Durban’s got it going

2014-06-16 00:00

DURBAN is the only city to be ranked among “the world’s most underrated cities” on two major lists and new figures show it has already won over local travellers.

This month, tourism experts credited the new status to Durban’s increased vibrancy and safety — “though only during daylight hours” — and also its failure to tell the story of the city’s revival overseas.

The top 10 lists by “TheMost” ranking site and CNN come as Charles Preece, operations manager for Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa, told The Witness of a “very disappointing” first half of 2014 for hotel occupancies.

“We have everything, but the problem is that Durban sells Durban, whereas Cape Town sells the Cape,” said Preece. “Also, visitors know they can walk around at night in Cape Town.”

However, Tourism KZN’s new data system reveals “a very positive picture” for the winter — with forward bookings up 34% from Australia and 52% from Germany.

But South Africans have already cottoned to the area’s benefits, with KZN’s share of the domestic tourism market having boomed from 24% in 2011 to over 30% last year.

Having already been compared to Adelaide and Brussels by TheMost, Durban was ranked with Lisbon and Darwin in CNN’s list of “legitimately interesting cities … [which] are livable, creative hubs championed by locals, worth more than a quick stop before you head elsewhere”.

By contrast, Dublin and Athens were the cities ranked on separate lists as “the world’s most overrated”.

The city’s glamour was on show last weekend with the MTV African Music Awards at Durban’s ICC. But its vibrancy was displayed a day earlier, when over 300 aspirant music industry professionals packed out a Playhouse workshop venue — dressed in edgy fashions at 9 am — to hear tips from global hip-hop stars. Young jazz singer Simthandile Mtolo told The Witness: “Durban is where its at, just look at the calibre of musicians who have gathered here to share advice”.

Tourism KZN research manager Karen Kohler said Durban’s annual international visitor numbers remained under one million, despite “an amazing set of attractions”.

“People revisit Durban beachfront and their eyeballs fall out: you can swim; you can run; you can rollerblade. Last week, I went for a five kay park-run behind Suncoast Casino and over 600 people joined in.”

Meanwhile Durban’s tourism boss, Philip Sithole — after briefing the workshop on the CNN compliment — said he blamed SA Tourism for “blatantly favouring” Cape Town for the disconnect between the city’s attractions and its foreign visitor numbers.

“The biggest infrastructure developments have happened here over the past five years, and now CNN has confirmed that Durban has literally everything in place to become a top international destination, so national tourism authorities cannot ignore Durban any longer,” said Sithole.

However, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, former head of Cape Town Tourism, said it was up to Durban to promote itself: “National campaigns tend to be generic in promoting South Africa overall, so each destination needs to design its own campaigns — while also giving a voice to locals — to share their unique stories. Other cities would kill to offer the assets Durban has, the game parks; the warm ocean; the wonderful food; the harbour; and especially the rich cultural diversity, yet the message has just not been getting through.”

Tour operator Gisela Wimberger said it was not Table Mountain that allowed Cape Town to trump Durban for visitors, but rather the enclosed “safe space” offered by the V&A Waterfront.

“Durban has done a great job of making the Marine Parade safe during daylight hours — now it needs to retake the night. My tourists are told by staff at their beachfront hotels that they should not walk around at night, and that message spreads fast overseas.

“You just have to do something about the slum buildings behind the beachfront hotels. But I am based in Cape Town, and would I like to be in Durban right now? Absolutely.”

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