Durban wins a ‘value coup’ with 20 million viewers

2014-07-11 00:00

THE launch of a key documentary in the United States next week is to be “the first time the story of Durban has ever been told on a global scale”.

Representing the culmination of the city’s R24 million bid for a critical tourism market, National Geographic’s World’s Smart Cities: Durban programme — seen exclusively by The Witness yesterday — will also launch a new TV star: local radio station manager Phindi Gule.

The hour-long programme describes Durban as South Africa’s culture capital, and an “innovative … lifestyle city … which teaches us how to take the best in (diverse) cultures and make it all our own”. After a major launch event in Washington DC, the documentary is expected to be seen by 469 million viewers worldwide, as one of 18 “smart cities” profiled.

eThekwini Speaker Logie Naidoo will be among the dignitaries at the event, to be held at the National Geographic Society headquarters. Although each pays for the privilege, the cities have to qualify for the list and the channel matches funding for the campaign.

Meanwhile experts, including Cape Town Tourism’s former CEO Mariette du-Toit Helmbold, said Durban’s three- year marketing partnership with National Geographic represented a “value coup” for the city, after both Johannesburg and Cape Town had dropped out.

Although Cape Town and Durban partnered in a previous NatGeo documentary The World in 2 Cities, Helmbold said: “It’s a pity Cape Town did not budget for a broader partnership as Durban has done. We now know that 80% of the market is urban tourism, not safaris, and this channel has real reach, and they do very good impact research.”

This follows months of bitter rivalry between Durban and Cape Town tourism authorities.

The documentary tells a sweeping story, from ANC founder John Dube and Mahatma Gandhi to the vibrancy of the Essenwood Market and the glamour of the Durban July. Its narrators are NatGeo’s “Digital Nomad” Andrew Evans, and Gule, whom Evans insisted be a co-host after hearing her on a local radio show and “tracking her down”.

Now station manager of Vuma FM, Gule interviews a Zulu historian, surfers, ordinary residents, and local architect Andrew Makin, who declares: “Durban is fertility, you can plant a pencil in the ground here, and it will grow into a tree”.

Phillip Sithole, head of Durban Tourism, said the Smart Cities launch represented the final, and major, instalment on the three-year contract, which has included video shorts, magazine profiles, and the World in 2 Cities.

Sithole said NatGeo research showed that 20 million subscribers who watched the last documentary indicated they were “considering actually visiting Durban”.

“This is not a general mass audience. These are people with the means and the curiosity to travel here; this is our strategy,” he said. “This follows Durban being ranked by CNN as the world’s most underrated city, so the potential is excellent.”

Sithole said Durban was also the only South African city to be marketed in Europe during the Fifa World Cup with an advert entitled “I wanna go again” run on the Eurosport channel.

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