Sani Pass: How to ruin a tourism icon

2008-07-20 00:00

FOR the first time since talks surfaced about tarring Sani Pass in 2004, a qualitative survey has been done about the “lure factor” of a gravel roadway that links the southern Drakensberg with the eastern highlands of Lesotho.

Almost 700 tourists responded to the survey by the Sani branch of the Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa (Wessa), and overwhelmingly rejected plans to tar the pass on the strength of its value as an attraction to the region.

This is a point poorly understood by the proponents whose only motivation has been a nonsensical rationale that a tarred surface somehow would shorten the travelling time between Maseru and Durban.

Nothing is further from the truth in view of the fact that the so-called direct route via Thaba Tseka would traverse eight major mountain passes in Lesotho, all between 2 225 metres and 3 240 metres.

The most telling finding is that tourism to the area may decline by up to 60% if the iconic pass is tarred. This underscore what can best be described as the value of a “wilderness experience”.

This is a matter the southern Berg folk, the local tourism industry, and tourists visiting the region understand only too well.

Consider that 91% of the 700 respondents said that a tarred surface would irrevocably ruin the experience of traversing Sani Pass, and that 17% wanted no change to the existing surface, notwithstanding its appalling state at the moment.

Asked to comment on the significant factors informing the experience, the mountainscape garnered 80%, scenery 72%, wilderness 60%, Lesotho and culture 49%, flowers 45%, adventure 43% and 4x4 driving 42%.

Some say tarring the pass would destroy not only a tourism product, but also the area’s internationally renowned brand, not unlike removing Table Mountain from Cape Town or diverting the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls.

Interestingly, 37% of respondents were South African, i.e. people who themselves drove up the pass, while the remainder were foreign visitors on organised tours.

The threat to its “wilderness” sense of place remains key, though. Much as the current access route to the summit allows for the wilderness-type experience to be shared, the overwhelming consensus is that a tarred surface would ruin it.

The debate also serves as a metaphor for the conundrum over development, and the point that too much progress will ruin the initial attraction pertains strongly.

There is also recognition that the road surface needs to be improved, which is why the majority of respondents favour a pragmatic solution — that of upgrading the dirt surface and, more importantly, maintaining it.

Figures and statistics

THE significance of the spat over Stats SA’s calculation of the official inflation rate is not its accuracy, but the timing of its periodic re-weighting of product categories.

The agency’s failure to re-weight, according to Investec, has resulted in overstating inflation by 2,2%, This inaccuracy is not surprising in the context of rapidly evolving market dynamics, considering that Stats SA said in early 2007 that the new CPI weights — based on the 2005/06 Income and Expenditure Survey — would come into effect in 2009.

No wonder there is concern over the relevancy of inflation statistics, but more importantly, will we see a re-adjustment of the June inflation, or will we be subjected to what are palpably inappropriate weightings?

Debt check

THINGS are pretty grim throughout the economy, attested to by the fact that 50% of all home loan applications in South Africa in June this year were declined.

Given the tough times, one has to wonder about the wisdom of the proposed strikes aimed at paralysing the struggling economy. Throw in our dismal and declining domestic savings, and soaring debt, and it’s clear we need clear thinking, not hot heads looking to make political capital.

Perceptions and reality

EVER wondered how negative perceptions take root? Then read this bulletin to currency traders from Reuters.

“Traders are also looking past the South African rand, Africa’s leading and most liquid currency, which has underperformed against the sluggish U.S. dollar this year, with the current account deficit widening and political instability growing.” Nothing like inspiring confidence, eh?

Aerial combat

WE know that an unforgiving battle is raging among airlines, but Comair-owned airline has a point when it called on government to stop bailing out SAA with taxpayers’ money.

“State re-nationalisation of the industry will continue to be destructive to free and fair competition,” the statement said.

To what extent is the growing support for SAA’s and Mango’s competitors responsible for its woes, we wonder?

Last word

Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell. — Frank Borman.

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