By Jessie Taylor
More than R370-million will be invested into improving tourist facilities at the Kruger National Park in the next three years, in the hopes of generating more income to support the essential conservation work carried out by the South African National Parks (SANParks).
Building a tourism-friendly offering
The R370-million investment will include infrastructure upgrades and refurbishments at the Kruger National Park over the next three years. Among these projects are the renovations of more than 100 tourist accommodation units at various parks, as well as the rebuilding of the Letaba shop and Lower Sabie petrol station, which was also damaged by fire, and repairs to the Shingwedzi Main Building roof and viewing decks at Skukuza and Olifants Camp, which were damaged by termites.
Entrance gates at Pafuri, Punda Maria, Orpen, Phabeni and Numbi will also be upgraded, and a picnic spot, camping site and reception facility will be constructed at the Shangoni Gate.
Funds have also been allocated for the upgrading of some staff accommodation, the resurfacing of identified tar roads, and the re-gravelling of selected gravel roads.
Kruger National Park managing executive Gareth Coleman says the first phase of the programme will provide focus on improving the visitor experience.
The Park annually sees around one million visitors. However, with travel restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the visitor numbers dropped dramatically in 2020 and 2021.
“The decline in tourist revenues under Covid-19 (sic) impacted our revenue but the need to maintain and upgrade our infrastructure is ever-present. The infrastructure programme will also help provide much-needed employment in the area,” says Mr Coleman.
But this is not the only investment SANParks hopes to channel into the park. The company, which manages South Africa’s 20 national parks, has announced more than 100 potential new opportunities for public private partnerships (PPPs) in the next decade.
While these include operating the Table Mountain Cable Car and Cape Point, there are also several opportunities for running lodges in the Kruger National Park once the current concessionaire agreements come to an end.
In the last 20 years, SANParks has entered into more than 60 partnerships at various parks, which have contributed around R1.4-billion to SANParks and increased the value of infrastructure assets by R955-million.
Supporting conservation efforts through tourism
Creating opportunities for investment in South Africa’s national parks is essential to support conservation efforts. More than 80% of SANParks’ operating budget is self-generated, which means that its conservation efforts depend on successful and sustainable tourism operations.
National parks provide a home for the country’s most iconic species as well as recreational spaces for South Africans and international visitors. Protected areas can also play an important role in the development of rural economies.
To manage all of the national parks in South Africa, SANParks incurs operating costs estimated at around R1-billion. These operational costs are essential to the protection of wildlife and nature conservation – they fund wildlife rangers, infrastructure, visitor facilities and conservation efforts.
But the two aspects go hand-in-hand: To generate these funds needed for conservation efforts, SANParks must continue to find ways to encourage tourism; and to ensure tourists visit the national parks, wildlife and species of national parks must be preserved.
SANParks is a leading conservation authority that works to create a sustainable national parks system that connects society. The public entity falls under the Department of Environmental Affairs and aims to create inclusive conservation in line with the National Development Framework for Sustainable Development.
Twenty national parks, across seven provinces, fall under the management of SANParks. These four million hectares of national parks represent more than two-thirds of South Africa’s state-managed protected areas.
The National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act mandates SANParks to create destinations for nature-based tourism in a manner that is not harmful to the environment. SANParks is primarily a self-funding entity generating approximately 80% of its operating budget from its ecotourism business.
SANParks plays a significant role in the promotion of South Africa’s ecotourism but also invests heavily in socio-economic development. SANParks provides support to neighbouring communities and supports the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of South Africa through corporate social investment.