Halfway between Durbs and Jozi and bordering the Free State and Mpumalanga, Newcastle in Northern KZN, is heading for a tourism-led economic recovery.
Our neighbours are making moves to shift their strategy and reignite the industry, with a focus on the great outdoors.
In the wake of the coronavirus, which hit tourism in the province hard, local leaders are planning interventions, initiatives and projects designed to attract new visitors and increase tourist spend.
They want to reposition Newcastle as a premier tourism destination with the focus on events, natural assets and cultural heritage.
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Newcastle is the home to the late reggae superstar Lucky Dube, disc jockey DJ Sihle and soccer players Helman Mkhalele and Deli Mbatha, among other notable names.
The town has seen an increase in township hospitality businesses, which provide jobs and a variety of experiences for visitors, said Amajuba District mayor, Dr Musa Ngubane.
However, during the earlier stages of the lockdown, Newcastle’s tourism sector, like most, was not immune to the economic fallout, and lost more than R115m, he recalled.
The district was adjusting to the new travel patterns now that holidaymakers are looking for outdoor experiences and placing a greater emphasis on safety.
Outdoor sports like golfing, hiking, fly-fishing, motor sports, birdwatching, and boating, are being encouraged.
“We have short and medium-term interventions, including renovating and diversifying the tourism offerings at Balele Game Park and revamping the Emadlangeni Municipality Tourism Information Centre,” the mayor explained.
The regional airport in Newcastle has been upgraded and will be developed into a “Techno Hub”, presenting an opportunity for attracting investment, while also creating jobs.
There is also talk of a multimillion rand hotel and other accommodation outlets, although Ngubane said these negotiations were not yet finalised.
The revised Amajuba Tourism Strategy aims to reset Newcastle’s tourism identity and brand. It is envisaged that it will become a blueprint for collaboration between government and industry.
“We found it was critical to engage the private sector. We have some exciting projects in the pipeline which will help to build the sector, as the critical location of the town allows us to explore various options,” Ngubane said.
Hiking expert and head of Hikeobics, Tsebiso Maruping, confirmed that with lockdown regulations, there had been an increase in demand for outdoor activities, especially among visiting businessmen.
“People don’t want to be cooped up in their homes. They want to go outdoors, so hiking gives them that mental stimulation,” said Maruping, who led a hike through the mountains on Friday morning with Gagasi FM disc jockeys, Khulekani Mbambo and Zisto Mhlongo.
“Smaller groups or family-orientated groupings are encouraged to prevent the spread of the virus. Hiking has minimal contact to the next person as long as a safe distance is kept,” she said.
After a morning hike, the mayor and the DJs took to the greens to demonstrate their golfing skills, with the rolling mountains providing the perfect backdrop. – Copy supplied
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