Kruger Lowveld Ehlanzeni LogoThe Mpumalanga government has declared 2017 the ‘year of tourism’, given that the province has been awarded the opportunity to host World Tourism Day on 27 September.

According to Mpumalanga’s MEC of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Eric Kholwane, tourism is an integral part of most communities’ lives.

“Tourism carries significant weight in South Africa’s and Mpumalanga’s economy, and is one of the leading elements of international trade,” he confirms.

That’s why the department will be focussing on tourism infrastructure and tourist attractions in particular, as well as aggressive marketing of the province in 2017.

“Concrete steps will be taken to address the issues of routes’ development; investment in anchor products; enhancement of training and skills development, improving safety measures and the promotion of small medium and micro enterprises.

“The province will further leverage on the existing Memorandums of Understanding with Swaziland, Mozambique, Angola, China and Russia through developing packages according to their needs, investing in infrastructure to improve tourism products, identifying and training tourism operators and working with Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to conclude the Air Transport strategy,” says MEC Kholwane.

This is great news for Kruger Lowveld Tourism (KLT), the tourism division of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism, which represents the interests of the majority of tourism and leisure operators in the region.

Lisa Sheard, the Executive Director and Marketing Consultant of KLT, is hopeful that existing tourist attractions operated by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) are going to get a much-needed facelift and upgrade in 2017. “This could make a huge difference to the number of visitors to the region,” says Sheard, who expects to see continued growth in international visitors this year, following the 2016 rebound from the 2015 visa debacle.

“KLT is tentative about domestic tourism though, due to the tough economic environment, but we are optimistic that a travel culture is developing and that travel is becoming more accessible to more people,” she says.

According to MEC Kholwane, Kruger Lowveld’s occupancy/booking statistics over the festive season – a combination of the total day visitors and bed nights – indicate fluctuating statistics compared to the same period in 2015.

“The Kruger National Park recorded an increase of 8% (140,676 in 2015 to 152,974 in 2016); whilst in and around Hazyview there was an increase of 5% (58% in 2015 to 63% in 2016). In Swadini and around the Blyde River Canyon, the numbers reflect a slight decrease in terms of both day visitors and bed nights,” he says.

Xolani Mthethwa, the Head of Tourism of the MTPA, says that fewer local people go on domestic trips due to the tough economic conditions. “Those who take a trip for leisure purposes, take a shorter trip compared to 2013/2014. In 2017, we will see the domestic market continue to strain due to the economic climate, but international visitor numbers are growing due to the weak Rand. The average occupancy rate for Mpumalanga products over the festive season was 60%,” he says.

Anne Briggs, chairperson of the SATSA Mpumalanga Chapter, is optimistic that the Kruger Lowveld is going to have a busy 2017, judging by forward bookings. “We’ve already had bookings for 2018 and our tour and transfer stats for December 2016 were higher than those in 2015, over the same period,” she says.

A boost for Kruger Lowveld’s economy

The region is excited by the prospect of increased marketing budgets for the MTPA and upgraded MTPA-managed public attractions in 2017. Furthermore, some new and iconic tourist attractions are opening in the region in 2017, particularly the Graskop Gorge Lift project which will give visitors the experience of being lowered 51 metres into the gorge in a glass elevator. At the base of the gorge, an extended boardwalk network will provide access to indigenous forest walks, crossings over suspension bridges, bird watching and tree identification spots.  It’s expected that the project – which also consists of shops and a restaurant – will break ground in March 2017 and will be open for business before Christmas.

Add this project to the vast number of tourist attractions in the area – from the Kruger National Park to God’s Window and the Blyde River Canyon – and you’ll understand why the Kruger Lowveld is a must-see destination.

Briggs says there’s nowhere else in the world like the Lowveld. “The diversity of the area is breath-taking, from the Eastern Drakensburg Escarpment to the wild wonders of the Kruger National Park. In addition, the proximity of Swaziland and Maputo add additional interest as they are an easy day trip away from the Lowveld,” she says.

Issued by:     Allycats Public Relations