Northern Cape tourism BOOM: What's behind Upington Airport's 235% holiday surge

2017-02-03 07:01 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - Over the past summer holidays, the whole of South Africa saw a bumper season where overall tourist stats in the country point to a 3.78% increase recorded if compared to the same time last year.

While most tourists attractions saw a steady growth curve, one wildcard destination rocked the Department of Home Affairs' charts during the announcement of the number of travellers who moved through SA's ports between the period of 9 December 2016 and 14 January 2017.

It's not Cape Town, no. Neither is it Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport of the holiday hub port of entry on the Garden Route, George Airport. 

Of all the airports and land-based ports of entry surveyed, Upington International Airport shot out with a 235% increase in arrivals for the 2016/2017 holiday period. 

To give a bit of perspective, the airport which saw the second biggest increase in activity was Pilanesberg International Airport, with an increase of 68% over the holidays. 

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That's still understandable - travellers headed up to Sun City and surrounds for the holidays and hence, the increase at Pilanesberg. But what went on in Upington over the past December season? 

According to Tebogo Velembo, marketing and communications manager for the ‎Northern Cape Tourism Authority, the 235% increase in arrivals at the airport can be ascribed to a few interesting factors. 

Apart from regular tourists and locals visiting family members in the area, "there was also a significant number of Germans flying to Upington" to do tests and preparations for the upcoming Bloodhound world-record attempt. 

The Northern Cape, you see, dry and desolate as it may seem, has been selected as the perfect place on Earth to host the Bloodhound supersonic car in October this year. 

SEE: Extreme Northern Cape  

At the moment, engineers and mechanics are doing testing and preparing Hakskeenpan ahead of the attempt to break the current world land speed record. 

After that, the car will go back to Britain for improvement and fine-tuning, returning to the Kalahari in October 2018, when they will attempt to break the 1 000 miles per hour mark, a speed that is faster than a bullet from a gun. 

Apart from the international visitors drawn to the Northern Cape by the Bloodhound, the National Parks in the Northern Cape could also confirm the surge at the airport as it welcomed more than 20 000 international tourists, tourists from other provinces and local tourists during the recent festive season. 

"The international tourists and tourists from other provinces were mostly overnight guests while the local visitors made use of the day visitor facilities in the respective parks," Nadia Lemmetuis, Communication Manager for the Arid Parks told Traveller24. 

SEE: Meandering the Orange: 3 Once-in-a-lifetime Northern Cape experiences

And, she says, the uprise in tourism might continue for some time still. "Due to the recent rains and the subsequent green landscapes, we anticipate that Augrabies Falls and Mokala will continue to see an influx of tourists between late January and March."

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Mokala National Park, Augrabies Falls National Park and Namaqua National Park all recorded more visitors than the same period last year, despite the scarcity of water and deteriorated field conditions. 

SEE: Exploring the national parks of the Northern Cape

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park even reported an occupancy rate of between 90% and 100% at any given time, Lemmetuis says.

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