By Mantoe Phakathi
The commemoration of World Tourism Day (WTD) uncovered a hidden gem situated at Sidvokodvo in the outskirts of Manzini, Eswatini’s commercial capital.
Project Canaan, which sits on a 1000-hectare farm boasting of field crops, orchards, hydroponics, aquaponics, vermiculture, apiculture dairy farming, poultry and goat farming, feeds 3 500 orphans and vulnerable children in 30 rural churches. Moreover, the project provides safe and loving homes for over 280 orphans and abandoned babies until they are 18 years old.
As a result, according to Mr. Ian Maxwell the Director of Project Canaan, the initiative has become a tourist destination offering international volunteers an opportunity to visit and experience the four specific areas of interest: Hunger, Orphans, Poverty, and Education.
“Tourism generates income and awareness to help us become self-sustainable,” said Mr. Maxwell.
In line with WTD2021 theme – Tourism for Inclusive Growth – the project’s Khutsala Artisans provides job opportunities for adults, youth, men and women, and persons with disabilities.
“The products they produce are available in our gift shop and the proceeds provide funding for the OVCs in our care,” said Mr. Maxwell.
Project Canaan represents tourism that promotes inclusive growth in that, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), “look beyond tourism statistics and acknowledge that, behind every number, there is a person”.
It is for that reason that the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini through Eswatini Tourism Authority (ETA) chose to commemorate WTD2021 at Project Canaan at an event attended by the UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Rose Ssebatindira, the Indian High Commissioner, Ms. Radha Venkataraman, and the Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Moses Vilakati, among other dignitaries.
Speaking at the event, Ms. Ssebatindira paid tribute to Project Canaan saying they have demonstrated that opportunities exist for strengthening inclusiveness through the integration of smallholder farmers, especially women farmers in the tourism value chain.
“Connecting this project to tourism enterprises – such as through vegetable supplies to restaurants, lodges and camps could go a long way in integrating the vulnerable into the tourism sector through sustainable agriculture and skilling of young people,” she said.
While acknowledging the impact of COVID-19 on Eswatini tourism sector which she said caused a 50% decline in 2020 and a 27.08% drop in employment creation in the same year,
Ms. Ssebatindira said the pandemic presents exciting opportunities and challenges to countries and the sector, in general, to adapt and innovate, including the likelihood that travellers will be willing to pay more to reduce covid-19 exposure.
“Further, there’s noted growth of domestic tourism throughout the world including here in Eswatini, thanks to initiatives such as the Vakasha Eswatini Campaign,” she said.
She further reiterated UNDP’s continued support to the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure inclusive tourism sector recovery and growth that is safe, equitable and one that generates economic opportunities for the most vulnerable populations.
Some of the ongoing UNDP-supported initiatives in Eswatini include;
· Connecting community tourism enterprises to the internet thus improving connectivity with the global market.
· Improving and upgrading tourism infrastructure in 5 protected areas and 5 community tourism enterprises.
· Build capacity of communities in managing and providing quality cultural tourism experiences to increase tourism expenditure and improve experiences.
“I am pleased to note that these investments in community tourism infrastructure have resulted in an increased area under effective conservation measures and protection – this is our natural and cultural heritage,” said Ms. Ssebatindira.
She advocated for the promotion of community tourism facilities such as Khelekhele Community Eco-lodge, which she visited ahead of the commemoration, for the benefit of communities.
Addressing the same gathering, the chairperson of the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Eswatini (HOATES), Mr. Marc Ward, called upon the government to open the borders for vaccinated tourists to ensure that the industry gets back on its feet.
“Once a tourist is proven to be vaccinated, there should be no need for a PCR Certificate,” said Ward, adding: “We were the first African country with the travel safe stamp during this COVID era. Why can’t we be the first country to drop PCR certificate for vaccinated travellers?” he wondered.
His message seems to have resonated with the Hon. Vilakati. He said it was encouraging to see emaSwati respond swiftly and positively to the vaccination roll-out as the country is fast approaching the 20% mark in the number of vaccinated people.
“This, coupled with the Safe Travels Stamp that was awarded to the country for adhering to all COVID-19 safety protocol, affirms that indeed Eswatini is open for business and ready to welcome vaccinated tourists,” he said.
He said this proved true over the weekend as the country welcomed the first group of international tourists since the outbreak of the COVID-19.
“We are pleased to have hosted the 30 French tourists who immersed themselves in the wonders of our vibrant Kingdom,” he said.
Hon. Vilakati also said the government is delighted to be counted amongst the safest countries in the world and was looking forward to welcoming more international visitors in the near future.