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Despite talks of upgrading the lockdown to a higher level in preparation for the Easter holidays, Newcastle is heading for a tourism-led economic recovery.
This follows Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN) coming to town over the past weekend. Looking at enhancing the local economy through tourism, TKZN claims it is all down to various interventions, initiatives, and projects that local leaders are planning to attract new visitors and increase tourist spend. Such is the attention given to tourism; Newcastle’s leadership wants to reposition the town as a premier tourism destination, focusing on events, natural assets, and cultural heritage.
According to Amajuba District Mayor Dr Musa Ngubane, Newcastle has seen an increase in township hospitality businesses, which provide jobs and various experiences for visitors. However, he emphasises, during the earlier stages of the lockdown, the town’s tourism sector lost more than R115-million.
The district is now adjusting to the new travel patterns holidaymakers are looking for, including outdoor experiences and placing a higher emphasis on safety. Outdoor sports like golfing, hiking, fly-fishing, motorsports, birdwatching, boating are now being encouraged.
With this in mind, Dr Ngubane points out, “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.”
Moreover, Newcastle airport has been upgraded and will be developed into a Techno Hub, presenting an ideal opportunity for attracting investment, while also creating jobs.
There is also talk of a multi-million Rand hotel and other accommodation outlets on the cards, although Dr Ngubane said these negotiations were not yet finalised. With major plans underway, 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, as both share the same vision: to make Newcastle a premier visitor destination.
The district mayor highlights, “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.” Speaker of the Newcastle Municipality, Samkelisiwe Yende, adds the key to tourism’s recovery is to broaden the region’s marketing strategy. She says, “As a municipality, we are planning a video to promote what Newcastle can offer. While Newcastle is not your traditional tourist destination, it does attract a lot of business tourism.”
Furthermore, to withstand disruptions such as COVID-19, she believes ongoing investment in tourism is integral to building a thriving, diverse and robust economy to future-proof Newcastle against any form of challenges.
Looking at the current lockdown regulation and social distancing rules, hiking expert and head of Hikeobics, Tsebiso Maruping, confirmed, with lockdown regulations in place, there has been an increased demand for outdoor activities, especially among visiting business people.
She stresses, “People don’t want to be cooped in their homes. They want to go outdoors, so hiking gives them mental stimulation.”
Leading a hike through the mountains at Vulintaba on Friday, 26 March 2021, with Gagasi FM disc jockeys, Khulekani Mbambo and Zisto Mhlongo and municipal officials from both the Newcastle Municipality and Amajuba District Municipality, Maruping said, “Smaller groups or family-orientated groupings are encouraged to prevent and curb the spread of the virus. Hiking has minimal contact with the next person as long as a safe distance is kept.”
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—thereby embracing Newcastle’s beauty and formalising plans to put our town on the map.
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