“We want to see KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) playing a leading role as the number one destination of choice both regionally and even globally. That is our intention,” newly appointed acting CEO of Tourism KZN (TKZN) Sibusiso Gumbi said in an interview.
Gumbi said that he appreciates the magnitude of task that lies ahead of him as he takes the mantle to usher in a new chapter while the festive season kicks off.
Gumbi is assuming the responsibility of reviving tourism in the province where businesses have been crippled by the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns, the July 2021 unrest, and natural disasters such as the floods, which killed more than 450 people last year.
Disposable incomes have also dwindled due to rising cost of living and unemployment, leaving people having to choose essentials instead of leisure.
However, the technocrat who has held a number of roles in the government for 28 years is confident that all plans are in place for a smooth transition into the busy summer festive season.
“We would also want to see the citizens of the province playing an instrumental role around and benefiting in the value chain of tourism. So, transformation and empowerment within the tourism value chain will be the focus area and as we move forward,” he said.
The provincial economy has been struggling to recover since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent disasters.
KZN has the second largest economy in the country, contributing some 16% towards the country's gross domestic product, and tourism is one of the largest and strongest growth sectors of the provincial economy.
Two of Africa's primary seaports are located in KZN while the world-class Dube Trade Port - home to King Shaka International Airport - provide a key competitive advantage and ensure the province's importance for economic growth, effectively repositioning the country to increase its share of the global market.
However, the province has been implementing its recovery plan to regain tourist numbers of about 1 million international visitors seen in its 2018 heyday who contributed R4.2 billion in direct spend to 550 000 last year.
KZN province is currently experiencing water shortages, beaches with high E. coli levels, and a high crime rate, and deteriorating infrastructure.
Gumbi, however, said tourist numbers were improving as seen from more than 147 800 arrivals from the UK during the second quarter of this year, contributing R1.4 billion to the provincial economy.
Gumbi is of the firm belief that tourism is at the centre of the economy, of infrastructure development, improving our beaches and heritage sites.
He said the province could be able to turn around its fortunes if it can concentrate on these.
“We will be the first one to agree with you that infrastructure in the province, especially the tourist attraction infrastructure, do need to be improved,” he said.
“In fact, one of our initiatives is to work very closely with the Amafa KZN so that we are able to identify all this infrastructure and we are able to have plans around improvements.
“Also where we know that the funding is limited, where the funding is limited, we come up with a creative way of how we involve the private sector to improve some of this infrastructure matters.
“In fact, we were discussing with the team about the Mandela Capture Site improvements, because one of our projects is around improving that site. We want to have economic activities in the area, but we want the benefit to be given to emerging operators and emerging entrepreneurs at this point in time.”
Gumbi ended by saying that they also strongly believed in the improvement of a township economy as this will change the lives within the the township itself, hence their support to the emerging entrepreneurs such as accommodation owners and tour guides.