Tourism is one of the main economic drivers in the province. The Eastern Cape is quickly becoming a major eco-tourism destination for both domestic and foreign tourists. Many of the Eastern Cape's parks and reserves are being expanded with the added tourism potential of seeing "the Big 7" - which include the "Big 5" linked to whale-watching and Great White Shark diving.
The attraction of the province as a tourism destination lies in the fact that it contains all seven of the countries biomes including the Drakensberg Mountains, unspoilt beaches, semi-desert terrain, indigenous forests and grass plains.
In addition to this the province has a rich and diverse history and culture. It is host to the largest cultural festival in South Africa, the Grahamstown Festival, it boasts the birthplace of Nelson Mandela (and his museum) in Qunu, it hosts world surfing championships in Jeffery's Bay, has the only ski resort in South Africa at Rhodes and has significant cultural, historical and political heritage. The entire province is also malaria-free.
Nine major tourist routes sweep through the province and recent tourism developments have seen growing interest in the province's rich political heritage. Tourism and its associated development is already providing significant investment and business opportunities for domestic and foreign operations.
Investment and business opportunities include:
- Extension of reserves - the provincial government together with the Eastern Cape Parks Board are looking at increasing the reserve areas and facilitating private sector investment in attractions and facilities at five of the provinces major reserves - Addo, Fish River, Baviaans, Karoo and Pondoland.
- Madiba Bay Leisure Park - provincial government and the local municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay have approved a 6 000 hectare lifestyle and leisure development in the Port Elizabeth area. Significant investment and business opportunities are available.
- East London beachfront development - through the Buffalo City Development Agency large-scale development is being proposed for the East London beachfront. This is in line with spatial development plans and includes investment in, and operation of, various leisure and tourism related developments. A beachfront International Convention Centre will be opened in early 2010.
- Gariep Dam development - Gariep Dam is a large freshwater body in the north of the province. Proposed tourism developments in this area include tourism and leisure resorts, holiday homes, hotel developments, golf course developments, nature conversation, game farming and watersports.
- Wild Coast (new resorts) - provincial, district and local government, through their spatial development frameworks and integrated development planning, have zoned areas for the development of new resorts and promotion of investment into these areas. Significant opportunities exist for investors who are interested in investing in both green and brownfields tourism infrastructure and operations in these areas.
- Wild Coast (Port St Johns) - Port St Johns is one of the most well-known coastal towns in the province. The Port St Johns Municipality have embarked on an ambitious spatial development framework to develop its commercial offerings, retail centres, waterfront, marina, tourist accommodation, arts and crafts sector and local airport. The municipality is actively seeking investors and partners to help it realise its developmental goals.
- Wild Coast (upgrading reserves) - the Eastern Cape Parks Board are in the process of upgrading their facilities in the various reserves on the Wild Coast. As a result they are keen to explore prospects and opportunities to partner with the private sector and local communities to promote public private partnerships in making these operations viable and profitable.
- Wild Coast (community tourism) - opportunities exist for investment in the promotion of trails, campsites and tourism offerings on the Wild Coast in conjunction with community tourism initiatives.
- Maluti/Drakensberg - the proposed establishment of a trans-frontier park between the Maluti and Drakensberg mountains provides an opportunity for the development of resorts, infrastructure, community and adventure tourism in the Maluti area of the province.