South African National Parks' (SANParks) tourism income surpassed the half billion- rand mark in the financial year ending on March 31, 2008. This is according to Glen Phillips, managing executive: tourism development and marketing, who released some preliminary statistics for the year. The unaudited figures show SANParks recording an increase in unit occupancies of 1.4 percent from 69.5 percent to 70.9 percent. Guests recorded on the park's system increased from 4,587 million to 4,720 million.
The highest unit occupancies were realised in Addo Elephant and the Kruger National Park (KNP) with 85.1 percent and 76.1 percent respectively. Table Mountain National Park registered 2,477 million visitors and KNP accommodated 1,396 million visitors. Growth in black visitors was also impressive, having increased from 18 percent to 20.8 percent. Though the number of international visitors grew by 0.2 percent, the ratio as compared to local visitors decreased from 26.2 percent to 24.7 percent. SADC visitors increased from 0.6 percent to 0.8 percent and South Africans from 73.6 percent to 74.5 percent.
At a media briefing on May 13, during the Tourism Indaba 2008 in Durban, Glen elaborated on the organisation's current tourism infrastructure upgrade programme. "In our efforts to attain the highest standards of tourism delivery, we have for the past financial year engaged in major infrastructure upgrade, which has included among others the revitalisation of key facilities in Kruger, such as our conferencing facilities, the replacement of accommodation facilities and the establishment of a new restaurant," says Glen.
"Our upgrade project has also included the revamping of facilities in Mapungubwe, Tsitsikamma, Agulhas, and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. SANParks has also established the Mokala National Park, and plans are afoot to develop this facility to a key national attraction."
SANParks has for the past three years received grants to the value of R 528 million towards Infrastructure Development Programmes. The funding focused on the upgrade of existing facilities, but some new tourism infrastructure was put in place.
"As part of our quest to develop local entrepreneurship, most work in the projects was done by local contractors and people from neighbouring communities to the parks. SANParks has implemented a contractor development programme and played a major role in the development and mentoring of 40 independent construction contractors." Part of the organisation's empowering strategy included the adoption of labour intensive construction methods, which included the manufacturing of material such as bricks, tiles and timber on site. As a consequence of this approach and strategy, tourists visiting the parks will in all probability stay in a unit that was either upgraded or constructed with labour from local communities as 8,500 people were employed with over 1,4 million person days worked. 550 SMME's were used in the programme while 280 new SMME's were created.
"Some of the new products that tourists can look forward to include a world class interpretive center in Mapungubwe National Park, a rest camp at Agulhas National Park, a transfrontier conservation area entrance gate at Kgalagadi that will allow access to South Africa and Bostwana and the opening of the Basotho cultural village rest camp in Golden Gate Highlands National Park."
On November 27, last year, SANParks introduced Realtime Reservations on line and "we are happy to report that in just four months SANParks has received over R8 million in revenue, despite deliberately not marketing the facility until we were comfortable that we could handle the volumes." SANParks has also committed to review the gate control mechanisms for the KNP during peak periods to ensure a better visitor experience.