Although South African National Parks (SANParks) lost more than 70% of its revenue in the 2020/21 financial year due to Covid, it is aiming to return to its former glory days through a three-year upgrade and refurbishment programme in the Kruger National Park and other national parks.
According to SANParks spokesperson Rey Thakhuli, although the national parks were not where they wanted to be financially, the situation was looking promising, which could propel the organisation further following the R370 million three-year upgrade to its facilities.
“We’re trying to entice more people to come to our national parks especially the emerging markets, so we have marketing campaigns like stokvels and travel group discounts,” he said.
Thakhuli said SANParks was a leader in eco-tourism public-private partnerships (PPPs). It has upgraded a number of facilities in Kruger, such as the Nkhulu picnic site, new tented camp Shalati Lodge, the Train restaurant, eco-lodge concessions, golf courses and Skukuza Airport, which will continue to create jobs for local communities.
He said a new project will bring in private operators to construct and operate a lodge with a national park on a 20 to 30 year build, operate and transfer contract.
Following the SANParks Tourism Investment Summit, acting general manager for SANParks business development unit James Daniels said they had invited the private sector to invest in public parks, make a return on their investment and fund conservation, which is the park’s main aim.
Daniels said the PPP allows a private operator to refurbish and operate a facility. The requirements include that they employ people from local communities. They can also contract small businesses in their businesses. “We have all these private sector companies in the national parks that actually do some things really well,” he said.
“For instance, if they need soap, they can go to these communities and say, ‘please, manufacture soap for us’. “So by doing that we actually invest back into the community as well and that has also been very successful.”
He also noted that all parties benefit. SANParks gets an income to fund conservation, the private sector company gets a return on investment and the communities get employment and contracts. “At the end of the day, it’s a win-win situation. That’s what we are trying to achieve,” he said. “Ultimately the tourist who visit the national parks benefit because they get a product of superior quality.”
He called on private operators and investors to look out for upcoming opportunities in the Kruger National Park as at least six concession contracts were coming to an end over the next few days.
SANParks would be offering new tenders for new operators, Daniels said. “The lodge concession opportunities include the Jakkalsbessie concession, which is currently operated as Lion Sands Kruger and the Jock of the Bushveld concession, which is currently known as Jock Safari Lodge. “The Lwakahle concession, currently operated as Lukimbi Safari Lodge, the Mpanama concession, which is now Sishangeni Safari Lodge, and Mudumuvi concession, which is now known as the Rhino Walking Safari, will be advertised later this year for the financial years 2022/23 and 2023/24.”
Projects in the pipeline at the Kruger National Park include the Punda Maria Treehouse Camp, Pafuri Camp, Sabie River guesthouses and a number of other camps.
“Activities we are currently looking into are things like a virtual game drive, boat cruises, quad biking, mountain biking, adventure motorcycling, underground hikes and cultural heritage,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kenny Dani, manager of Restaurant 3638 in the new Kruger Station precinct in Skukuza, said the new sites, accommodation and restaurants had been bringing in business. “We’re not out of the woods yet, so I would say we should not relax but it is definitely promising, and we can see a big improvement now.”