reservoir maintenance and the refurbishment of the Crocodile Centre.
Charters Creek lodge is being given a fresh look and new buildings are going up. This project will be ready by April next year, enabling the park to showcase its unique attractions of bush, ocean and mountain.
One idea is to re-develop Maphelane as a high-density beach resort, complete with a maximum of 250 beds, 30 of them self-catering chalets. A restaurant and beach bar/kiosk are also on the cards, while over at Fani’s Island, bed chalets and camping/caravanning sites are also envisaged. Developments in Fani Island also include a jetty, boat launch kiosk and 11 camping sites.
Isimangaliso is “the goldmine”
iSimangaliso Wetland Park welcomes 278 000 guests on an average year, and the hope is that the new and updated attractions will increase visitor numbers.
Describing iSimangaliso as “the goldmine of the area,” said Thandi Shabalala, marketing and brand manager for the park. She added the local community was very excited about the developments and the prospect of future work.
In the last financial year alone, the park had spent between R250-270million on providing work for 235 SMMEs when 3 298 jobs were created, 1707 of them for the youth, 1 608 for women and 24 for the disabled.
Welcoming the developments, Councillor Solomon Mkhombo, mayor of the Umkhanyakude Municipality, said that park infrastructure had failed in recent years. Facilities, including poor roads, had been neglected and this had affected the enthusiasm of tourists.
However, accessibility had already improved and facilities were being revamped. This facelift was significant in terms of stimulation, he said.
It was beginning to dawn on people in the area that tourism was the future.
“We want to minimize human interference in the park and keep it as original as possible because that is what the world envies. When they come here, they find that there is a 200km coastline stretching as far as the Mozambique border.”
Nombuso Mlambo, secretary for People’s and Parks (Youth), which represents all the communities living inside the park and those who have claimed land, felt that they should get an agreed-upon percentage before the big projects start.
“There should also be an opportunity to transfer skills in terms of running these organisations.” ever.”
Tourism stakeholders are delighted at the development plans too.
Mandy Muir, tour operator and owner of Heritage House accommodation, said that any developments at iSimangaliso would make a huge impact on the St Lucia area.
“We are positive about it because it will mean that we as tour operators can do more for iSimanagaliso and everyone will benefit,” she said.
Abigail Mncwango, tour operator of Whale Safaris, said that after being hard hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the developments would help the tourism industry, restoring it to its former glory.