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Latest developments in the Free State tourism sector

Tourism is one of the Free State’s fastest-growing economic sectors, with leisure and business tourism enjoying the best growth within the industry.

Premier Hotels & Resorts is a step closer to having a presence in every major South African city with the development of an 88-bedroom hotel in Bloemfontein.

The Splendid Inn Bloemfontein by Premier, expected to cost R110-million, will also be able to accommodate 150 conference delegates. The first phase of the project will see the existing Stanville Hotel refurbished and expanded. Phase two will begin in 2019.

South Africa’s largest hotel groups have several brands that cater to different markets. Protea Hotels has five properties in the Free State: Protea Hotel Bloemfontein by Marriott and Protea Hotel Willow Lake (both four-star), Protea Hotel Bloemfontein Central (three-star), Protea Hotel Montrose (Harrismith) and Protea Hotel Clarens.

The four-star Southern Sun Bloemfontein, part of the Tsogo Sun group, has 147 rooms, and the Goldfields Casino in Welkom is another Tsogo Sun property. The City Lodge Bloemfontein has 151 rooms, and there is a Road Lodge at the airport.

The Rantsoareng Group operates exclusively in the Free State and has three properties, the biggest of which is the President Hotel in Bloemfontein.

Sun International runs the Lesotho Sun and the Maseru Sun in neighbouring Lesotho. In Bloemfontein, the Windmill Casino and Entertainment Centre offers slot machines and gaming tables, plus the ability to host conferences for up to 250 delegates. The four-star Willow Lodge has 80 rooms. The Naledi Sun Hotel and Casino is about 65km from Bloemfontein.

Forever Resorts has a popular facility with chalet accommodation and a caravan park on the banks of the Gariep Dam. Overlooking the dam is the 43-room de Stijl Gariep Hotel which has wedding and conference facilities. Afristay awarded the hotel its “Best value hotel” in 2018.

The Mangaung African Cultural Festival (Macufe) has become a national and international event. Offerings range from music and craft stalls to poetry, film and theatre, a soccer tournament and boxing matches. The festival is probably best known for its varied musical performances, but the annual football tournament also gets good coverage and support.

A Heroes’ Park is to be constructed at Thaba Nchu and Tumahole with statues of Oliver Tambo and Fidel Castro. The much-delayed construction of a museum at Brandfort to commemorate Winnie Mandela living in that town has again been put on the agenda. Mandela endured a period of internal exile from 1977.

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park (pictured) is one of South Africa’s great parks. It is administered by SANParks. Located in the Maluti Mountains, the park offers caving, hiking, horse riding, exploring caves and bird watching with a difference. The vulture restaurant gives a special perspective on birds of prey. The Basotho Cultural Village in the park offers an insight into African traditions and a taste of sorghum beer.

There are ambitious plans to create a biodiversity corridor between the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the Royal Natal National Park and the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve which will involve the Qwaqwa community living at the base of the Drakensberg mountains. Near Memel, the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment, a multi-owner private initiative, has added 17 500ha to the province’s protected asset base. When the Ingula Nature Reserve is declared in 2017, another 8 000ha will be added.

Tourism is one of the Free State’s fastest-growing economic sectors, with leisure and business tourism enjoying the best growth within the industry.

The Free State Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs believes that the R7.7-billion game industry sector could grow even further across three sub-sectors, namely:

  • auctions and translocations
  • game ranching and eco-tourism (including hiking trails, bird watching, photographic safaris, 4×4 trails, canoeing, abseiling, lodges and conferences)
  • a combination of lodges, game breeding, eco-tourism and hunting.


Each of the province’s district municipality has its own tourism brand or route:

Cheetah Route (Mangaung Metro and surrounds): Bloemfontein has a host of historical and cultural sites, including the Naval Hill Precinct (home to the Digital Planetarium), the Anglo-Boer War Museum, the National Museum, the Choet Visser Rugby Museum, the SA Armour Museum and the Fire Station Museum.

Springbok Route (Xhariep District): Travellers can start their journey at a diamond mine, visit a wine farm and finish on the top of the Xhariep Dam. Several Anglo-Boer War battles sites and superb San rock engravings can be found dotted around the district.

Flamingo Route (Lejweleputswa District): One of the biggest agricultural expos in the world takes place at Bothaville. Phakisa race track in Welkom attracts large crowds. The district has several game farms, game reserves and resorts.

Lion Route (Fezile Dabi District): The banks of the Vaal River provide for boating, yachting and camping. Parys is a popular destination and the Vredefort Dome, site of a meteorite strike in the distant past, is a World Heritage Site.

Eagle Route (Thabo Mofutsanyane District): This route encompasses the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Ficksburg has claims to be the world’s Cherry Capital and nearby Clarens is popular with weekenders looking for art in a rustic village atmosphere. Bethlehem hosts an annual Bethlehem Air Show and the Maize Fair in October.

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