Africa is the fastest growing tourist destination. It offers a rich mélange of culture, heritage and natural wonders which draw tourists from all over the world. From rich forests to barren deserts and unmatched wildlife, Africa has everything to offer. However, constant tourism can put a huge strain on the resources, leading to its rapid depletion.
The beautiful continent has already started coming up with new and improved means to counter depletion and make way for sustainable tourism. It has adopted a four-pronged approach to containing the damage caused by some of the major aspects of tourism.
With more and more tourists visiting the continent, the need for production of food has been rapidly on a rise. This has resulted in practices which improve production but also lead to depletion of resources. To counter this, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in 2003.
This aims to allot at least 10 percent of the budget to agriculture. This promotes sustainable practices while also causing a growth in production. Crop rotation, use of natural fertilisers, drip cultivation and rainwater harvesting are encouraged. It is estimated that over the next decade, the production of food will increase to the point of solving a majority of the hunger issue of the continent while reducing wastage and damage to the planet.
Green initiatives by hotels
A number of African hotels are adopting green initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve their resources. From planting more trees to recycling and harvesting rainwater to convert it into drinking water, the tourism industry of Africa is going the extra mile to conserve the continent and its precious resources. Some hotels have discarded conventional sources of electricity and opted for solar power.
It has been seen that the green initiatives adopted by the hotels have resulted in greater footfall which acts as a huge incentive for more and more hotels to join the movement. Hotels in countries like South Africa, Egypt, Madagascar, etc. have managed to make an actual and substantial contribution towards the protection of their country’s resources by adopting sustainable means.
Energy efficient tourism
The recent years have seen a huge rise in eco-tourism. Here travellers are offered all the basic comfort and amenities but there is barely any extravagance. It is true that it offers minimum luxury but maximum experience is what one takes back. This is a very useful model of tourism which minimises the damages that are associated with tourism. Solar energy is the primary source of energy while traditional materials and sustainable practices are implemented in order to conserve. African countries are now actively promoting eco-tourism in a bid to offer tourists an authentic African experience as well as to reduce the energy consumption.
It is a known fact that tourism produces quite a lot of waste. Right from food waste to plastic water bottles, the amount of waste that is a direct result of the tourism industry is staggering. To manage the problem of waste, governments have started taking active steps to promote segregation and treatment of wastes to promote a more sustainable model.
There are talks of converting biodegradable waste into biofuel, while on the other hand recycling is given an extra push in order to reduce the quantity of non-biodegradable waste. Segregated waste baskets have been installed at various popular tourist spots and also in cities and hotels. The waste management sector has done a great job in improving sustainable tourism in the continent.
As tourism is increasing, various African governments are gearing up for a greater footfall without causing a strain on their resources. They have been taking active steps to build a sustainable model of tourism and it is their relentless, challenging work that is putting Africa on the road to a completely sustainable development.
The Africa Travel Association (ATA) announced today that registration is now open for the 37th Annual World Congress, to be held from May 18-22, in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, one of the world’s top natural wonders and adventure capitals. ATA’s hallmark event on the African continent will be hosted by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) under the auspices of the Honorable Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi. The theme of this year’s event is “Africa Tourism: Partnering for the Future.”
Delegates can register for the five-day travel industry event online at ATA’s website: http://africatravelassociation.org/congress_reg.html or call +1-212-447-1357. Special early bird rates for ATA members and students are available until April 30 at $400. After this date, ATA members can register for $500. Non-member registration fee is $600.
Among the expected 300 participants, are tourism ministers and industry experts representing tourism boards, tour operators, and their product development executives, front-line agents, ground operator companies, airlines, and hotels. Participants from the travel trade media and the corporate, nonprofit, and academic sectors are also expected to attend, along with African Diaspora representatives and ATA’s Young Professionals Program participants.
Zimbabwe is home to a diverse range of tourist attractions, including its own seven wonders: (1) people and culture, (2) history and heritage, (3) Great Zimbabwe (grand medieval palace), (4) Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya), (5) wildlife and nature, (6) Eastern Highlands, and (7) Lake Kariba. Delegates will sample some of these wonders during the Host Country Day and by participating in pre- and post-congress tours.
The ATA International Board of Directors meeting will be held on Friday, May 18. Saturday, May 19, begins with sessions focusing on Destination Zimbabwe, followed by an opening ceremony with cultural entertainment. The next few days include ample networking, learning, and professional development panels and workshops, addressing industry topics, such as community-based travel, agro-tourism, academic travel, faith-based tourism, e-tourism, marketing, branding, private sector investment, women and tourism, sustainable tourism, and African culinary products. Delegates will also participate in roundtables for tourism ministers, a media marketplace, networking events, host country day(s), and gala dinners. Zimbabwe will also organize a marketplace, featuring art, sculpture, and daily excursions in Victoria Falls. The event will close on Tuesday, May 22. Pre- and post-congress excursions and trips will be available to delegates.
The Congress will take place at the Elephant Hills Resort, www.elephanthillshotel.com , in Victoria Falls. The venue offers special accommodation rates for delegates. Special rates are also available at other hotels in Victoria Falls for delegates at http://africatravelassociation.org/events/ac.html .
PRESENTING SPONSOR AND OFFICIAL AIRLINE
South African Airways, Presenting Sponsor and Official Airline of the 2012 ATA World Congress, has organized special discounts for delegates attending the ATA World Congress in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. For travelers originating from one of SAA’s US gateways (New York City or Washington DC), there are discounts of 10 percent off of most published fares. For delegates traveling from one of SAA’s African or other international gateways, discounts of between 5 to 15 percent off of most published fares are available. For more information on SAA and their international gateways, please visit www.flysaa.com.
BENGALURU: “Saving the tiger seems to be only focus. We need to move eco-tourism away from tigers,” said Dilip Kumar PJ, former director general of forests and special secretary, Union ministry of environment and forests.
Speaking at a consultation on Karnataka’s eco-tourism policy, Dilip said: “Ecotourism today seems to be about going to pristine forest areas and having a gala time. Some tourists even play loud music, thereby disturbing the wild animals. We need to provide visitors other forms of enjoyment like nature walks, treks and farm visits.”
The event saw stakeholders, including wildlife experts, entrepreneurs, resort owners, NGOs and bureaucrats, discuss ways to ensure better forest management. Introducing activities like treks and eco walks, and exploring new destinations will help, they said.
CB Ram Kumar, managing director, Our Native Village, Bengaluru, said over-exploitation of destinations can be avoided by monitoring visitors. “We can’t stop people from entering forests but we should be able to manage them,” he added.
Need better preparation to tackle fires
Better cooperation and exchanges are expected in the field of tourism between Seychelles and South Africa after the two countries’ respective tourism boards signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the INDABA trade fair earlier this month in Durban.
The MOU was signed on behalf of Seychelles by the Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St Ange and Sthembiso Dlamini, the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the South African Tourism Board.
Several talks and discussions were held between the two bodies in the past year, leading up to the realisation of this agreement which now covers numerous areas of prolific cooperation between them.
In the presence of several representatives of both tourism boards, the agreement was signed and toasted to as both Minister St Ange and Ms Dlamini said they look forward to further strengthen ties and enhance cooperation between the two countries.
The agreement promotes promotional efforts and collaboration in developing the tourism industry of both countries as they seek to: jointly position Seychelles and South Africa as touristic destinations and increase their market profiles as preferred destinations; collaborate on marketing activities, tourism campaigns and travel trade promotions aimed at increasing the market share of both countries; provide access to each other’s pool of marketing intelligence especially to increase the marketing efficiencies of both countries; collaborate on efforts to increase the countries’ exposure in the global market and improve communication between the two parties in order to foster a closer working relationship.
Minister St Ange, who has been instrumental in pushing for such an agreement between the two bodies, reiterated of why he felt ‘Africa should work with Africa’, if the continent is to move forward and be a more attractive product on the international tourist market.
“South Africa has been and remains a strong source market for Seychelles and it is a country with which we share excellent relations. But there are more we can do for each other and this agreement will lead the way to better cooperation and exchanges between the two parties, which will help to position both destinations at a new level on the international tourist market,” he said.
Ms Dlamini also spoke of the need to work together in order to develop a common approach to developing the two countries’ tourism plan and strategies.
“Collaboration is central to all we endeavour to do as SA Tourism to grow and support the tourism industry in the country, and on the continent. We are very excited that our initial discussions with the Seychelles have borne fruit in the form of this MOU. We are looking forward to future engagement to realise our shared vision of taking our destinations to new levels of success.”
While terrorism in Europe and Zika in the Americas pose hurdles to tourism in those destinations, this year is turning out to be a resurgent one for Africa and Japan, which had faced their own challenge and visitor downturns in recent years.
“People like to travel, they want to travel. And they’re going to travel where they feel safe,” Abercrombie & Kent CEO Geoffrey Kent told Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit last month. “Europe, Paris and Brussels, we’re obviously feeling an impact there. However, Africa has now become safe. Before, over a year ago, it was Ebola and everyone said Africa is unsafe. So yes, now we’re finding a big influx into all of Africa.”
The deadly Ebola outbreak in western Africa in 2014 completely crippled the continent’s tourism flow, with the effects still being felt well into 2015, operators reported. But now they are confident that Africa is poised for recovery.
According to G Adventures vice president for product innovation Jeff Russill, “2016 has so far been a solid rebound year [for Africa], and together with the weak South Africa rand, sales for travel to southern Africa are doing particularly well for us.”
Russill noted that bookings for southern Africa are up between 35% and 40% compared to the same time last year and east Africa is also up 10% from last year.
“With a generally stable political climate and good value for money, we hope to see this increase even further,” Russill said.
Africa being back in vogue comes as the Caribbean, and South and Central America, have faced a bit of a setback this year due to media coverage of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
“Everybody’s numbers are off for Brazil,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, adding that the negative press Brazil has been getting about the Olympics, its political situation and now Zika has made the destination a hard sell.
However, Sanghrajka said that Africa is not necessarily picking up travelers who have diverted their plans due to Zika or because of the recent terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, but rather due to pent-up demand.
“We started seeing a bounce up even before Zika, even before Brussels, even before what happened in Paris,” he said. “I don’t know that the uptick in Africa is based on Zika. I think it’s more people who have been wanting to go. It is people who are genuinely interested in Africa. For the last two years, people have been traveling to destinations that were their Plan B.”
Another destination that travelers had been putting off for a few years, Japan, is seeing renewed interest.
Japan tourism has “recovered dramatically” following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, surging by 47%, Ryoichi Matsuyama, president of the Japan National Tourism Organization, said during the Global Summit.
Inbound tourism to Japan had plummeted by 62% following the tsunami, which claimed more than 15,000 lives.
Matsuyama reported that in 2015 Japan welcomed 19.7 million visitors, compared with just over 8 million visitors in 2010, the year before the tsunami, marking the first time in 45 years that more inbound visitors went to Japan than Japanese travelers left.
Avanti Destinations, an FIT tour operator, added Asia to its product mix last year. According to Avanti president Harry Dalgaard, its Japan bookings have been exceptionally strong since then.
“In fact, Japan is the leading destination of the seven countries we now sell in Asia,” said Dalgaard.
G Adventures’ Russill said the company saw its sales to Japan climb 25% in 2016 compared to this time last year. The company’s other highest growth destinations thus far for 2016 include Central Asia (specifically Iran and the Central Asian nations Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Cuba sailings.
Lack of life-saving facilities and guards is putting at risk lives of thousands of tourists who visit prominent ecotourism destinations in the district.
Despite the continuing incidents of deaths due to drowning, cautionary boards to prevent entry of tourists to dangerous locations are yet to be put in place.
Seven persons, mostly youngsters, have lost their lives after falling into trenches in trekking areas close to Kakkayam and Peruvannamoozhi dam site in a short span of time. Even people who knew swimming could not save themselves after they fall into water-logged trenches. “Most of the dangerous passages are ignored by tourists who are new to the location and do not have any access to information on the dangerous topography,” says V. George, a resident of Koorachundu.
Beautiful but be warned
Kariyathumpara, one of the prominent ecotourism centres in the region known for its scenic beauty, witnessed the death of youth due to drowning on Friday.
Though some fencing works were done in the area to discourage tourists’ entry to unsafe locations, a guard to desist tourists from entering the dangerous sites was needed, people in the area said.
There is also the lack of facilities to provide basic life support in emergency situations. Tourists who are rescued have to depend on local taxi services from distant locations to take them to hospital. Panchayat authorities say an emergency service vehicle posted in the area could save a number of lives.
In a year where destinations from Barcelona and Venice to Pattaya and Easter Island have struggled with the impacts of growing numbers of tourists in their destinations, a considerable focus of this year’s WTM Responsible Tourism Programme looks at how the industry might best address these issues.
On Tuesday 4th November, the panel Increasing the local economic benefits of tourism explores ways of shifting away from the focus on boosting visitor numbers towards ensuring more direct local benefits. The panelists are Jane Ashton, the Director of Sustainable Development at TUI; Jenefer Bobbin, Founding Director at JUSTreport; Harold Goodwin, WTM Responsible Tourism consultant and Professor of Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University; and Cillian Murphy, Chairperson Loop Head Tourism Ireland. Together they will look at four different examples of initiatives to measure and/or increase the local economic benefits of tourism that focus on wages, local procurement and yield.
Earlier that day another panel meets to discuss the question: What is the role of Government in Managing Tourism in destinations? Speakers are yet to be confirmed, but they will explore issues such as how can local communities and their governments maximise the benefits of tourism while minimising negative impacts; and how can local people feel they are using tourism to make theirs a better place to live in, rather than that their place is being used by tourism?
Last year WTM London expanded its responsible tourism programme across all four days of the event. So popular was the inaugural Monday event, that the format is being repeated for WTM London 2015. This year, therefore, a high level panel will meet on Monday afternoon to discuss Destination Partnerships, and they will be focussing on the examples of iconic destinations Barcelona & Venice. The panel is chaired once again by Martin Brackenbury, the Director of Classic Collection Holidays; and it includes Gary Wilson, Managing Director, Product and Purchasing at TUI Group and Nikki White, Head of Destinations and Sustainability, at ABTA. Using the examples of these two cities, the panel will discuss how positive change can be achieved for the benefit of destination communities, their natural and cultural environment and the tourists who visit them.
“The management of tourism by destinations is a controversial subject at the moment with many high profile and hugely popular tourism destinations and attractions introducing caps and restrictions to manage tourism flows,” said Goodwin. “The responsible tourism programme at WTM London will explore how destinations can benefit from tourism while also minimising the impact.”
Beyond the focus on destinations, WTM’s Responsible Tourism panels continue to discuss the tourism issues making headlines. None more so than the Tuesday panel on Taking Responsibility for Wildlife and National Parks, which with the recent shooting of Cecil the Lion has taken on added significance. And as the Paris climate talks take place just a few weeks after World Travel Market London, it is fitting that this year’s flagship debate and keynote speech both address tourism and climate change.
Other topics covered during the four days of debates and seminars include Child Protection, Gender and Tourism, Snowsports, Cruises and Food Tourism. More information on the details of these events and their speakers will be released shortly.
South Africa has been ranked first in Sub-Saharan Africa on the biennial World Economic Forum Travel’s global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2015 released in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday.
Snatching the zenith from Seychelles in the Sub-Saharan Africa category, South Africa was ranked at number 48 globally, while the archipelago of islands was second in the region and followed at a somewhat distant 54 on the world stage.
Seychelles topped the regional rankings in the 2013 report and was at 38 globally, when South Africa held positions 3 and 64.
Mauritius was placed third in the region this year, followed by Namibia, Kenya, Cape Verde, Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia respectively as the Sub-Saharan top ten of 2015.
On the global front, Spain was ranked at the apex, followed by France and then Germany.
Other traditional travel and tourism destinations – the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, Japan and Canada – made up the rest of the global top ten.
Compared with other Brics countries, South Africa (at 48 globally) was rated better only than New Delhi. Brazil was ranked 28, Russia 45, India 52 and China was at an enviable 17 on the global front.
“The diversity in the top 30 shows that a country does not have to be wealthy to have a flourishing tourism sector,” said Roberto Crotti, an Economist at the World Economic Forum. “But many countries should still do more to tackle travel and tourism challenges, including visa policies, better promotion of cultural heritage, environmental protection and ICT readiness. This, in turn, would drive economic growth and the creation of jobs.”
The report contains detailed country profiles, benchmarking for the 141 economies featured in the study. It includes a comprehensive summary of their overall positions in the index and a guide to the most prominent travel and tourism advantages and disadvantages of each. Also included is an extensive selection of tables that cover each indicator used in the index’s computation.
The report’s executive summary states that many countries in the Sub-Saharan region “are working on their openness and visa policies, though the longstanding challenges of infrastructure and health and hygiene standards need to be tackled to unleash the potential of the T&T (travel and tourism) sector as a catalyst for development”.
Published under the theme “Growing through Shocks”, the full edition of the 2015 report features three additional chapters authored by leading experts and practitioners in the hospitality and tourism sector.
Among other key findings, the 2015 edition shows that the tourism and travel industry continues to grow more quickly than the global economy as a whole. As proof of its resilience, the analysis shows that the sector’s growth – whether in terms of global air passenger traffic, occupancy rates or international arrivals – tends to return to trend quickly after a shock.
The report ranks the 141 countries across 14 separate dimensions, revealing how well countries could deliver sustainable economic and societal benefits through their travel and tourism sector. Spain’s leadership position is attributed to a world class ranking in cultural resources (number 1 globally); its ability to support online searches for entertainment (4th), a measure of how well the country has adapted to consumption habits brought on by the digital revolution; as well as excellent infrastructure (4th).
The World Economic Forum produced the report in collaboration with Strategy & Bloom consulting, Deloitte, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the World Travel & Tourism Council.
The comprehensive report can be viewed online.
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United World had the pleasure of catching up with the CEO of North West Development Corporation to discuss advancements in the business environment in North West and the province’s plan to industrialise and attract key investors to the province.
There is a lot of regional competition in South Africa and Africa in general to attract investors. What are the sectors that are flourishing here in North West and can you tell us about the opportunities in those sectors?
The biggest sector in the North West province is mining, it occupies a large percentage of the GDP input and is followed by agriculture, tourism and manufacturing to a certain degree and the services industry broadly speaking.
Now, in mining, as far as we are concerned, we are leading as a province but we don’t think we are competitive enough as long as we are still exporting primary goods. We want to move a little bit further to get into the beneficiation of the minerals that we have. If you look at countries like America and other developed countries, we would want to work with these kinds of companies, given their level of development as far as technology is concerned. Beneficiation would require more technology and skill, which are the things we are still lacking in the province, so we need to build the skills base and the utilization of advanced technology to make sure we are competitive as a province.
I must indicate that the Premier’s view is that we must focus on agriculture, culture and tourism. For obvious reasons, as far as tourism is concerned, we have been, as a province, a leading attraction given golf course destinations such as Sun City and the Lost City. It has been one of the most attractive destinations for a number of years. We will be hosting the Nedbank Golf Challenge with a number of key players in the world, both from the US PGA and the European PGA attending. So, most of the people come around this time for that but, generally, Asian markets dominate the visits to Sun City and recently we have been attracting more visitors from Africa.
But beyond that, North West is amongst the leading provinces when it comes to game or safari, as people say; if you want safari you will find it in the North West province. We are second or third to Kruger National Park, we have Pilanesberg, we have the Madikwe Game Resort, but we are developing more and more tourism for that. Also, the world yacht competition is held in the North West Province in an area called Bloemhof Dam. Every year we have the world competition coming down to our shores.
On the cultural side the idea is to develop what we want to call cultural tourism, to make sure there are cultural products that people can learn more about. When I was growing up the most famous film from Africa was one called The Gods must be crazy. If you watch that film all that you see is the African that is still wearing skins and a really bad stereotype of Africa. It is not our worry that we are showing the international community we are still wearing skins, what is key is the exposure that we are making to the international community about what our heritage is, the cultural heritage of South Africa.
Remember, the pride of South Africa is this diversified culture of Africans and Afrikaners and so on. So you will find a diversity of cultural orientation in South Africa, and North West is a host of a number of these cultures, you will find them in terms of different activities that are happening and this is what we want to promote.
On the agricultural side, we are predominately a rural economy. What I mean by rural economy is that you have vast arable lands that are not utilized the way they are supposed to. Of course, we still have challenges of rain here and there but given the new technologies to bring about irrigation systems and so on we believe that land can be better utilized in our province. We are the leading producers of maize, we are the leading producers of sunflowers and there are quite a number of other fruits that you can find in the North West province. We simply want to enhance this capacity.
But this challenge of vast land is also an opportunity, because gradually there are a lot of economic development activities that are happening, in Johannesburg, for instance, and which will probably expand to other places, but in this province we want to be the home for food security, we want to secure food for people, we want to bring back the importance of agriculture so far as production is concerned.
So these are the key issues you will find in the North West as far as the economy is concerned. We still boast that we have a university with two campuses and is ranked amongst the top five in the country. So we think that there could be a good relationship between the university and the economic activities to make sure that we increase our skills base.
One of the first considerations of an enterprise thinking of coming into South Africa is not only the cost of doing business but also the business environment and infrastructure they are going to find here. How would you rate the infrastructure in the North West?
Comparatively speaking we are up there with the best, but we still have some difficulties. For instance, with regard to roads; the roads in the North West province have deteriorated due to the heavy rains we have experienced and the replacement, resealing and maintenance of roads has been slow. Of course, among other things, it is due to the limited resources we have. We have not as yet had high demand for electricity, for instance, the supply that we have in the North West province we consider to be adequate, for example, when there have been electricity shortages in the country we have never faced outages but by and large we are able to resolve our electricity problems.
We still have challenges in the case of water supply, there are certain parts of the North West where we don’t have adequate water. We are currently working on key economic infrastructure premises, for instance, industrial parks. The special economic zone is one of those but we are trying to establish as many industrial parks as possible. Currently we have premises that we lease out to small and medium firms and as far as costs are concerned we consider ourselves to be the lowest given where we are. And we can still provide more particularly, as the development corporation responsible for the allocation of factory space.
We have an airport at Mafikeng that was supposed to be highly functional by now, but there have been challenges in the past given the demand from the passengers. But we are currently working on this airport to become a cargo airport from where we are going to export.
One of the key issues you deal with here is bringing foreign investment into the North West. Can you tell us a little bit more about the services that your corporation can offer investors?
The first key element is that we as the corporation are promoting the entry model of joint ventures. It becomes easy, for instance, for companies from the outside to work together with companies that are already in South Africa, and such kinds of partnerships are key because you already exploit the experience of local companies, the knowledge of the terrain and the competition in the country. So we think it would be easier for international companies to come through joint ventures and we do facilitate that as a corporation.
If anybody comes and says they are starting from scratch we are going to be very excited. There are generic incentives that you get in South Africa provided by the department of trade and industry, including tax tariffs and so on. In the province, what we ensure is that if there were companies that need startup capital, for instance, or need local people to make a contribution, it becomes our role to make sure that we facilitate the process through our national industrial development corporation for people to be able to access equity funds or funds that are going to contribute to that.
We engage local municipalities, for instance, to make sure that rates and taxes for international companies are competitive. We had a few companies for which we have approached the municipality to negotiate rates and so the taxes are going to be affordable for those companies. And we also provide factory space, but if a company needs land to start we have a good relationship with our local traditional leaders here, in whose hands you will find most of the land, and we negotiate and facilitate the process for them to make land available.
These are the key attractive elements we provide as a province but we really utilize the national incentive schemes that are available.
Can you think of any examples of companies that have come here to invest?
In the main there are companies in the mining sector. Currently we have companies in the automotive sector that are supplying the OEMs, like Nissan, Volkswagen, Bosch and the Malaysian company, Pasdec. These are the companies that have been granted licenses to provide OEMs and they have been in the business for quite some time. We are working on creating a support center for them so that they are able to secure whatever assistance they need, in case of economic hardships they are able to access funding for companies in distress. We are also helping them with challenges like electricity and water in the area where they are operating. In the retail sector we also have some companies. We have a company, Choppies, from Botswana.
The economic development zone is a key project, how far advanced is it and what kind of availability is there?
We now have 147 hectares of land available with infrastructure, water and electricity already available. We have combined this zone with a factory space, which is about 47 hectares of land. These are factories that are already available for anybody who wants to start manufacturing. We have started now marketing the zone, on the 26th of this month we will be in Japan and on the 27th some Canadian companies will be arriving and we will talk to them about investment. There is a key company that has already showed interest, just like Fuji, which is a Chinese company. There is also a German company that has shown interest in manufacturing mining equipment in the area.
The zone is going to be dual in nature: heavy manufacturing as far as fuel cells are concerned, but on the other hand there will be mining suppliers. The zone is sitting within a radius of 18 kilometers in a reachable distance of about 4 mines that are leading producers, and that is why we are situated there. It is almost within a reachable distance to Pretoria and about 200 kilometers to O. R. Tambo International Airport.
Our view is that any company that is ready now, we will be ready to accept them. The DTI has worked out special incentives for economic zones that are different from the generic incentives in the rest of the country, especially incentives for the zones to be issued in due course by the Department of Trade and Industry. So we are ready to move, we have a project executive structure in place that can begin discussions with whoever. For instance, one of the leading companies that are helping us is Anglo American; in fact they spearheaded the installment of a project were fuel cells were used as energy supply for a village. And we are working on piloting another village in the North West province where we are going to demonstrate that fuel cells can actually become alternative sources of energy.
So the special economic zone project is going to move with momentum and immediately take off. Hopefully after our international marketing trips we will have secured a few of those people that will be interested to come and manufacture here different types of products that use fuel cells, be they portable or highly mechanized programs. And we will be happy to host them.
When you do talk to international investors what are the common misperceptions about Africa?
Often there are questions about labor issues. There are companies that believe the South African labor market is rigid and that the rigidity of the market is such that it poses high risks for them to be able to operate. Our answer all along has been that the issue of conflict in the economy between labor and market is not unique to South Africa, in fact, this conflict between employer and employees goes way back. What we see in South Africa is just a situation where the desire to strike a balance between making profits and sharing in the profit has not reached levels where the workers who are the contributors of profit, and the owners as contributors of capital, are reaching an equitable share.
The good thing is that this whole discussion is not happening outside the framework of government. The South African government has provided bargaining councils, it has provided a platform where workers and owners are able to negotiate issues of salaries. The concern is when sometimes these discussions get out of hand and there is violence and people abuse the system that has been put in place to ensure that these issues of salaries must be quickly resolved without having to cost the economy or costing businesses to lose money. So such platforms are within the framework of the South African government’s policies, so there is nothing unique about it as far as we are concerned.
Secondly, you come across people talking about crime and you come across certain reports that appear in the media and on TV and so on and our response is, as it would be in Mexico or elsewhere: we are a country that is not immune to having individuals with criminal minds. Criminal minds are all over the world, in South Africa you still find people who believe they can make a living through criminal activity. Of course on our side, we get solace from the fact that the type of police system we have put in place is supposed to help us make sure we bring the level of crime down. Recent statistics have shown that we were able to deal with violent crimes and it has also shown that crimes such as murder have gone down. So as much as it is a concern of investors, all we are saying is you can still find this elsewhere, but find comfort in the fact that we don’t leave it to be. I believe as a country we still have the most effective judicial system that is able to make sure that whoever is offended in the country finds justice.
Recently we have been seeing public reports from rating companies, the most notorious one is Moody’s that continuously rates South Africa down and down. So I started trying to look deeper and find why we are rated in this way, and one of the things I discovered is that we are rated against developed countries, so if we are rated against the United States or the United Kingdom we are obviously going to come out at the bottom. But if we were rated with other developing countries we believe we would be somewhere at the top. But South Africa doesn’t take these ratings for granted; they are an important indicator that shows certain things we must deal with.
We see much enthusiasm and excitement from those who happen to understand South Africa for the first time, when we introduce them and they would want to know more, they would want to come. Given the trend of the global economy now, Africa is beginning to become the promising economy and people want to exploit the advantages and they want to come first. And, as South Africa, we provide that base. If any country wants to register their brand now, let them come now, let the people get used to that brand, because when more and more people start coming down to Africa at that time they will be those that have already occupied the center stage and will be more competitive than the newcomers. So we are getting more and more interest coming forward.
If you were to describe the North West as a brand, what would be the characteristics you would associate the North West brand with?
We always say we are a trade and tourism destination. The people in the North West province are still conservative in terms of taste movement. If you go to Johannesburg or any other developed metropolitan area you will find that your product wouldn’t last for three days because there would be more products coming in, so the taste movement is very frequent, but in North West if you have established yourself, you have established yourself.
The province is not necessarily crime free but compared to other areas we still feel we have low levels of crime. And there is very good quality of life. You have heritage and a very rich culture. There is still a lot of open space and fresh air.
On a personal level what motivates you and drives you to work towards attracting investment for the province?
We have about 3.5 million people in the North West province. We have high levels of unemployment and a desire to develop young people, in terms of them going to school but at the same time to start making a living at early ages. Broadly speaking, development is the key and I measure development in three ways: there must be good life, people must have longer life expectancy and people must have good health to achieve that; and for them to be able to have income generating activities the literacy level must go up. These issues are the ones that makes you wake up early in the morning and come to work and say to investors: “Come down to the North West, because with you being here people are going to enjoy the benefit of trade.
And benefit of trade does not only come in money and returns, it also comes in terms of technology transfer and in terms of developing infrastructure. And once you have improving capital formation in the country, for me, I see the potential for savings to increase. Now, North West is limited in terms of this, but it will become a future hub: after London has saturated, after Moscow has saturated, Tokyo, Beijing, Johannesburg, where else do you go? North West is supposed the next destination for you to build cities, to bring about more industrial development and so on and so forth. When all of this happens I think our cost of developing people will be met.
Source: The World Folio