MPUMALANGA – Having become a leading destination for travellers the world over, South Africa is well positioned to tap into the global luxury tourist market. With this in mind, Thebe Tourism Group has embarked on an exciting initiative which will see the opening of a new upmarket offering completely unique in the world.
Located in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge is a unique luxury accommodation experience set to open in the Park during December 2019.
Paying tribute to an important part of history, when visitors to the Kruger National Park (KPN) once arrived by train, the Thebe Tourism Group is currently constructing the luxurious Kruger Shalati - Train on a Bridge project, to offer an unforgettable accommodation experience to travellers.
The project incorporates the iconic and still original old Selati railway bridge at Skukuza Camp, where the KNP’s first warden, James Steven-Hamilton, welcomed visitors nearly 100 years ago. At night, these same guests would retreat into the train to sleep, before it moved on to its next destination the following day.
Looking to recreate the magic of these early visitor encounters, the project will see the restoration and upgrading of a train that will permanently rest on the original tracks running across the bridge, high above the waters of the Sabie River. The train, in its stationary position with an external walkway attached to the bridge structure, allows the Kruger Shalati rooms to be much larger than the expected traditional train compartment-style room - complete with floor-to-ceiling windows welcoming the unsurpassed views from atop the Sabie River into the room. To further enhance this unique product offering, the old block-house next to the bridge will be used as the base for an innovative pool deck designed with an overhanging pool meters above the river flowing below with unique viewpoints over the Big 5 roaming below.
Immersing guests in the comfort of an Afro-chic boutique hotel experience, the train itself will offer 24 en-suite rooms able to sleep 48 guests, with another 7 rooms in adjacent Kruger Shalati Bridge House accommodating 14 beds on land next to the bridge. All rooms will offer guests a high-star rating luxury experience, and will be accompanied by fine dining and other leisure experiences on site.
Says Judiet Barnes, Concession General Manager of Kruger Shalati: “This is our opportunity to revitalise and recapture an important part of Kruger’s history, while at the same time increasing both the range and quality of product on offer in the park. The product design is largely the differentiator in this project – not only have we not seen anything alike in our country, but neither is there anything similar in the world, as a result an important ‘must experience’ destination will entice visitors locally and from across the globe to experience a very important part of our Park’s history”
“A very important part of the project will also be the way in which it will improve the lives of people in the local surrounding communities, who will be empowered through world-class training, skills development initiatives and ultimately job opportunities with the project. Furthermore, successful Land Claimants through a legal entity will have equity in the operation, giving the 6 CPAs which are part of the entity the opportunity to enter and participate in the hospitality investment sector ”
The Kruger Shalati team is working very closely with SANPARKS to ensure minimal disruption to the KNP, says Barnes: “We have put into place all the necessary measures needed to ensure the impact on the environment is minimal and the Fauna and Flora is not disturbed.”
“This is an exciting addition to our portfolio of tourism products in the Kruger”, says SANPARKS Managing Executive for Tourism Development and Marketing, Hapiloe Sello: “we are particularly excited about its uniqueness which will be a major attraction for domestic and international tourists alike.
“As with all tourist product developments within the National Parks, the developers have followed the key Responsible Tourism principles and are touching the earth lightly by adhering to the National Environmental Management guidelines and policies on which their Environmental Authorisation was granted to proceed with the development”
The train coaches, which are currently being restored in Johannesburg, will only be transported onto site once they are completed to further minimise disruption on site. The bridge where the coaches will be stationed has been fully assessed to ensure it is structurally sound and safe for use.
With Kruger Shalati, we want to create a tourism destination and a hospitality product so unique that people want to travel from around the world just to stay here for a holiday, and for domestic travellers to really be proud to have something that exists nowhere else in the world,'' said Jerry Mabena, CEO of Thebe Tourism Group. “Through this development, we are truly reimagining Africa with pioneering innovations and ingenuity.”
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