Tourism News South Africa

Exploring SanParks’ 30-year eco-tourism and commercialisation journey

South African National Parks (SanParks) marked its 30th anniversary at Africa's Travel Indaba in Durban with a panel discussion on sustainable eco-tourism and business growth through partnerships, highlighting its evolution as a leading conservation agency and commitment to responsible tourism.
Source: Supplied
Source: Supplied

The panel discussion was titled "Celebrating 30 Years of Sustainable Eco-Tourism and Business Growth Through Partnerships".

In April 1997 Cabinet approved the establishment of an interdepartmental task team that was tasked to explore how public-private partnerships (PPP’s) could improve infrastructure, and service delivery efficiency, and reduce dependence on state funding.

The journey to sustainable eco-tourism

“It was against this background that the SanParks Commercialisation Strategy came to being in 2000”, said Pam Yako, chairperson of SanParks board as she outlined the organisation’s response to Cabinet’s directives.

“This strategy focuses us on selected commercial ventures in which we partner with the private sector based on an appropriate regulatory framework that is designed to mitigate impacts on biodiversity whilst ensuring that a risk-free return on conservation assets can be leveraged”.

According to Yako, globally tourism revenue has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the funding of the protection of biodiversity. "By so doing it can enhance biodiversity’s role as a main resource for tourism destinations. It is therefore befitting to enhance the role of responsible tourism in a biodiversity conservation strategy that is the primary driver in the management of national parks."

Expanding partnerships and projects

“SANParks have progressively increased the number of PPP transactions, covering a wide range of projects, including accommodation, restaurants, retail, activities, an airport and the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. SanParks now has a portfolio of 63 PPP projects.” Further explained Yako.

The implementation of the Commercialisation Strategy has resulted in increased market segmentation and product and price differentiation in the parks. PPP’s have contributed 647 additional guest beds in the five-star segment resulting in increased economic activity and foreign exchange generation. This has also resulted in improved efficiencies of the restaurant and retail facilities, contributing to an enhanced visitor experience for the guests of SanParks.

In the 24 years of its rollout, the Commercialisation Strategy resulted in a total contribution of R1,927bn to SanParks tourism revenues. “Compared to the highest annual income figure since the inception of the commercialisation program, the 2023/2024 financial year has shown an increase of 46.26%,” added Yako.

The socio-economic impact of this intervention also increased employment in the tourism industry with 2,158 new permanent jobs which excludes construction jobs with 79% of employees recruited from communities living adjacent to national parks. This means a reported spend of R 75m per annum through community SMMEs and considerable continuous skills transfer and training.

BBBEE scorecard targets

In addition, SanParks PPP contracts contain BBBEE scorecard targets to promote direct ownership of a minimum 10% shareholding by black people, Black women and Black enterprises.

Part of the SanParks sideline event at Africa’s Travel Indaba included a celebration of a joint venture for the management of a 125-room Skukuza Safari Lodge and Nombolo Mdluli Conference Centre at the iconic Kruger National Park between Karibu Lodge (that is owned by a Black female, Nyeleti Mushwana) with a 40% shareholding together with Tourvest – a pioneer in the tourism and hospitality services holding 60% shareholding.

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