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Revamped homes spur Karoo tourism

13 May 2008
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.

An example is the town of Richmond in the Northern Cape where a Canadian, Peter Baker, who is 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.

"The peaceful and scenic Karoo has experienced a rapidly growing demand for residential property in recent years 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," says Wayne Rubidge, area manager for Pam Golding Properties (PGP), based in Graaff-Reinet.

"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.

"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 various 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.

"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 R600k to R4m, and then up to R20m 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% 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, 50% stay overnight in order to better experience the nostalgic way of life in the Karoo. A five bedroom home being run as a guesthouse and situated near the Owl House, is on the market at R1,035m.

Among the other establishments marketed in the region is The Willow Historic Guest House, a double-storey Victorian building with old world charm, Victorian furniture and an a la carte restaurant with fine food. There are 10 en suite rooms furnished with period furniture and the selling price is R3,9m.

Priced at R22m, the The Karoo Country Inn in Middelburg has 23 rooms, conference facilities, a family restaurant and is fully furnished and licensed and recently refurbished.

In De Aar, a 18-room modern guest lodge with heated pool, conference facilities, covered parking and fully furnished is marketed at R2,7m.

Rubidge says at the lower end or entry level there are a number of opportunities for sound investment. This includes a Britstown traditional Karoo building run as a guest house and which is on the market at R545k. 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 R495k, while in Somerset East a gracious double storey Victorian home is on the market at R1,75m, which includes a cottage with yellowwood floors and other classic Karoo features.

For more information contact Pam Golding Properties Karoo on 049 892 3495 or send an email. Click here to visit the website.

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