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Is KwaZulu-Natal in Decline or Booming?

KZN offers a strong curry mix of funsunzi, mountains, bush, battlefield & city buzz - If you're a beach-bum you'll be in heaven, and if you're a hillbilly head for the Kamberg. With its balmy climate, golden beaches & warm surf; there's 600km of beachland opportunity. Travellers can choose from cultural Zulu experiences at iSithumba Village to wildlife viewing at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (St Lucia, South Africa's first world heritage site). Dukuduku and Kosi Bay are amongst the province's protected coastal forests.

In this special report on KwaZulu-Natal tourism, we show how tourist numbers to the province have fallen over the period from 2010 to 2015: driven by a reduction in the number of road trips South Africans are making to the province. This is surprising, given the smorgasbord of tourist opportunities the province hosts.

Number of Passengers using King Shaka Airport

Whilst overall tourist mumbers continued falling into 2015; this wasn't the case with airline passengers at Durban's King Shaka International Airport where a strong recovery has been seen in 2015 and 2016:

  • Dec 2011: 466 749

  • Dec 2012: 406 665

  • Dec 2013: 401 258

  • Dec 2014: 403 255

  • Dec 2015: 481 218

  • Dec 2016: 492 432

International Airline Passenger Boom

Whilst total airline passengers to King Shaka Airport have been volatile, not so for international flights which has witnessed a steady increase. This has been driven largely by Emirates, who operate daily flights to Durban (double daily to Cape Town & triple daily to Johannesburg). Other airlines operating international flights to KZN are Air Mauritius and SA Express to Durban from Harare. Given the increasing weakness of the Rand against international currencies, South Africa is becoming a cheap destination for international tourists.

  • Dec 2011: 19 724

  • Dec 2012: 23 423

  • Dec 2013: 30 070

  • Dec 2014: 30 517

  • Dec 2015: 31 568

  • Dec 2016: 37 639

Source: King Shaka passenger numbers to March 2017

Charter flights have decreased

It's miniscule in comparison to the total numbers, but the well heeled passengers on these flights decreased from 991 in Dec 2011 to 918 in Dec 2016.

Scheduled Domestic Flights

Scheduled domestic flights is no longer the sick man of Durban tourism. Domestic passenger numbers at DUR have now recovered to the level experienced in December 2011.

  • Dec 2011: 446 034

  • Dec 2012: 382 582

  • Dec 2013: 369 917

  • Dec 2014: 372 187

  • Dec 2015: 448 753

  • Dec 2016: 452 904

In March 2012 Velvet Sky went into liquidation and in December 2012 1time airline went into liquidation. This would explain some of the drop in passengers using Durban Airport. In October 2014 FlySafair started operations, and there was an increase in passenger numbers following this.

The airlines operating domestic flights to Durban are SAA, British Airways Comair, FlySafair, Kulula, SA Express and Mango Airlines.

To contrast with Cape Town, domestic passenger numbers at Cape Town Airport have increased from 634 111 in Dec 2011 to 758 699 in Dec 2016, an increase of 20%.

Jabula Beach at iSimangaliso - warning about swimming there
Photo credit : Joan Laine. Jabula Beach - is it the only one in the world where you can swim with hippos, crocs & sharks? Note that an additional risk is the tides and the surf.

Tourist Statistics for KZN - the big decline

The tourist stats for KZN as a whole, give credence to the theory : In 2010 there were 956 550 tourists to KZN, which decreased to 908,277 in 2011, and further decreased to 891,822 tourists in 2012, 847 146 in 2013, 768 228 in 2014 and 743 615 in 2015 (SAT).

Overland tourism is the culprit

There is an extensive network of quality roads in Kwazulu-Natal (mostly toll roads, so take enough cash), including the N2 and N3 national roads. Given almost all tourists travel to KZN via roads or flights (there is a negligible number who come by boat); the drop in tourists numbers in 2015 can be clearly attributed to fewer tourists arriving by road.

If we dig a little deeper into the numbers, we can see that the number of foreign tourists from Africa has decreased only slightly, from 393 017 in 2010 to 371 218 in 2015. The blame for declining tourist numbers in KZN can be attributed directly to the decrease in roadtrips South Africans are making to KZN.

Sources:

Ups and downs of the Cruise Industry

From a cruise perspective Durban faced face serious headwinds at the end of 2014/2015, when MSC Cruises decided to send only one ship (the MSC Sinfonia) to South Africa, as compared to the 2 during the previous season (the MSC Sinfonia & MSC Opera). This resulted in a fall of some 50,000 cruise passengers (although some of the drop was for Cape Town cruises). The Sinfonia went to the dry dock in the off season with some 200 cabins added (400 to 800 more passengers per cruise), and during 2015/2016 had this additional capacity.

This is great, as cruises from Durban are the most attractive in South Africa - there's little chance of their cruises being delayed as a result of wind, like in Cape town, and they offer the island destinations of Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar, Portuguese Island and Inhambane. And then the water's warmer - pools on ships are filled up from the sea, which is why the deck on cruises from Cape Town resembles Clifton Beach, with lots of pretty people soaking up the sun, but only the kids and the brave taking a dip. And then there's the fact that the boarding terminal at Durban harbour is far more attractive than its counterpart in Cape Town.

In the 2018/2019 season MSC is sending the MSC Musica to South Africa, which is even bigger than the Sinfonia.

MSC Sinfonia leaves Durban City

Industry Feedback

I asked several popular members of the South African travel trade and Durbanites, whether they thought that Durban was in decline:

  • Wesley Walford, who runs The Holiday Spot, says that "Having lived and grown up in Durban I have seen the area change a lot. There have been drastic changes in Durban itself two main changes that have been implemented in more recent years is uShaka Marine World and the Durban promenade. Both of these are great for tourists and locals as well. The city of Durban is attempting to increase tourism in the area as well as safety. This is a really positive outlook for Durban. Saying this, Durban only realises its full potential a few weeks a year during the holiday period when Gauteng workaholics (myself included) flood down to Durban over the festive period and long weekends. Getting to Durban is a problem though, flights are expensive and the times airlines fly definitely are not as convenient or as frequent as before. I am not sure of the reason for this, it could be the lack of demand due to ticket prices or due to the lack of funds in a struggling economy. When you consider the cost to fly a family of 4 down to Durban versus driving a family of 4 down, driving will definitely win. Having personally driven Gauteng to Durban in both the Christmas migration and the Eastern weekend I would have to come to the conclusion Durban/KZN is not in decline. When you consider the rest of the year, then yes it could very well be in decline. Expensive fuel and tolls or expensive flights will stop families taking a short weekend trip to Durban. So I think Durban as a whole (surrounding areas included such as Umhlanga and Ballito) it is not in decline. Durban just needs to redefine and work out tourism policies and developments based on fluctuating holiday periods or there needs to be an an alternative solution to travel to Durban such as train. To boost tourism in the area there needs to be a reduction in costs either getting there or while in Durban, else Durban will only experience these huge fluctuating travel periods."

  • Verushka Ramasami, says that "There always seems to be lots of people at the KSIA either returning or flying out.The car park both Long term and short term is always full, the drop off zone is always jam packed. So not entirely sure about the decline.Since the airport is quite a distance several people I know prefer to drive here so that they have a car and don't need to trouble someone to pick and drop them."

  • Foodie, Ishay Govender gave this feedback : "I am part of the percentage of locals who do spend time in KZN, more notably during December/January, making a point of either discovering something new or revisiting old favourites. At the end of January, I spent an eye-opening long weekend in rural Zululand, which was a humbling experience. I will return. I'm not sure if the tourism dept in KZN has invested the same time and money in promoting the region the way the WC has. In fact, it wouldn't make sense if it has, considering that the majority of travellers to SA will end up in the Cape, or JHB en route the Kruger and surrounds. I think there must be a steady stream of locals who return 'home' to visit family and friends in Natal every year. I know the region will never be as glamourous as others. But it has untamed beauty, down-to-earth people, incredible vegetation, and tropical weather for sun seekers, so it's a package in itself. How it will be sold in future, is something we'd all like to see. Should more people visit KZN? I'm rather biased I guess, but the answer is a resounding 'yes!'. If anything, your experience of the best local food is very limited until you've had a Durban curry in Durban, specifically a mutton curry bunny chow".

We have also had some unsolicited feedback:

  • Janet Rottcher from White River, writes: "I live in White River, and the closest airport is the Kruger International Airport – my children and grandchildren live in Durban, and I would love to see them as often as possible, naturally! I visited them last weekend, and the return flight cost from Kruger to Durban was R 5,191-00! Now, ask me why numbers are battling – no-one can afford to travel this route by air from Nelspruit, it’s simply too expensive. I can fly half way around the world for that price, never mind cross provinces! Get me started on the cost from Nelspruit to Cape Town, and it’s another joke! An beautiful international airport that folk can’t afford to use – a shame!"

  • Sheila du Plooy, from George, wrote: "I could not resist the opportunity to say my piece re the above and this is an opinion shared by everyone I know in the Garden Route. Flight prices from George to Durban and back are ridiculous – over R4,000 and no opposition. We are the heart of the Garden Route and apart from regular travellers there must be so many tourists who would like to fly from Durbs to George and vice-versa and skip the Transkei. The ticket price is not much less than a trip to Thailand! Even a ticket from George to Cape Town is ridiculous (around R3,000) and it is just down the road!! What is it that they have against George?"

Climate

Kwazulu-Natal has a subtropical coastline (hot and humid) with most rain falling in the summer. The area between the coastal belt and the southern Drakensburg Escarpment is known as the Midlands. The Midlands is drier than the coastline and extremely cold in winter (snow falls on the high-lying grounds). In the northern part of the province, the subtropical patch wraps around the Kingdom of Swaziland to the beginning of the Escarpment.

Population

More than ten million people live in Kwazulu-Natal on 92 100km² of land. The mother-tongue of the majority is isiZulu (the mother-tongue of the majority of the rest is English & Afrikaans). The culture of the province reflects a fascinating blend of Zulu, Indian, Afrikaans & British colonial traditions. Reflecting its history as homeland of the Zulus, Kwazulu-Natal's constitution specifically provides for a monarchy.

Economy

Kwazulu-Natal is the second highest contributor (of the provinces) to South Africa's GDP (Gauteng is the biggest). A key strength is trade and logistics. Helped by the abundant water supply, Kwazulu-Natal is being rapidly industrialised. Industries are found in Durban, Dundee, Hammarsdale, Ladysmith, Mandeni, Pietermaritzburg, Richards Bay & Richmond. The mining of several heavy minerals takes place at Richards Bay, and the export thereof at Richards Bay harbour. The Durban port is one of the 10 biggest in the world, and the busiest in the country. However, KZN's ports are facing increasing competition from Maputo, whose port is being developed by Grindrod, and is closer to Mpumalanga and more and more goods are being exported via it.

Agriculture forms a large part of this subtropical province's economy. Although there are several universities & technicons in the province, almost 23% of adults in Kwazulu-Natal have received no schooling (the workforce is relatively poorly skilled). The tourism industry is supported by the numerous hotels & restaurants. Unemployment in the province runs at about 25%. Less than half the potential labour force is employed in the formal sector of the economy, resulting in a high level of migration to Gauteng.

Geography

Kwazulu-Natal has a subtropical coastline (stretching from Port Edward in the south to Mozambique) and the towering Drakensberg mountain range in the west. The Drakensberg runs 200km along the western boundary of Kwazulu-Natal, and seperates it from the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho (look here for accommodation in the Drakensberg).

Things to do

In ending off, let's look at some of the fun things to do in KwaZulu-Natal. These are amongst the reasons that we think that KZN rocks:

  • Battlefield Tours. KwaZulu-Natal was the site of one of the most suprising defeats of the British military, when in 1879 the Zulus, under King Cetshwayo killed 1300 British troops. The northern Kwazulu Natal battlefields are the largest concentration in the southern hemisphere.

  • Blue flag beaches (think golden sands, warm surf and shark nets to try and keep the critters away)

  • stay in the Drakensberg National Park

  • Sani Pass in the Drakensberg (check here for Drakensberg accommodation)

  • Mafadi, highest peak in South Africa

  • The sea turtles at Maputoland coast

  • Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park (South Africa's first world heritage site)

  • Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park

  • The Sardine Run

  • Comrades marathon, Sharks Rugby Team, cricket at Kingsmead. The Moses Mabhida Stadium.

  • uShaka Marine World

  • Zulu Cultural villages

  • Drakensberg Boys' Choir

  • Dukuduku coastal forest

  • Kosi Bay protected forest

  • Cruises from Durban to the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar and Portuguese Island.

Here's a photo of Zinkwazi Beach:

Zinkwazi Beach

Author :

2015 Investment Cruise

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