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Opportunity Issue 104

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Opportunity magazine is a niche business-to-business publication that explores various investment opportunities within Southern Africa’s economic sectors. The publication is endorsed by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI).

Can Kruger’s upgrades

Can Kruger’s upgrades go beyond providing a better park experience? Vulnerable communities must benefit from infrastructure investment, argues Kruger Gate Hotel CEO Anton Gillis. Kruger National Park is set to receive a R370-million upgrade. The upgrades –which include rebuilding a gutted shop and petrol stations (burned down in separate fires), revamps of various tourist and accommodation facilities around the park and resurfacing of roads – are set to take place over the next three years. As welcome as these upgrades will undoubtedly be to park visitors, they could potentially have a much wider impact. If implemented correctly, they could also have a positive knockon effect on the businesses and communities in and around the park. One person who knows this all too well is Anton Gillis, CEO of the Kruger Gate Hotel. Situated on the banks of the Sabie River at the park’s Paul Kruger Gate, the hotel is close to Skukuza – the park’s biggest rest camp and the location for its administrative headquarters. That means that the hotel doesn’t just have a front-row seat to Kruger’s abundant flora and fauna, but also to many of the comings and goings in and around the park. “Kruger attracted nearly two-million visitors in 2019 and is firmly established as one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions,” says Gillis. “But it doesn’t exist in a bubble. Communities in and around the park depend on it for their livelihoods.” These communities provide the waiters at the restaurants in and around the park, the hospitality workers at the various lodges and hotels and the drivers that ferry tour groups around the park. They also staff the three airports that service the park, help grow at least some of the food that park visitors eat, produce the crafts that visitors take back with them as mementos, and so many other things. “In 2020 and 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic seriously dented the fortunes of those already vulnerable communities,” he adds. “With 40 |

TOURISM how much need there is for increased localised economic activity in the area. “In order for that economic activity to come,” he says, “people need to be excited and incentivised to come to the park. While the families that come year in and year out are important, you also need to attract new visitors and give people who haven’t been for a few years a reason to come back.” even domestic travel severely curtailed during the early part of the pandemic and international flights still getting back up to full speed, it’ll take more than just a resumption of normal services to revitalise them.” With Kruger Gate Hotel involved in several community initiatives, most notably sponsoring upgrades to a nearby primary school, Gillis is intimately aware of how important the park is and R100-million expansion It’s that kind of thinking which informed Kruger Gate Hotel’s own R100-million expansion, completed in November 2019. The upgrades included the addition of a specialty coffee shop, an expanded room count and the construction of a helipad. The hotel’s Kudyela and Lapa restaurants were also expanded and modernised. “When we made the decision to invest in the hotel’s upgrades and expansion, we had a specific vision in mind,” says Gillis. “While we’ve always tried to blend the majesty of the Kruger National Park and all the comforts of an upmarket four-star hotel experience, we knew that we could take that idea to the next level. This is most visible in our presidential and executive suites, which allow executive groups, whether family or corporate teams, to have an exclusive, private experience of the hotel. “The hospitality sector is constantly evolving and the upgrades to the hotel allow us to cater to that evolution,” he adds. “They’ve also allowed us to bring in new guest categories and provide improved experiences to all guests.” The Kruger Gate Hotel CEO believes that if the park upgrades are to make a real and lasting difference, they must always have a bigger picture in mind. “Ideally, the upgrades should provide short-term working opportunities for people around the park,” he adds. “Beyond that, they should form the basis for ongoing initiatives aimed at attracting new visitors to the park. “The Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s greatest assets and we should aim to get as much out of it as possible, in the most responsible and ethical manner,” concludes Anton. About Kruger Gate Hotel The Kruger Gate Hotel is a lodge-style hotel, with soaring walkways and treetop ambience, which uniquely offers Big Five safaris in the Kruger National Park with all the comforts of an upmarket four-star hotel experience. Guests' adventures into the wilderness are perfectly balanced by the hotel’s contemporary relaxation options. Set in a tranquil riverine woodland of immense trees, a range of elegant accommodation options are on offer, from standard and large rooms to executive and presidential suites. Special highlights include game-viewing from the Pool Bar with its stunning infinity pool, luxurious care at the spa and sumptuous dining in the glow of stars and wood fires in the outdoor Lapa. Anton Gillis, CEO of the Kruger Gate Hotel | 41

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