Durban’s goal to attract more business tourists is being boosted by ongoing investment in the city. Liesl Venter spoke to James Seymour, head of the Durban KwaZulu-Natal Convention Bureau, a special division of Tourism KZN that focuses on business events, about the newest developments.
Durban has been described as South Africa’s Miami – a city that boasts a heady mix of attractions, a wide variety of facilities and venues and some of the greatest weather to boot.
Capturing a bigger slice of the global meetings industry has been on the agenda for some time and efforts have been bearing fruit as the province has proved its ability to handle not only high-profile events but very large ones as well.
“The level of development in Durban is very exciting,” says Seymour, stressing that this is a sign of even greater things to come. “We are very optimistic about where the city is heading and the increased investment in the hospitality sector is going to deliver on the demand that we are expecting.”
The uShaka Marine World development at the Durban Point was a major catalyst in the area and has resulted in ongoing investment from corporates and the municipality alike, says Seymour.
“Several corporates have established head offices in the Point already and a number of bars, restaurants, art galleries and shops have opened up. It has become a hub of activity and is a focus of major investment for the city.”
In 2016, the eThekwini executive announced an infrastructure rollout at the Durban Point of more than R6bn – a development that will see the waterfront change completely. Several skyscrapers are on the cards, the public transport network and road infrastructure are being upgraded and the promenade will be extended.
Plans for the Point include a Cape Town-style waterfront at the entrance to Africa's busiest port, new hotels, a skyscraper or two, residential luxury apartments, office parks and shopping malls. “This development will change the profile of the Durban beachfront completely,” says Seymour.
Talk of a luxury five- or six-star hotel is also rife.
“The brand has not yet been annouced but it is believed that it is only a matter of time and that the development of a high-end luxury hotel is definite as a deal has been signed.”
The Renong Malaysia investment group has also signed agreements to build a major five-star hotel at the Point, with development plans ongoing, he adds.
The Point will also see the development of a luxury cruise liner terminal at the Durban Port and a luxury yacht basin. “It will boost business tourism significantly as cruise liners are growing in popularity with corporates and offer a good alternative as a venue or incentive.”
According to Seymour, there are also plans for a bigger cruise vessel to service Durban than the current MSC Sinfonia. “I think this just indicates how serious companies are about Durban and that they can see the opportunity and ongoing development.”
Durban’s grande dame, the Royal Hotel, is also set to return to its former glory after being bought by the Coastlands Hotel group. Refurbishments have been ongoing for some time.
“The Durban Hilton is also undergoing an extensive refurbishment at present.”
The hotel, adjacent to the Durban International Convention Centre, has become renowned for attracting business delegates from around the world.
The refurbishment has included an overhaul of the lobby and the Big Easy restaurant, the conversion of a bar into a business lounge and the upgrading of rooms and suites across the hotel to incorporate a new look and feel. In 2018, the ballroom and all the meeting and business facilities will be upgraded.
At the beachfront, Tsogo Sun has recently completed the upgrade of the South Beach Garden Court and the Garden Court Marine Parade. “Also, the joining of the Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani into one complex has been very well received and offers a range of business facilities.” Seymour adds that plans are also in the pipeline for a new hotel at the Sun Coast Casino that will see a major auditorium go up that will further increase venue capacity and offerings in Durban.
It is not just in the city itself that investment is ongoing, says Seymour. In Umhlanga, there have been some big developments, including the much-anticipated Radisson Blu Hotel, which is currently under construction.
“The Regent Group is also building a new hotel and then, of course, Tongaat Hulett is very serious about the development of a convention hotel. Negotiations and talks concerning it are believed to be ongoing.”
At the Fairmont Zimbali Resort, there is also an ongoing upgrading of facilities as the venue continues to be an attractive conference venue.
Connectivity is key
The number of international flights into King Shaka International Airport has been steadily increasing and is slowly returning to where it was several years ago.
“This is an important element for business tourism and for growing events, conferences and incentives,” says Seymour. “Negotiations are under way for a direct flight to London as well as one to Germany. These talks are at an advanced stage and will boost the city’s connectivity significantly.”
Recently Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Air Seychelles introduced new direct flights to King Shaka and Air Namibia is servicing Durban via Gaborone. The city also sees regular flights via SA Express to Zambia and Zimbabwe and there is a double-daily flight to Maputo.
“We don’t doubt for a second that the connectivity is adding to the allure of the city and believe that it is boosting our business tourism extensively.”