While still in its infancy, the travel and tourism industry in the Karoo is increasing at a phenomenal rate, spurred on by the restoration and renovation of homes by new property owners who have invested in the broad array of classic Karoo towns, says Wayne Rubidge, area manager for Pam Golding Properties, based in Graaff-Reinet.
An example is in the beautiful town of Richmond in the Northern Cape where a Canadian, Peter Baker, living in Gauteng where he has a veterinary practice, purchased three properties which have been restored and now house a Karoo gallery, information centre, a restaurant called The Supper Club and a craft centre.
"In recent years the peaceful and scenic Karoo has experienced a rapidly growing demand for residential property as city dwellers seek a better and more tranquil way of life away from urban congestion, crime and stress. This has led to an influx of people, many of whom bring friends to the Karoo to visit or even rent their homes. This trend can bring some 300 extra people into a small town, spending two or more nights there.
"As a result, the Karoo is becoming an increasingly popular tourism destination, with towns capitalising on this, with many having established festivals that draw large numbers of people, for example the Biltong Festival in Somerset East, Olive Festival in Prince Albert, Sheep Festival in Colesberg and the Apollo Film Festival in Victoria West," he says.
PGP Karoo is at the forefront of promoting the tourism, leisure and lifestyle virtues and attributes of the region through its involvement in all platteland towns and next month (June 2008) will be opening a Karoo Information and Travel service from its regional office in Graaff-Reinet. Says Rubidge: "Through this service we will be able to assist the public via our network of agents located throughout the region, by helping travellers and visitors discover and experience the Karoo. This includes initiatives such as the new 'Getaway Guide to the Karoo, Namaqualand and Kalahari' launched by our agents in Loxton, photo journalists Steve and Brent Naude-Mosely and available on www.kalahari.net.
"This increase in tourism and travel in the Karoo provides an opportunity for those relocating here or those who wish to become involved in the hospitality business. At times during the year many of the towns are booked out due to increasing awareness of the Karoo experience. Adding to the tourism appeal are events such as The Harley Davidson, various rallies - including car rallies - that take place in Graaff-Reinet, Colesberg and Aliwal North, events for aviation enthusiasts, astronomy gatherings and extreme sports events such as those held on the Orange River. There is also an increase in weddings taking place for couples from the cities, more and more film crews are evident as are conferences, corporate workshops and other special events. Some towns such as Graaff-Reinet now have specific venues to cater for such large groups.
The burgeoning tourism industry has naturally increased the demand for accommodation establishments and as a result PGP Karoo is marketing, on exclusive mandate, selected guesthouses, hotels and lodges in some of the region's most appealing towns. "Having been the initial pioneers of tourism in the Karoo many sellers feel the time is right to put their establishments on the market due to the increased demand for such accommodation. Prices range mainly from R600 000 to R4 million, and then up to R20 million for a top Karoo hotel, depending on the location, number of rooms and various other factors relevant to the tourism and hospitality industry. Game lodges and farm homesteads are also available and demand is set to increase this winter with the onset of star gazing, game hunting and snow escapes," says Rubidge.
Most visitors and travellers to the average Karoo town are South Africans, with an increase in tourists from abroad. Annually Graaff-Reinet has approximately 130 000 bed nights, of which almost 70 percent is taken up by foreigners, while some 16 000 visitors journey to Nieu Bethesda to see this tiny hamlet and its famous Owl House. While the latter was formerly a day trip for visitors now 50 percent stay overnight in order to better experience the nostalgic way of life in the Karoo. Here PGP is currently marketing a beautiful five bedroom home run as a guesthouse, situated near the Owl House, and priced at R1.035 million.
Among other fine establishments marketed by PGP in the region is The Willow Historic Guest House, a double-storey Victorian building with old world charm, Victorian furniture, comfortable accommodation and an a la carte restaurant with fine food. There are 10 en suite rooms tastefully furnished with period furniture and the selling price is R3.9 million. In Middelburg, The Karoo Country Inn is a magnificent, superbly managed hotel in a great location on a popular Karoo route to everywhere. Priced at R22 million, the inn has 23 rooms, conference facilities, family restaurant and is fully furnished and recently refurbished. A gem of a building with excellent occupancy, it is also fully licensed. In De Aar, a popular 18 room modern guest lodge with heated pool, conference facilities, covered parking and fully furnished is marketed at R2.7 million. With an extensive client base this is ideal for an investor to walk in and take over.
Rubidge says at the lower end or entry level there are a number of opportunities for sound investment including a Britstown traditional Karoo building run as a guest house on the market for R545 000. This property has six bedrooms, wooden floors and ceilings, large well-established trees, outbuildings and a dam in front. In Springfontein the oldest hostel in the southern Free State is marketed at R495 000, while in the beautiful town of Somerset East a gracious double storey Victorian home is on the market at R1.75 million, which includes a cottage with yellowwood floors and other classic Karoo features.
Adds Rubidge: "Traditional Karoo guest houses and farmsteads are well priced and ideal for investors who wish to make lifestyle changes. These historical buildings provide unique accommodation to cater for both business people and travellers wanting to experience the vast array of sights and sounds of the Karoo. The more sophisticated towns provide first class accommodation to the many high end and foreign travellers criss-crossing the platteland between its many undiscovered attractions."