All talk and no action for Pilgrim’s Rest? – Tourism Update

By: Kim Emmanuel

  • 27 Sep 2016 15:30 PM

    All talk and no action for Pilgrim’s Rest?

    The Portfolio Committee on Tourism visited Pilgrim’s Rest on September 21 to engage with shop owners, workers and community members on some of the challenges facing the revival of the tourist town.

    Industry continue to be unimpressed with government’s efforts to restore the tourist town of Pilgrim’s Rest, in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The Portfolio Committee on Tourism paid a visit to the town on September 21 to engage with shop owners, workers and community members.

    The committee listened to complaints about the lack of support from government to revive tourism in Pilgrim’s Rest. Stakeholders said there are currently no entertainment facilities in the town and business in recent years has declined due to a reduced number of tourists visiting the area. Other challenges are competition between other tourist destinations in the area, such as the Kruger National Park and Sabie, and vacant shops being put out on tender.

    Lisa Sheard, CEO of Kruger Lowveld Tourism, described the meeting as “just another talk shop”. “They [Portfolio Committee] actually didn’t show any real understanding of the fundamental issues ahead of their arrival,” said Sheard. “I think it was a complete waste of time.”

    Committee Chairperson, Beatrice Ngcobo, assured the stakeholders that their concerns were noted and that the committee would engage the Department of Public Works, which managed the town. Ngcobo also noted the lack of transformation in the business sector, as there were three black-owned small businesses in a village that could accommodate 29 businesses.

    Johnny Reinders, of Johnny’s Pub, told Tourism Update that the meeting was “a waste of time”. “I was very impressed with the way they started, but I was very disgusted by the way some of the team said people shouldn’t be here for a long time and they must give other people a chance to be able to do business in Pilgrim’s Rest.”

    Sheard also said that the administration by the Department of Public Works had made it difficult to do business in the town. “They cannot administer the business environment; it’s not their competency and they don’t know how to do it,” said Sheard.

    The Department of Economic Development and Tourism told Tourism Update that a multi-stakeholder approach had been adopted to improve the economic activities, as the town was under the authority of the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport (MPDWRT).

    A multi-stakeholder committee, comprising the MPDWRT, Mpumalanga Department of Economic Development and Tourism, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), Mpumalanga Department of Human Settlement, Ehlanzeni District Municipality, Thaba Chweu Local Municipality and the private sector has been established. “It met on August 12 and will convene again before the end of October to consider and adopt various plans from stakeholders before being submitted for approval and implementation,” said the department. “Tourism in the town is expected to improve once the economic activities are re-ignited, by ensuring that all business premises are operational.”

    Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency said that while there had been discussions, plans for implementation had not been finalised. “There are still issues of lease agreements and issues with tenants that still need to be resolved within the level of Public Works,” said Kholo Nkambule, Senior Manager Communications. “I know that the issue of Pilgrim’s Rest is a priority.”

    Sheard recommends that one of two approaches should be taken to restore Pilgrim’s Rest. “There needs to be an independent body that can assess proposal submissions from businesses who wish to enter Pilgrim’s Rest, and within that you could still have developmental SMME businesses.” The second approach, said Sheard, would be to engage with large hospitality companies with experience in managing tourism towns/large properties, such as Tsogo Sun, Tourvest, Sun International, Peermont Group, and invite them to submit proposals (development, operational and marketing) for a long-term concession for Pilgrim’s Rest.

    Plans to establish a cultural tourism complex, comprising an auditorium and an activity centre were also mentioned at the portfolio committee meeting.

    “We must work with and support each other for the tourism industry to flourish,” said Ngcobo.

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