Thonga Beach Lodge and the Mabibi Campsite have become benchmarks for the development of private sector/community partnerships in eco-tourism. the lodge is also the first tourist lodge in the iSimangaliso (St Lucia) Wetlands Reserve World Heritage Site.
Thonga Beach Lodge is a 24-bed luxury lodge tucked into the dune forest right on the beach at Mabibi, just north of Sodwana and it joins other projects in the SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership as a significant empowerment exercise that combines conservation ethics with major equity for a local community.
The lodge is also the first tourist lodge in the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Reserve World Heritage Site and is adjacent to the more rustic but very popular Mabibi Campsite.
The local community, through the Mabibi Community Trust, owns a 68% share in the R6.5 million Thonga Beach Lodge and a 51% share in the campsite. This equity was funded through a R945,000 grant from the SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership and loan funding from Ithala Bank.
During the construction of the lodge, all labour was sourced from the Mabibi community and, wherever possible, building materials were procured through local small, medium and micro enterprises. This brought revenue of approximately
R1.5 million into the community over the eight-month construction period.
Thonga Beach Lodge commenced operations in August 2004 and 30 permanent jobs were created at that time. Within a short twelve months of opening, the lodge and the SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership made history when the business declared a dividend to the investment partners – when a net profit of R52,000 accrued to the Mabibi Community Trust.
The Trust supports and facilitates other development projects on behalf of the local community. These include the Mabibi Campsite concession, which was secured from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority. A management partnership has since been established with Isibindi Africa, the Lodge operator, in order to operate the campsite
The SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership is underwriting this venture with an additional grant, which will cover 51% of the projected upgrade costs. Isibindi Africa will invest the balance of the financing required to complete the new camp. It is anticipated that the Mabibi Campsite will create 10 - 15 permanent jobs and will account for an annual net income to the Trust of between R40,000 and R100,000.
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Special thanks for images
Rod MacLeod: Wildside Magazine
Isibindi Africa Lodges
Eco-tourism = Community + Environment