Tourism has been identified by the North West Provincial Government as a “key pillar” of the economy. In addition to promoting the already popular game reserves, Hartbeespoort Dam and Sun City, the provincial planners are targeting the cultural sector as a potential growth market. The Mahika-Mahikeng Cultural Festival is expected to grow in significance to the regional economy as it expands, having been started in 2015.
Arts and culture development centres (Mmabana Centres) are found in three of the province’s districts. Twelve public museums have been identified together with 400 heritage sites as part of a census on the province’s cultural assets. The long and interesting history of the Batswana people provides rich scope for commemorations, memorials, song and dance.
Three tourism strategies (Culture and Heritage; Events and an over-arching regional strategy) are set to inform what the premier of North West has called the Arts Culture and Tourism (ACT) developmental agenda for the province. In keeping with the emphasis on small towns and rural areas, a Rural and Social Tourism strategy is to be charted.
Among other provincial plans is a publication to be produced by the Department of Tourism to market the province, particularly to attract potential tourists in SADC countries, in other parts of Africa and in BRICS countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil. Related to the SADC theme, is a scheme to develop transnational routes that would include sites such as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Direct flights are being contemplated to BRICS countries.
The Department of Tourism in the North West hosted the Bojanala District lekgotla (public meeting) where discussions were held about the way forward for tourism in the province. There is a strong belief that the industry can become a major creator of jobs and wealth within communities, if the correct strategies and products are developed.
Anthropology comes to the fore at Taung, site of the first discovered fossil of Australopithecus africanus. The North West Development Corporation (NWDC), has an investment plan linked to this famous site, involving a museum, hotel and spa resort.
The NWDC is also offering investors the opportunity to expand the terminal building at Pilanesberg Airport.
The Treasure Route runs along the N12 highway and includes wildlife, cultural, scenic, industrial and environmental tourist attractions. The “treasure” relates to the gold mines scattered along the route. A highlight is the Vredefort Dome, an enormous 300km crater left when a meteorite struck the earth about two-billion years ago. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Adventure sports is a growing section of the tourism sector. Hot-air ballooning over the Pilanesberg mountains is a popular pursuit, as is quad-biking among the foothills. Canopy tours in the Magaliesberg are on offer, with many opportunities for water sports of every kind on the province’s many water bodies. Hartbeespoort Dam is the biggest of these, but there are ample opportunities for water -lovers at Bloemhof Dam, Boskop Dam (north of Potchefstroom) and Vaalkop Dam (north of Brits). Each of these dams has great birdlife, with up to 250 species living at or visiting the dams.
Hotels, casinos and resorts
One of South Africa’s highest-profile entertainment complexes, Sun City Resort, was relaunched in 2016 after a R1-billion refurbishment by Sun International. Between 2014 and 2016 the project created more than 2 000 new jobs.
The Sun City Hotel has been re-branded as the Soho Hotel which comes with a party zone designed to evoke Las Vegas. A new events space called Sun Park offers outdoor and indoor options for hosting festivals, events and launches. A new Sporting Hall of Fame has been added to the popular water features and the famous Gary Player Golf Course. In recent times the format of the annual Nedbank Golf Challenge was expanded to include a bigger field of players with more global significance because points won at the event counted for international rankings.
The provincial capital, Mahikeng, has its own resort in the Mmabatho Palms Hotel Casino and Convention Resort. As part of the Peermont group, which has hotels and casinos in six of South Africa’s provinces, the Mmabatho Palms offers eight gaming tables and slot machines.
The Gambling Board falls under the provincial Department of Economy and Enterprise Development and it has approved 262 Limited Pay-out Machines and six new bingo operations.
North West’s other casinos are at Sun City and the Morula Casino and Hotel at Mabopane (both run by Sun International) and Klerksdorp (Rio Hotel Casino and Convention Resort), another Peermont property.
The provincial government has applied to national government to have a fifth licence granted in the province.
Nature and game reserves
The strategy of the North West Parks and Tourism Board (NWPTB) includes ramping up investment in the province’s 12 smaller parks with a view to creating jobs in the second economy. This presents an opportunity for private investors to become involved. An investment of R43-million has been made in the Manyane Game Lodge in Mahikeng in partnership with the national Department of Tourism.
Another project is in the form of an ambitious plan to create a mega-park in the north-western sector of the North West, the Heritage Park.
The idea is to link the existing parks of Madikwe (on the Botswana border) and the Pilanesberg National Park (a provincial park). Nearly 20 000 hectares of land is being prepared for incorporation, which is intended in a later phase to become a transnational park. With much of the targeted land being currently used for marginal cattle farming, it is expected that the transference of this to the potentially more lucrative game-reserve option will bring considerable benefits.
As the fourth-largest park in South Africa, Pilansberg covers an area of 55 000 hectares.