Heritage and tourism stakeholders in Nelson Mandela Bay agreed yesterday that greater co-operation and dismantling “silos”, along with more action and less complaining, are key to unlocking the tourism potential of the metro’s unique and diverse heritage. More than 120 delegates participated in the inaugural Heritage and Tourism Indaba, representing tourism-related businesses and member organisations, heritage and cultural organisations, arts and creative industries, environmental organisations and government agencies. Convened by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) and partners, the event at The Athenaeum in Athol Fugard Terrace, Central, aimed to get role-players working together on a concrete action plan to protect and preserve heritage assets and restore Nelson Mandela Bay as a prime tourism destination.
MBDA chief executive Anele Qaba said while heritage assets were under pressure from crime, vandalism and environmental degradation, the agency had made progress in securing new partnerships and resources to aid in reversing the decline. These include agreements with provincial entities to fund creative and film industries “to capture our unique stories”, and a collaboration “that will unlock pursuit of a large-scale tourism and conferencing facility”, Qaba said.
NMB Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk said the MBDA had “taken on a huge responsibility to renew and revive in Nelson Mandela Bay”, and he looked forward to executable plans and action coming out of the Indaba. Van Niekerk said the value of heritage “cannot be understated” and that the Bay needed to “brag more” about its unique heritage and the growth of community-based events such as the Richmond Hill Street Music Festival and Ebubeleni Festival.
Qaba added that plans for redevelopment of the old Boet Erasmus stadium land were being finalised, along with progress being made in redeveloping Bayworld, and an investment roadshow would be held before year-end to attract private sector interest in the MBDA’s key mandate areas and projects. The MBDA is also moving on commercialisation plans in the NMB Stadium/North End precinct, with options to be presented to the council in the coming months.
The St Peter’s precinct will open to visitors before the end of the year, to be packaged for operation by private industry role-players while ensuring the social connection to old South End is maintained. Qaba said a request for proposals had been advertised for prospective operators for a zipline in the lower Baakens Valley for an “inner-city adventure offering”.
“These reflect the MBDA playing its role as a catalyst and enabler of development, not to hog it for itself. There is room for economically viable public-private partnerships and joint ventures. Only when industry and government entities work together will there be change,” Qaba said. His remarks set the scene for proposals and solutions presented by stakeholders and debated in breakaway groups.
Key themes and concerns raised by most stakeholders centred on “crime and grime”, along with hindrances to tourism growth in delays and inertia hampering development approvals and implementation of projects. A lack of collaboration across government departments and among stakeholder interest groups was also pinpointed as a stumbling block. Discover Mandela Bay project manager Shaun van Eck highlighted that global trends in tourism centred on experiences and authentic stories, rather than products and services. Participants in the indaba highlighted numerous opportunities for authentic tourism experiences unique to Nelson Mandela Bay, including in the metro’s unique 5-biome status, wildlife both terrestrial and marine, traditional cuisines and sport. “Sidelined cultures” including Khoi Khoi, San and Xhosa needed to be elevated in the local cultural heritage landscape, and the metro’s role in the liberation struggle needed to be leveraged for tourism, speakers said. Safe zones where multiple tourist activities and experiences could take place were proposed, as well as a co-ordinated calendar of key events. MBDA senior project manager and Urban Planner Dorelle Sapere said the energy, passion and willingness to work together committed by the delegates were key takeouts of the day’s discussions.
She said the MBDA would now collate the information and proposals presented for solutions, develop and share a database of participants, and engage with local government departments on driving and fast-tracking proposed solutions. Sapere said new approaches to cleaning and security in the MBDA’s mandate areas were now in a pilot phase, as well as engaging with government agencies that own “problem buildings”. The MBDA would also facilitate linkages with funding for developers of tourism products.