The Kruger National Park (KNP), one South Africa's tourism icons, is still a popular destination for both local and foreign visitors. Six percent more visitors entered the park gates from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008 than the 1 313 185 visitors recorded for the previous financial year (2006/7).
The Park recorded more than three percent increase in number of beds sold and four percent more people preferred to camp than last year. Lucy Nhlapo-Sekete, head of tourism in Kruger, says Nxanatseni region especially, recorded good increases for the 2007/8 year. The unit occupancy increased by4.7 percent and the number of camping persons per night was a significant 17 percent more than the previous year. The Nxanatseni (northern) region is also the only region which had more people taking part in park activities than last year – an increase of 1.8 percent.
According to Lucy, the Marula (southern) and Nkayeni (central) regions had good rainfall from September to December, but this has also lead to the cancellation of many activities in those regions. Marula had 2.8 percent more people in their units during the last year compared to 2006/7 and 2.3 percent more people camping. "One of our niche camps, Lower Sabie, has had extensive refurbishments done and we had almost 50 percent of the units closed for the public during the year. We hope to have all refurbishments done by the end of this calendar year." The number of black visitors to the Park increased from 20 to 24 percent.
Lucy believes Kruger's success can be ascribed to excellent support from staff and neighbouring communities. She says although most visitors to the Park are from Gauteng, a significant portion of visitors also reside in Limpopo and Mpumalanga and "we would like to thank them for their support." Lucy believes the Park's awareness programme, especially targeting local radio stations, Ligwalagwala, Munghana Lonene and Thobela FM, has had a huge impact on the increase in local visitors recorded.
"People are more informed about Kruger, but we still need to educate people more." She says local communities have easy access to the Park management through the Park Forums that are facilitated by Kruger's people and conservation department. "As Kruger we are working towards local communities benefiting from the park." One way of doing so is by providing jobs to local communities. "More than 80 percent of our staff are from the local communities," she says. The Park employs about 2500 people on a permanent basis and some 800 temporary staff.