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Durban hotels doing better than the rest


Suren Naidoo

DURBAN'S city centre hotels were outperforming new hotels in decentralised business areas including Umhlanga Ridge, Ballito and the rest of the KwaZulu-Natal.

And, despite the impact of the poor global economic situation and the oversupply of hotel rooms since the World Cup, the city's tourism sector was also doing better than Cape Town and Joburg.

That's the word from local hotelier and Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry deputy president Mike Jackson.

He was one of the tourism industry heavyweights attending the latest Standard Bank Sector Focus Business Breakfast, which was hosted in association with The Mercury. The forum, which put the spotlight on the KZN tourism industry and coincided with Tourism Month in September, was moderated by noted KZN development economist Professor Jeff McCarthy.

Jackson, who is also deputy regional chairman of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa and general manager of the biggest hotel in Durban the Southern Sun Elangeni said the industry was under pressure in general. However, Durban was doing better than other areas because of increased conferencing business.

Phillip Sithole

I agree with Prof McCarthy's opening sentiments that the South African hotel industry is in a tough spot at the moment with lower occupancies. We are dealing with a double whammy of increased hotel stock after the World Cup and the global economic situation But, in this context, Durban is doing relatively well. We are having a very good conferencing business year and have seen no major hotels closing their doors, he said.

Besides hosting lots of smaller conferences and business events, we hosted the International Olympic Committee Session in July. There's the huge UN COP17 climate change meeting set to take place in the city in November and early December, which some people estimate could see R1 billion direct and indirect economic spinoffs.

We are also continuing to win big conference bids, thanks to the Durban-KZN Conventions Bureau. The head of the bureau, James Seymour, is really doing some great work.

We have to get behind the bureau, because it will bring more business to KZN, added Jackson.

He said while Durban was leveraging off its position as the top domestic tourism destination in the country and the conferencing market, things were not all rosy.

The question is: are we doing enough? Are we doing enough in the regeneration of our city in areas such as the Point? The investment in the upgrade of beachfront was great, but we have to improve our overall package as a destination. We have to get local events back. With more local tourism, international tourism will come, he said.

Dumi Mbatha

Saantha Naidu, chief executive officer of Coastlands Hotels and Resorts, said while occupancy rates at his Durban city property had dropped, it was still around 70 percent.

Yes, conferencing business is supporting our other properties in the current market. But, more needs to be done in attracting tourists from Africa to Durban and KZN, he said.

Coastlands executive director, Roshini Naidu, said domestic tourism and conferencing has kept Durban going, but the city also needed to be put on the map internationally.

SA Tourism has always put more emphasis on promoting Cape Town and Joburg internationally, but Durban and KZN have been left behind. This needs to change, but thankfully we're also doing it on our own through organisations such as the conventions bureau, she said.

Eugene Boniface, marketing manager of Durban-based Three Cities Group, said the conference business was a tough market with increasing competition. He said KZN needed to continue to focus on building on its strong position in domestic tourism, while working on its international tourism appeal.

We have peaks, such as July, which is always a hummer for Durban. But, on the events side, we have too many events during this part of the year. We need to look at spreading them out for good business all the year round and focus on the major drawcards such as the Mr Price Pro, which Durban lost to Ballito, he said.

James Seymour

Trenley Tillbrook, chief executive officer of the iLembe Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, joked that he was happy to have the Mr Price Pro stay in Ballito. He said officials had secured the event for another three years.

Events such as the Mr Price Pro and upcoming World Amateur Golf Championships are important for us too Leisure hotel bookings are down, but conferencing is up in Ballito and events also boost tourism to the North Coast, he said.

On the eventing front in Durban, Jackson said he and members of the Durban Chamber's tourism committee were not happy.

While we've done well, we are not taking advantage of our new beachfront from a local events perspective. We've lost major events and sponsors don't want to do events here because of how difficult it is to deal with the city, he said.

During July, tourism committee members took pictures of events on the Durban beachfront and Ballito area Ballito was busier with the Mr Price Pro and Durban did not have major local events for local tourists to be a part of.

The local eventing strategy in Durban needs to be looked at. The problem is that approval of events has been centralised with the Strategic Projects Unit and the city manager's office. Durban Tourism is doing a good job, but they need to be given some of the eventing power back, said Jackson.

Rung Button

Boniface said while having the events coordination in the city under one unit made sense, it did not work out practically.

The unit has too much to do and it seems not to have enough capacity, he said.

Dumi Mbatha of Durban Tourism said events in the city were now handled by the Strategic Projects Unit and the industry needed to engage with the unit on the issue of events. However, she said it was still Durban Tourism's mandate to promote Durban as a tourist and events destination in the city.

In terms of promoting Durban, we are doing several things For our winter campaign, we had a launch with the trade in Joburg. Southern Sun was a part of that and we are going to Joburg again for our summer holiday launch.

We also had a promotion presence at the Soweto Festival and the Macufe Festival in Bloemfontein. However, the industry also needs to play its part in promoting Durban, she said.

Jackson said Durban Tourism had 'come alive this year in promoting the city', but the cause for concern was how events were being handled, especially on the beachfront.

DURBAN:140911Saantha Naidu speaks at the Standard bank breakfast meeting held at the suncoast hotel.

Local events build excitement for tourists and if nothing is happening they will ultimately go somewhere else where the action is. We need to sort this issue out to build on the momentum we got from the World Cup, he said.

McCarthy said that from the debate, it was clear there was an event management issue that could effect domestic and leisure tourism in the city. He said despite Durban performing better, the sector was at a low point due to economic conditions. It needed to look at repositioning itself for the next boom.

Tillbrook said the private sector needed to play its role in promoting tourism. He said there needed to be a more cohesive strategy with the tourism industry working together in this effort.

Meanwhile, Naleli Wasa, chief operating officer Tourism KZN, said the province was finalising its Tourism Masterplan. She said one of the key elements of the plan was to promote Durban as the gateway to KwaZulu-Natal.

We are working to lift it up from a image and destination point of view Durban is the gateway to the province and internationally it's what will ultimately make or break KZN as a destination. So, we need to address our weaknesses, whether it's in our products, infrastructure or quality of our experiences and environment, she said.

Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the Durban city centre goes to sleep after 6pm. Things like this need to be addressed if we want to become a serious international destination, added Wasa.

McCarthy said Wasa made an interesting point, but there seemed to be a will to change things in Durban.

James Seymour agreed. He said there was a vibrancy back at the Durban beachfront since the upgrade of the promenade.

There are lots of things to be excited about and we must not lose sight of this, he said.

Source: Mercury

Durban hotels doing better than the rest

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