Midlands bursting

2012-02-08 00:00

MIDLANDS’ hospitality industry will be bursting at the seams over the next two weekends, when an estimated 37 000 athletes, their support crews and fans and family arrive for the province’s two top water events.

About 17 000 swimmers are expected for the aQuelle Midmar Mile from February 10, while 1 800 paddlers have registered for The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon on the 16th.

Ray de Vries, organiser of the canoe marathon, said each paddler brought an average of two people in their support teams.

“It is estimated that direct spend during the race is R40 million,” he said.

Alison Kelly, general manager of the Midlands Meander, added: “If each of these [17 000] swimmers brings along a support team of just two people, it is a huge financial boost.

“Our members really look forward to the bumper weekend that it brings,” she said.

Lance Dixon, general manager of the Golden Horse Casino Hotel, also expects a bumper February. “People are generally over last year’s financial crisis, numbers will be higher than last year,” he predicted.

Kelly said she had seen more interest in this weekend’s Midmar Mile than in any previous one.

“The interest in this year’s event has been the highest we have ever experienced with people willing to stay as far out as Estcourt and Mooi River.

“There are still some of our venues which can offer accommodation, but it will be in outlying areas.”

The growing demand for accommodation from event tourism has prompted the Midlands Bed and Breakfast Association to call for more establishments to join as members.

“All of our members are fully booked for the Midmar and already for the Comrades,” said deputy chairperson Michelle de Sousa. “We are desperate for new members to join us in order to cater for a demand which grows every year.”

Midmar resort manager Themba Mbuyazi told The Witness that his facilities had been fully booked by around Christmas. “We started to get bookings from about August last year and by December we were fully booked,” said Mbuyazi.

“We have had to expand our camping sites to accommodate as many people as we can.”

Chalets close to the shore proved the most popular, he said. “Lodgers don’t have to make a big trek in order to get to the water,” said Mbuyazi.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said it was important to factor in the indirect spending that the events brought to the local economy.

“It’s very much about the spend in restaurants and tours on the Meander, which pumps money into the local economy.”

It was not just about “bums in seats or beds”.

“The Midlands has established itself as an event organising Mecca. We are not near the sea, so we have to have something else which attracts people,” Veness said.

Tourism KZN reports that a significant number of people stay over for the duration of an event rather than visiting just for the day.

This is welcome news after the economic doldrums in 2009, which saw fewer swimmers able to afford an overnight stay for two years running.

The Dusi’s overnight visitors, which dropped to only seven percent in 2010 (when the Dusi also saw a spike in local paddlers) has this year shown a gratifying return to 24%.

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