Fund gives innovative Graskop Gorge elevator a big lift
Funding difficulties have kept a number of black entrepreneurs from entering the tourism industry, but a budget of more than R200m to drive tourism transformation is making a marked difference.
People like Oupa Pilane of Mpumalanga are reaping the benefits.
Two years after he first ventured into the tourism business, he is now co-owner of the Graskop Gorge Lift Company, which employs more than 70 people from the Graskop area.
Pilane and his two partners received a R40m grant from the Tourism Transformation Fund (TTF) two years ago, enabling them to develop their company.
The fund was created by the department of tourism and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF).
“It took us nearly a year to develop the gorge lift. It was actually very difficult to secure funding until we received funding from the tourism fund,” Pilane said.
The lift takes visitors 51m down the face of the gorge to wooden walkways and suspension bridges that weave along a 600m trail through indigenous forest with interactive exhibits.
The exhibits include information about the forest, its biodiversity, water conservation, birds and insects, along with giant replicas of indigenous mushrooms, a stained-glass window and much more.
The trail takes about an hour to complete.
The gorge also has a craft centre that specialises in African art, African wire and wood sculptures, woven baskets and pottery.
Pilane said the construction phase created more than 150 temporary jobs. “Currently we have more than 70 people working at the gorge full time. We have over 55 people working as tour guides, in our restaurants and some in the craft shops.”
About 14 bead makers work daily at the gorge and another five work at the new bicycle trail they are setting up.
Tourism department spokesperson Bulelani Silangwe said the fund has been created to give financial support to projects that will bring about meaningful transformation in the tourism sector.
The grant narrowed the funding gap between the future investor’s own contribution and the approved loan finance and/or equity contribution by the NEF for tourism projects.
Look out, Cape Town!
The Graskop Gorge lift Company sits on the edge of the Drakensberg in Mpumalanga, at the centre of the Panorama Route.
According to Pilane, the new lift aims to rival Table Mountain’s cableway one day, and they are in the first phase of developing an outdoor activity centre.
Another beneficiary of the transformation fund is the Jozini Tiger Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal, which is on the bank of Lake Jozini with views of the Lebombo Mountains.
Goodman Ncobeni of Jozini Tiger Lodge said the lodge was opened a few years ago after a R28m grant from the TTF.
Ncobeni said the lodge is jointly owned by a consortium of local communities, including women and young people. It employs only locals, creating 95 direct jobs which are filled mostly by women.
“We have a spa on site, game viewing and tiger fishing, all these have dedicated people from Jozini running them,” said Ncobeni.
NEF chief executive Philisiwe Mthethwa said that in June 2018 they signed an agreement with the the department to establish the tourism fund, which focuses exclusively on the transformation of the SA tourism sector.
“According to this agreement the NDT will transfer a total of R120m to the NEF over a three-year period to grant funding for enterprises that meet the funding eligibility criteria. To date the NDT has transferred a total of R80m towards the TTF,” said Mthethwa.
“All these initiatives are an indication of our commitment to ensuring that tourism plays a strategic role in turning around the economic fortunes of the country while also creating equitable participation in the economy.”
The NEF had already committed more than R200m to the tourism sector.
A total of 14 transactions were in the final stages of approval, and 144 applications were in the final assessment process, with a significant number of these in advanced due diligence.
“All these cut across the various sub-sectors of the tourism industry, encompassing hospitality, adventure, recreation and conferencing.”
To qualify for funding, Mthethwa said, entities must be partly black owned, have black women empowerment, be commercially viable, and have proven community involvement.
The beneficiaries include:
Graskop Gorge Lift Company (Mpumalanga) – R40m;
Rhino Ridge Lodge in Hluhluwe (KZN) – R20.5m;
Royal Thonga Safari Lodge (KZN) – R9.8m;
Tiger Lodge in Jozini (KZN) – R28m;
Park Inn Polokwane (Limpopo) – R4.8m;
Donga La Boutique in Ladysmith (KZN) – R6.3m;
Tala Lodge (KZN) – R14.1m...