East 3 Route spans northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mozambique and eastern Swaziland, and includes five trans-frontier conservation areas, writes Edward West
Hotel and other short-stay accommodation in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, has rivalled Durban’s, boasting of being fully booked since May, while the latter had an average occupancy rate of about 70%.While the global hotel and accommodation industry struggles with sluggish economic growth since the last recession, Mozambican Tourism Minister Fernando Sumbana attributes Maputo’s high rate of hotel reservations to people streaming into the city for business reasons. In Durban, hotel occupancies have been about 70% this year, better than the average occupancy rates seen in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, mainly as a result of Durban hosting more conferences.Mozambique is still one of the world’s poorest countries, with most of its people involved in subsistence farming. After the civil war, emigration and dependence on South Africa hindered growth between 1975 and the 1990s. However, its economy has grown faster since then, due to friendly foreign investment policies, foreign aid and other economic reforms. Gross domestic product grew 8,3% last year. “On our infrastructure there is much room for improvement … We are open to public- private partnerships, any investor who is willing to get involved, we welcome,” Mr Sumbana said last week at the launch of the East 3 Route, a tourism corridor that spans northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mozambique and eastern Swaziland.The region includes five trans-frontier conservation areas, and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, a World Heritage Site that is attracting an increasing number of local and foreign visitors.Mr Sumbana says the large number of business visitors to Maputo is drawn particularly from the gas, coal and agricultural sectors. The harbour is also “very busy” as the country explores business opportunities, he says, citing the agricultural sector as another attraction. “We have 36-million acres of arable land and only 4-million is being used.” There are tourist and infrastructure opportunities along the East 3 Route, which in Mozambique includes more than 100km of shoreline between Maputo and Ponto do Ouro near South Africa’s border that offers scope for beach tourism, he says. For instance, the Mozambican government is looking for public-private partnership or build-operate-transfer investors for a $300m toll road planned between Maputo and the border with South Africa. KwaZulu-Natal economic development and tourism MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu says the East 3 Route will be a special focus when SA markets its tourism destinations at the World Travel Market in London next month.”It is about marketing and positioning (the corridor) so that the route benefits all three countries,” he says.Swazi Tourism and Environmental Affairs Minister Macford Sibandze says tourism can help the economy in Swaziland emerge from crisis.The Swazi economy is in dire straits due to weak economic activity, lower income from the Southern African Customs Union and a view, among some in that country, that funds in the monarchy were mismanaged.Mr Sibandze says a five-year plan needs to be developed to stimulate interest in the East 3 Route. Increased “airlift capacity” from Europe is essential. However, he expressed concern about potential increases in airline taxes in Europe, saying that will have a negative effect on tourism markets for the region.South Africa’s minister responsible for performance monitoring and evaluation in the Presidency, Collins Chabane says 1-million people travelled from Mozambique to SA last year, while the figure for Swaziland was 600000. While these figures are “encouraging”, he says, more could be done to increase tourism from South Africa to its neighbouring countries.