The Adventure Tourism Incubator Initiative (ATI), initiated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), is set to boost this rocketing sector of tourism in the region.
The adventure tourism market has been valued at R4.6b (€310.62m), while the cycling industry is estimated to be worth between R700m (€47.27m) and R1b (€67.53m) per year. According to the N3 Gateway Tourism Authority, large international markets from the UK, USA, Germany, Holland and other African countries are interested in mountain biking in South Africa.
A collaboration between N3 Gateway, which is responsible for the marketing and development of tourism in the N3 corridor; Sappi Southern Africa, a global paper solutions company; and Aurecon South Africa, a global engineering and infrastructure advisory company – the initiative was born of the boom in mountain biking and trail sports, and a large number of those trails being developed in Sappi plantations.
Matthew Drew, Projects and Strategy Manager for N3 Gateway Tourism Association, told Tourism Update that when conceptualising the ATI, the question of who was really benefitting from trail development was central. “There are teams of people who build and maintain trails – typically under the guidance of a skilled trail builder – but they would be what you’d term as ‘casual labour’, even though some have been employed on a full-time basis for years. A trail builder qualification doesn’t exist.”
N3 Gateway wanted to address this gap by developing a program that would not only look at expanding cycling tourism in KZN, but would upskill and train people to build trails, ensuring they are not only capable and knowledgeable, but can build up enough acumen and a solid skill set to be able to establish their own businesses, and contract out to trail managers to continue with trail building and maintenance work. “There are necessary roles in the cycling industry, such as bike guides, path finders, and bicycle mechanical skills – and there could be other needs that arise in the future, linked to trails themselves. This provides for great opportunity across the whole value chain of tourism,” says Drew.
As an example, N3 Gateway recently completed a phase of the Cradle Gateway 2 Gateway Trails in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site – a project of the Cradle Management Authority and the Gauteng Department of Economic Development. Drew says that the full project, to which N3 Gatway has been contracted, is to build a 14km trail in one of the road reserves in the area. “The reason the authority is building the trail is they see 3 000 to 4 000 people coming to cycle per day, and until now these cyclists have had to use the road in many areas. So the need was evident to offer mountain bikers an alternative.”
The project phase involved contracting and upskilling of township entrepreneurs, and individuals in the nearby township who had to be employed on the project to help build the trail. “Part of the exercise was to train people in safety and health, machinery operation and other areas of trail building – so in the future they can tender for maintenance and building work,” adds Drew.
South Africa has an estimated 600 000 mountain bikers, with 55m in the USA, 5m in the UK and 800 000 in Germany. According to the SA Adventure Industry Survey (Dirty Boots, 2014), 4.9m foreign tourists partake in adventure activates while travelling in SA. However, lack of accessibility, infrastructure and limited packaged products make it challenging for foreign mountain bikers to participate in riding in SA.
“We have developed a whole project plan/business plan, which we want to pilot in Karkloof just outside Ladysmith, in the central and northern Drakensberg. At this stage we’re busy talking to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) about funding the pilot, and Sappi has agreed to contribute a portion of the mapping funding required. We are also talking to other corporates about matching funding. What we need at this point is more support in terms of corporate funding, and in government support for this adventure tourism concept,” says Drew.
"This [adventure tourism] is a very important niche market for us," says Abie Wentzel, Tourism KZN's Acting General Manager for Tourism Development, adding that the KZN Tourism Authority is involved in the incubator initiative.
“The Cape is pioneering the way forward in terms of cycling tourism in SA, and this approach should be taken across the country,” concludes Drew.