Over the past decade, the tourism industry in South Africa has grown beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic trend analyst. In fact, for the past eleven successive years, overseas visitor-arrival numbers have continued to increase, growing at a compound rate of no less that 17.5% per annum.
There is no doubt, the KwaZulu-Natal province plays an integral role in this success story, making a significant contribution to these positive statistics. There is something about this warm and friendly province which continues to draw tourists from all around the globe. World class beaches, majestic mountain ranges and a rich cultural history, are just some of the diverse attractions which keep visitors coming back.
The St Lucia region offers a perfect example; representing an area of immense tourism potential, underpinned by a wealth of natural and cultural resources. These include a pristine coastline, classic African game parks, the southern most coral reefs in Africa and rich indigenous cultural traditions.
Fortunately, this unique tourism opportunity has been recognised and the governments of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland are launching tourism investment programmes with a scale and grandeur unparalleled in Africa. One of these developments is known as the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative.
The Lubombo region straddles southern Mozambique, eastern Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal and, for the first time, provides access to some of the most picturesque and unspoiled natural attractions which the continent has to offer. At the heart of this spectacular area, nestles the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, listed last year as a World Heritage Site. This region is currently enjoying the biggest and most prolonged tourism boom in its history.
Recognising the opportunities offered by this robust growth, several exclusive groundbreaking tourism investment projects have been developed. One of the sites chosen and packaged is the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Attractions, ranging from beach resorts to boutique hotels and game lodges, are being designed to help establish the Lubombo region as a tourism destination of international repute.
Until now, the region's inaccessibility has inhibited extensive development.
This hurdle has been overcome with new major and secondary roads currently being constructed as part of the Lubombo Initiative.
To date, some R630-million has been committed to a range of projects, including regional support networks (new roads and the upgrading of the major national access route); park infrastructure (game fences, internal road networks and tourism facilities) and the restocking of the park. Various regional programmes also include a major new malaria eradication drive.
These improvements are being implemented in different phases over the next three years. The resulting infrastructure will create a flow of job opportunities for people in the area, ensuring there is a long term future for the Lubombo region.
The Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative is an important programme for the prosperity of tourism in KwaZulu-Natal. It demonstrates the enormous potential of the province and the commitment shown, from both government and business, to effectively utilise and manage the natural assets that the country has to offer.