To ramp up visitor attendance numbers and pocket earnings from the province’s eco-tourism capabilities, KwaZulu-Natal’s biodiversity custodians have appointed someone with a proven record with making sums add up.
Ebrahim Mulla, 42, who began working in his new position as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s general manager of commercial services recently, is confident that with the right care, nourishment and the necessary licks of paint, the entity’s eco-tourism output will flourish once again.
Mulla comes with an established background in commerce and served as Ezemvelo’s acting chief financial officer previously.
One of the facilities that will be in his care is the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, recently ranked as the fourth most attractive Unesco World Heritage Site to the human eye, after a study done by Explore Worldwide, a UK-based adventure travel company.
Mulla’s financial nous was also shaped while working for financial services company Deloitte & Touche in Abu Dhabi. He was with UAE civil engineering firm, the Al Naboodah Group, contracting as a site financial manager before returning to South Africa.
As head of the commercial services division, Mulla will be relied on to increase the allure of Ezemvelo’s resorts dotted around the province, to maximise revenue potential and attract partnerships and donations.
To breathe new life into some of Ezemvelo’s ailing establishments, Mulla acknowledged was a mammoth task, requiring financial injections, replacement of infrastructure and committed efforts from his team.
“It is a great opportunity to be directly involved in the business side of selling our brand and products, and turning around the fortunes of Ezemvelo. We want to bring back to the glory days before Covid-19, when international visitors frequented our establishments, not only for the benefit of Ezemvelo but also local communities,” he said of his appointment.
Mulla said his financial skills would enable him to secure the best deals and pursue activities that were income generating.
His auditing ability would help him ensure that Ezemvelo’s adherence to principles of good governance
“I gained experience from my previous jobs in dealing with stakeholders and institutions. Contacts established previously would be handy for my new position as I attempt to forge new partnerships with institutions, for Ezemvelo.”
He said improving Ezemvelo’s earnings by implementing holistic marketing strategies to entice tourists to their facilities was a priority.
“We have already seen a slight increase in our visitor numbers which is a sign that we are getting back slowly to normality.”
Part of his efforts will include pursuing new revenue streams, identifying like-minded partners for revenue earning purposes and encouraging government departments to use their venues for conferences and events.
“We would also like to increase support to communities around our resorts and include them in our tourism value chain.”
But Mulla acknowledged that Ezemvelo was not the only government department facing financial difficulties, and that budget cuts were necessary, considering how the government had to spread itself to care for all the country’s citizens, especially the poor.
“This was then exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 on our tourism income. We are still recovering from this and haven’t reached pre-Covid numbers.”
Mulla regarded the newly opened Mkuze Airport (northern KZN) as a boost to tourism.
Another of Mulla’s missions was to make sure their accommodation facilities were attractive by addressing maintenance issues.
“KZN has to be the most beautiful and easily accessible destination by air or by road, which is one of the reasons it’s the preferred leisure destination.
“The province has natural heritage and boasts diverse culture. We have two World Heritage Sites, one being Maloti-Drakensberg Park.
“Our beautiful warm weather and some occasional snow makes it a one-stop shop for tourists from all over the world.
“Where in the world can you snorkel at sunrise, hike at lunch and do a sunset game drive all in a day,” said Mulla.
Musa Mntambo, Ezemvelo’s communications manager, said Mulla’s connection with the entity stems to the days when he worked for the auditor-general before joining in 2013, which enabled them to achieve an unqualified report from the AG for the first time in many years.
Mntambo said Mulla helped Ezemvelo navigate some turbulent years as CFO and began immersing himself in eco-tourism activities by working closely with their marketing unit.
“He has been very crucial in supporting our marketing activities. He brings his worth of financial skills to the commercial services unit which has been lacking. As the acting CFO he has also worked a lot with a number of our resort managers, who have expressed their excitement at his latest appointment,” said Mntambo.