Despite the current global financial crisis, new opportunities in tourism are still arising, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday.

“Recent events such as the world-wide financial crisis have reminded us of our fragility… we have again seen that no country, industry or market can consider itself insulated from the financial tides that sweep the globe. But even as we contemplate our vulnerability, new opportunities are arising,” said Van Schalkwyk.

Van Schalkwyk was speaking at the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) investment conference in Sandton, Johannesburg.

He said TFCAs across southern Africa connected countries and ecosystems and promoted bio-diversity.

“Significant progress has been made, but unfortunately tourism growth in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region is not yet near the levels that I believe it has the potential to reach,” said Van Schalkwyk.

Two factors had hindered tourism growth – a shortage of well-packaged and bankable projects and limited awareness in the investment community about existing tourism opportunities in the region.

“Our aim is therefore to raise awareness of the region’s significant investment potential and market a portfolio of unique, packaged tourism investment opportunities in the seven existing TFCAs,” he said.

The TFCAs are Ai-/Ais/Richtersveld, Kgalagadi, Kavango Zambezi, Limpopo-Shashe, Great Limpopo, Lubombo and Maloti Drakensberg. Nine SADC countries form part of this initiative.

Van Schalkwyk said delegates at the conference would be presented with a catalogue featuring 51 investment opportunities offering over 5 000 beds and estimated at R785-million.

These ranged from rustic to luxury accommodation facilities, including conference facilities and ski resorts.

“The investment promotion programme is aimed at unlocking investment potential in our region. The catalogue features 10 opportunities in Botswana, 10 in Lesotho… and two in South Africa.”

Van Schalkwyk said he believed investments in tourism facilities would unlock the potential of the industry, and that one of the aims of the TCFAs was to use the 2010 soccer World Cup spectacle as a launching pad to brand and develop the region.

“I believe these efforts will not only maximise the tourism potential of our amazing region, but also help in stimulating economic growth,” he said.