SA launches Visitor Information Centres aimed at 2010 World Cup

South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk on Thursday launched the first 2010 Visitor Information Centres (VICs) in Port Elizabeth.

The three centres, developed at a cost of R6,7-million, would form part of the legacy project for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

“The model for these centers is based on the best international practice and they will assist our tourism authorities in providing outstanding service to tourists as well as other stakeholders,” said Van Schalkwyk.

The Department of Tourism noted that with just 315 days until the start of the World Cup, the centers were aimed at improving the South African tourism offering with a view to enhancing service excellence, growing tourism and creating opportunities for local economic development.

As part of the national VIC project, centers were being rolled out in five host cities, namely Port Elizabeth, Polokwane, Nelspruit, Rustenburg and Bloemfontein. These less-visited provinces were earmarked for the VIC’s in preparation for the World Cup, but also to grow their tourism arrivals from both local and international visitors.

Van Schalkwyk stated that the primary objective of the VIC project was to effectively address the tourism and information needs of the visitors expected to converge in the five host cities in 2010 and beyond.

“The centers, funded by our department, create easy access and awareness of tourism-related facilities and attractions within an area. VICs are a key element of the visitor industry and play an integral part in the marketing chain and information distribution system,” he said.

“The centers provide tourists with a one-stop service and will be able to assist with information on a wide range of tourism products including tourism information enquiries, reservations, accommodation, tours, vehicle hire, entertainment, dining, sports, adventure, shopping and travel tips.”

Van Schalkwyk added that the information and reservation system used in the centers was developed in South Africa and is designed to cater specifically for the South African market. It has the same functionality as much more expensive international systems. The local system would allow for more participation by the members of tourism authorities, smaller establishments and small-, medium-sized and macro enterprises (SMMEs).

“These members will for the first time also have access to a centralised, standardised and affordable reservation system and advertising at a fraction of the price it would cost as a member an international organisation. The system provides SMMEs with the opportunity to become members of a tourism organisation and be integrated into the tourism value chain. It will also allow members to update and control their reservation system, in turn providing up to the minute information to tourists.”

Van Schalkwyk further explained that the rationale behind the information technology system was to integrate and standardise the technology component throughout South Africa to allow the visitor to have a seamless travel experience. It would also afford the visitor the ability to access information from any location in one of the five host cities.

In Port Elizabeth, the three VICs are located within the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which incorporates Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Despatch and Colchester. The existing lighthouse facility located at the Donkin Reserve was upgraded to serve as the flagship VIC, with the satellite facilities located at the Port Elizabeth airport and Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World.

The three centers make use of touch screens linked to a central database to cater for any tourist information requirements. In addition, plasma screens display the tourism products on offer and the advertisements of local businesses. The centers, furthermore, provide information officers at the main desk, brochure displays on assorted tourist attractions, free Internet access and an online booking system.

All three VICs are fully operational and offer a seven-day a week service, in line with international standards.

source: Engineering News

Milestone as new national park comes into being

The new Garden Route National Park was formally declared by Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk at a function in Knysna at the weekend. The massive new conservation area, one of only four national parks in the world incorporating urban areas, covers about 121000ha, incorporating about 52000ha of newly proclaimed park land and 68500 hectares of the Wilderness and Tsitsikamma national parks.

It straddles the Eastern and Western Cape provinces as well as the Eden and Cacadu district municipalities and the local municipalities of George, Knysna, Bitou and Koukamma. The environmental diversity of the park includes indigenous forests, the Knysna estuary, the Wilderness lake areas, marine protected areas, lowland fynbos and mountain catchment areas. Van Schalkwyk said at the function on Friday that new ground was being broken with the establishment of the park and some parts would be fenced off while others would have open boundaries.

“The Garden Route is one of the most important areas in South Africa and one of our crown jewels in terms of biodiversity and its attraction of both foreign and local tourists.”

He said it was increasingly necessary to give economic value to conservation in order to achieve conservation goals, and that the level of conservation protection afforded to the area had increased due to its proclamation as a national park. SANParks chief operating officer Sydney Soundy said the new park contained the largest continuous indigenous forest in the country, spanning about 60500ha all along the Garden Route.

“Its aquatic systems, the Knysna estuary and the Wilderness lake areas, are rated number one and number six (in order of importance) respectively in the country. The fynbos falls within the Cape floristic region, which is a designated global diversity hotspot.”

Soundy said the term “conservation without boundaries” had to become a way of life, not just for major stakeholders but also residents in areas surrounding the park. Van Schalkwyk said South Africa‘s parks were among the country‘s most important conservation and tourism assets, and as such the government had steadily increased expenditure on parks.

“We have invested R411- million in infrastructure development for the period 2006/07 to 2008/09 and a further R245-million is being earmarked for the next medium term expenditure framework period. Other financial assistance has increased from R85,6-million in 2004/05 to R205-million in 2009/10.”

source: The Weekend Post