Tourism: dash to the coast begins as businesses close for Christmas

2008-12-16 00:00

The dash to the coast officially began when businesses closed for the Christmas break this week.

James Seymour, general manager, tourism information services at Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN), said the province will be as good as fully booked for Christmas and the tourism industry could bring in as much as R2 billion, despite fears that the country’s economic woes would see people stay at home this year.

He said it appears that most budgeted carefully for their holidays. Many also tightened their belts and, as a result, stays are shorter, overseas holidays have been swopped for local ones and tourists have opted for less luxurious accommodation.

Tourists are looking for value for money and many have taken advantage of special offers.

Seymour explained that, because a holiday is a high-risk purchase — you only know you have chosen well when you reach your destination — “reassuring factors” play a major role in choice of destination.

A good example is the presence of Blue Flag beaches. Michael Bertram, chief executive of South Coast Tourism, said the local municipalities’ substantial investments in growing domestic tourism has borne fruit and the Hibiscus Coast has benefited from maintaining its Blue Flag beaches.

The Hibiscus Coast boasts four Blue Flag beaches and four with pilot Blue Flags. Durban lost the Blue Flag status on its key beaches earlier this year.

Seymour said that while some regions could take a small knock, others will probably do better than last year. The north coast, for example, lost tourism revenue due to massive flood damage last year.

This year, occupancies should be close to 100%, up from last year’s 60%, according to both Seymour and Cheryl Peters, tourism officer for the Ilembe district.

Figures from the Drakensberg suggest a mild downturn, but are good at 70% during the slower run-up to Christmas and about 90% from now onwards.

Seymour said that after a slow start, bookings have also picked up in Durban, with major hotel groups reporting that “things are looking good”.

Bertram said that for the Hibiscus Coast, the season is exceeding expectations. “Things have been cooking on the beaches. People say, ‘This has been a tough year, but we will still have a lekker holiday’.”

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