Cable car pipe dream

2014-01-20 00:00

A REVIEW of the business plan for the R500 million cable car in the Drakens­berg has raised serious concerns about the financial viability of the project.

Newman Accounting and Tax Services, which did the review for African Conservation Trust and Wilderness Action Group, said the business plan drawn up for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Affairs and Tourism does not indicate how there will be a 526% increase in visitors to the Drakensberg region, enough to make the proposed cable car sustainable.

The business plan also does not indicate any market research done to indicate that visitors will pay R350 per adult and R200 per child to go on the cable car, given that the prices are more than most of the other cable cars in the world, the review said.

A regular round trip on the Table Mountain cable car costs R215, according to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway’s website.

Department of Economic Development and Tourism spokeperson Bheko Madlala said yesterday that not all cableways are equal and there is great variability in length, location and purpose.

“Comparable cableways around the world that offer similar increases in altitude or length typically cost approximately double the proposed R350 return fare,” said Madlala.

“The success of the cableway lies primarily with the ticket price and number of tickets sold. The business plan does not adequatelty address these key aspects,” according to the review.

In fact, the business plan quotes no market research.

The review also said capital costs were likely to be higher than expected because of rand depreciation and a failure to consider the maintenance and design requirements of a difficult operating environment in the Drakensberg, compared with other cable cars. In addition, the business plan did not consider the additional cost of having to take sewage down the cableway, according to the review.

The review also quotes Sabine Lehmann, managing director of Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company: “I think visitor numbers [in the Drakensberg] are too small for the project to cover its costs … an attraction such as a boardwalk or treetop walkway could be just as attractive at a fraction of the cost.”

Madlala said they were doing a full consultative process with all stakeholders. A meeting of more than 15 000 people late last year gave the project “a ringing endorsement”, and the project was given the “thumbs up” at a meeting of businessmen in December, said Madlala.

Sigungu Miya, the spokesperson for the traditional leadership of the AmaZizi, said in a statement the DEDT had never formally introduced the proposed Busingatha cableway “to the late Nkosi Miya and they have never come to consult at the AmaZizi tribal office”.

The cable car will traverse the land of the AmaZizi community.

“Contrary to the claims of some people, Inkosi Miya never agreed to have the cableway in our area … We do not want this cableway in our area,” said Miya.

The DEDT said the development approval process is set to start once the public consultations are over. A number of views for or against the project had been received.

“A product of this nature will attract holiday-makers from a wider circle than what the northern Drakensberg attracts at present. As for the issue of the funding model, we are looking at a number of funding models which will be announced once the public consultation is over,” Madlala said.

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