Destea MEC Makalo Mohale has decried the state of the province’s nature reserves, saying they are in dire need of urgent refurbishment if the Free State is to boost its tourism industry and contribute meaningfully to the local economic.
Delivering his mid-year budget vote speech this week, Mohale said at the moment there are 14 nature reserves in the Free State, which occupy about 200 000 hectares of land taking up 1.3% of the province.
“These state owned reserves and resorts are in dire need of upgrades, rehabilitation and maintenance and repair in order to compete with similar establishments in private hands,” he noted.
To achieve this Destea has partnered with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure to ensure that the necessary upgrade and maintenance work of chalets is done at the local resorts.
Work to this end has already begun in earnest and nearing completion in some resorts across the province.
Mohale said his department will undertake a comprehensive analysis of the financial viability of such assets from the cost and returns perspective, with a view of finding the best optimal models suited for each asset given its character.
On tourism, he said the province is blessed with a variety of natural attractions and provides tourism related activities for the young and old throughout the year.
“From South to North, East to West, the Free State remains a playing ground for water enthusiasts, outdoor adventurists, sports fanatics, animal lovers and those who just want to be in harmony with nature.”
The MEC announced the province realised a 6.9% increase from international arrivals in 2019, surpassing the 5.5% rise recorded in 2018.
This growth was driven by an increase of tourists mainly from Botswana, Netherlands and France.
Mohale however pointed out the tourism industry was one of the sectors immediately affected by the national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He indicated by its nature, the industry is people driven and as a result all sub-sectors from travel agencies, travel services, tour guiding, business tourism to hospitality had to close during the lockdown.
“The gambling industry, which is an integral part of tourism, was also not spared the devastation of the pandemic; it also took a serious knock as a result of the restriction of the movement of people,” he added.
To market and promote the province, Destea has resolved to attend to state-owned reserves and resorts in order to enhance revenue.
The department will also introduce ‘business processes automation’, which will include the rollout of network connectivity followed by the development of an online booking and revenue management systems.
Mohale noted Destea has also introduced the e-permit system to assist in the issuing of various permits ranging from hunting, fishing and more.
He added during the annual game auction held between March 13 and 14, the department raked in R24.3 million.
From the liquor and gambling licenses, Destea was able to raise R65 million in the 2018/19 financial year. “We also expect revenue growth as a result of impending amendments to the current FSGLTA Act 6 of 2010 as amended.”
The MEC further said the recent roll-out of 21 fixed odds betting licenses would result in significant growth in gambling revenue collection in the province.
Mohale however decried the on-going challenges over water and electricity supply in Maluti-a-Phofung as having a direct and negative impact on the sustainability of Free State Development Corporation`s (FDC) tenants in its industrial parks.
The situation was worsened by service delivery protests experienced in the area. At the moment, the FDC is only collecting about 33% of its monthly rentals from the area.
“As a result of this, a few tenants have left with more still threatening departure if the situation is not stabilised. This will have a direct negative impact on employment and the people’s socioeconomic conditions in the area,” warned Mohale.