Conservation and tourism go hand in hand

Mr Thulani Nzima presents a public lecture at the University of Mpumalanga.

MBOMBELA – Conservation and tourism have a symbiotic relationship that can be exploited by those in the industry for the greater good of the country.

Mr Thulani Nzima, chairman of the board of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), made this clear during a public lecture at the University of Mpumalanga last week. He explained just how it can be achieved in the province.

San rock art at Berg-en-Dal in the KNP.

“My desired outcome is for people to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between conservation and tourism,” Nzima said.

The link between preserving and protecting natural resources and people visiting them for leisure, is found in a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Our focus as a province and a country is to encourage domestic tourism, as well as inbound international tourism that bring people to us. When you leave South Africa, you are taking money out of the country.”

According to Nzima, tourism is a force for good, as it breaks and reduces cultural tension. Conservation and biodiversity generate special-interest tourists while feeding into leisure, sustainable development and heritage issues that have elevated responsible tourism.

This industry creates jobs and easy economic benefits for locals. Mpumalanga is well endowed with diverse tourism offerings such as scenic beauty and safari.

He argued that South Africa has God-given attractions such as Table Mountain, waterfalls, nature reserves and many other attractions in Mpumalanga that have only been modified by humans in minor ways.

The Royal Hotel in Pilgrim’s Rest.

“We boast a rich cultural heritage like the liberation route, Pilgrim’s Rest, the Geo route. The proximity to the KNP could be exploited as an easy sell. We have not leveraged on our natural attractions such as Blyde Canyon or the waterfalls,” said Nzima.

“We also have great infrastructure,” he added, while a few members in the audience laughed. “No, really, there are parts of the world that have no formal transportation. We may have a few bumps in the road, but there is at least still a road.”

According to Nzima, nature-based tourism is the way to go, as South Africa has a variety of protected areas. Just under nine million tourists visited South Africa in 2015, with over a million international tourists visiting Mpumalanga. They spent R3 billion in the province.

The challenges that the region face include striking a balance between tourism and conservation, and the community’s needs. There is a perceived high-investment requirement for conservation versus national priorities. Poor educational awareness against environmental pollution and hazardous dumping in the community are ever-present and if the country does not have provisions in its budget, it will remain a challenge.

An environmentalist campaign to protect these natural areas could lead to unintended restrictions and heavy costs on this sector.

Nzima concluded the lecture with a question-and-answer session. One of guests asked what could be done about the negative aspects tourism could have on conservation.

“There was a negative impact when we started mining in the country years ago, we have to learn from those mistakes and address them as they arise. Tourism is a way to ‘mine’ our country’s resources without damaging or losing any part of it,” he said.

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Elbi Dippenaar

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