Isolated island playing catch up

21 August 2012 - 02:52 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE

South Africa's history and its links to St Helena will soon be accessible to the rest of the world as the island invests billions in tourism and opens up to investors.

Enterprise St Helena, an agency tasked with promoting and developing the island's economy, is in South Africa to attract local investors.

The island, which was only accessible by ship since it was discovered in 1502, will soon have an airport - opening it up for a new market - and the "greenest luxury hotel in the world".

The agency's tourism manager, Merrill Joshua, said South Africa constitutes almost half of the island's tourism market. He said R2.5-billion has been budgeted for the airport's construction and tourism.

In the past, the island was controlled by different nations, including the Portuguese, Dutch and British. St Helena was a "place of exile" and political prisoners - including French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Prince Dinizulu during the Zulu War and 6000 Boer prisoners during the Boer War - were sent there. Recent excavations have also linked the island to the slavery era.

Joshua said: "A lot of [people] have come back to pay tribute,"

Joshua said 49% of their tourism flow comes from South Africa, and stressed the need to cater for their core market.

"Now, because it is vitally important that St Helena gets on the map as a tourism destination, a lot more money and resources will be ploughed into the historical ties with Cape Town and South Africa," Joshua said.

St Helena's tourism industry is very small, with about 2100 visitors annually. But that figure is expected to grow to 30000 with the arrival of air access.

Joshua could not be drawn to reveal what sets the island's planned "greenest luxury hotel" apart from other such sites.

"They are using new technology - our climate allows it - and we've got the land around to make use of. This will be a model for future hotels that want to go the same route. A lot of research and investment has already gone into it," Joshua said.

Stuart Planner, the agency's property director, has urged business to invest in the island.

He said: "With only 43 months to go before the first plane lands, this is a crucial time for investors and developers to make themselves known to us if they wish to participate in this project.

"We have assets and a business environment and legislative framework we believe to be attractive for investment."