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Rural projects are top priority

An impressive list of local tourism development projects is being supported by the IDC's tourism special business unit as it moves ahead with its new focus on community empowerment through developing the so-called "underdeveloped nodes".

This task is made simpler to some extent by the country's abundant tourism and natural resources that have made it a popular tourism destination.

What is less simple is aligning these with the requirements and objectives as set out in the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan policies. In order to do so, the tourism unit has broadened its investment focus to include projects that enhance and promote tourism and attract investment into undeveloped tourism nodes.

"We have identified new nodes of development in rural communities, spread around the North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape regions. Our objective is to invest in rural-based projects that have potential to create employment opportunities in those communities," says Katinka Schumann, divisional executive for services industries and regions at the IDC.

"The sectors in focus include adventure and sports tourism, game lodges and natural attraction sites spread across these regions," she says.

A number of ventures that fit this bill have received funding from the IDC and are building lively businesses that not only showcase the country's natural beauty, but also share that success with local communities.

Calvin Maphope's Mambedi Country Lodge in Makhado, Limpopo, is one such example. Having identified the need for decent accommodation in Makhado and in line with his vision to create jobs in his community, he invested more than R5-million in the construction of Mambedi Country Lodge. Such was his success that he was named the Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006, which gave him the confidence to expand his venture. At this point he turned to the IDC to fund the expansion, which it duly did, based on the potential for further growth and job creation.

Cape Town
Another example is the Park Inn by Radisson Newlands hotel being developed in Cape Town. Despite the IDC shifting focus to less developed geographic areas, the case for community involvement in this project was so strong it simply couldn't say no. The beneficiary community in this case is the Deaf Federation of South Africa, which represents about 800 000 hearing- impaired members countrywide. Its involvement in the project is seen as a way to generate income, transfer skills and create employment opportunities for its members. (See Unique Cape opportunity for deaf investors.)

Christine Engelbrecht, head of the IDC's tourism unit, says that although the funding focus is not on conventional projects such as this, it does not mean the doors are closed to developments that have a strong developmental or community empowerment component.

The Witsieshoek resort in the Drakensberg area is another project that demonstrates the value of a community-focused approach. The IDC's financial support has enabled the survival of the lodge after it faced closure by its Batlokoa community owners because of to the financial strain of maintaining the property. The funding has resulted in the refurbishment and reconstruction of facilities, as well as securing the 16 direct jobs created by the project.

Shepherd's Tree, a game lodge in North West, and Mkambati in the Eastern Cape's highly impoverished Lusikisiki area are two more community projects that stand to benefit from the rural development strategy.

The KZN Beach Resort, a project at the development stage, is intended to be a multi-product beach resort on land owned by the Nonoti community, and is also earmarked to benefit a local community. The project is expected to create more than 250 direct and 150 indirect jobs during the first phase of its development. The resort will comprise a four-star hotel with 250 rooms, 24 four-star self-catering units and 16 three-star self-catering unit.

Engelbrecht says her unit does not sit back waiting for applications for funding, but proactively looks for viable projects.

"We work very closely with the various local tourism authorities in the different provinces to understand how they see their province developing and what they identify as their inherent tourism strengths. We also work together with the land restitution office to see what is available and then develop ideas, which are always in partnership with the local communities, tourism authorities and operating partners," she says.

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