R430m tourism project for St Lucia

Published Dec 5, 2003


Ten years after a major mining group was ousted from Lake St Lucia, the government has announced a multimillion-rand investment project which signals a new dawn for tourism for the country's first world heritage site.

Tourism and Environmental Affairs Minister Valli Moosa told a press briefing in Durban on Thursday that eight new public/private sector projects, worth nearly R430-million in capital expenditure, had been given preliminary approval after a tender process.

Overall, the eight new ventures are expected to create about 900 jobs and about 880 new or redeveloped beds.

With up to 100 000 guests expected to visit the new accommodation facilities every year, the investment is expected to generate more than R300-million annually in direct spending.

The investors will all be required to conduct environmental impact studies, but it is possible that first construction will begin within nine to 12 months.

Many of the investors are black-empowerment groups which will draw on the management expertise of established leisure groups such as Hyatt International, the Three Cities Group and Halycon Hotels.

On average, the investment companies are 70 percent black-owned and include prominent figures such as Durban Suncoast

casino developer Musa Myeni; the Akani Leisure group, which also has interests in the Gold Reef City casino, and the

IL Leisure, group which has interests in the Aventura resorts of Mpumalanga.

Other participants include former Sun International executive Sam Mabena, former Conservation Corporation Africa member Keith Stannard and Akani Leisure chief executive R T Moloko.

Five of the development sites are around Lake St Lucia, with three other projects much further north, at Kosi Bay.

The announcement marks the first major investment in tourist accommodation in a largely-pristine environment which was the centre of an epic conservation battle lasting from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s.

The row was settled in 1994 when the new ANC government decided that economic development from nature-based tourism was preferable to the dune mining proposed by Richards Bay Minerals.

Moosa said on Thursday that the Greater St Lucia and neighbouring Maputaland regions were among the poorest in the country, and the new tourist development path created the potential for a world-class park rivalling Kruger Park.

It would have to live up to the challenge of reducing poverty and delivering direct job and income benefits for the poor, especially land claimants who had agreed to waive occupation rights in exchange for equity involvement in tourism ventures, he said.

While conservation groups have expressed support for ecologically-sustainable tourism, the investment model creates a big new role for the private sector which departs substantially from the traditional model of public-sector conservation agencies building and running tourist facilities.

The new investors will be given 15- to 30-year private concessions to develop the sites.

Mavuso Msimang, chairman of the St Lucia Wetlands Park Authority board, said: "I believe the public/private sector model creates a perfect mix."

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