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Thursday May 20, 2010

KwaZulu-Natal hotels declare cup crisis

A "disaster". This is the view of hoteliers in KwaZulu-Natal faced with average occupancy rates of only 40 percent during the month-long spectacle devoted to the beautiful game.

The June-July holiday is traditionally the second-busiest tourist season for KwaZulu-Natal hotels and B&Bs, with occupancy rates of up to 70 percent.

And while hoteliers and guest houses in the province were hoping for a boom season during the World Cup, their hopes of coining it have been dashed with a mere three weeks to go to the start of the tournament.

Instead of bumper profits, they face the prospect of a disastrous midyear season, with occupancies far lower than normal.

The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry's tourism committee called an emergency meeting on the issue this week.

It has urged Durban Tourism and Tourism KwaZulu-Natal to act decisively by launching a campaign to inform locals and tourists that many rooms are available in the city.

The lower demand for World Cup accommodation in Durban has seen Fifa hospitality affiliate Match release thousands of unsold rooms.

Adding to the industry's woes is the displacement of leisure and corporate travel to Durban in June and July.

Leading hoteliers from across KZN complained of drastically low occupancy rates, with accommodation bookings for the soccer spectacle at just over the 40 percent mark.

They blamed Match, Fifa and the World Cup local organising committee for the situation.

"It is a desperate situation and the mood of hotel industry leaders at the meeting was of concern," said Mike Jackson, head of the tourism committee and general manager of the Southern Sun Elangeni.

"All of them said that hotel occupancies for the World Cup period were drastically below expectations. Match has released even more rooms, which we have to sell, with just three weeks to go.

"The smaller establishments have been even more badly affected... some have got all their rooms back from Match and others have no World Cup bookings."

Jackson said the period was Southern Sun's busiest in Durban.

"Businessmen will not travel during this period in 2010 and most of the events have been moved," he said.

"We normally have 65 percent occupancies from business and leisure travellers."

Match had returned 65 percent of Southern Sun's contracted rooms.

"It is so serious that we are sitting with bookings of less than 5 percent for the first week of June. Only on the big match days will major hotels be fully booked."

Gerhard Patzer, regional chairman of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa, said the situation was a "disaster".

"Most Durban hotels and accommodation establishments are facing this predicament of potentially lower occupancy rates... than normal.

"More than 60 percent of rooms contracted by Match in Durban have been given back.

"Most hotels were given back rooms as late as April and face the prospect of selling these rooms just weeks before the tournament."

Ernest Robbertse, of Tembe Elephant Park, said KZN found itself in this predicament because it had been marginalised by the government and World Cup organisers, with most of the matches being played in Joburg.

"KZN is home to 22 percent of the national population - we deserve 22 percent of anything that government does," Robbertse said.

"If that had been the case, we should have got 14 matches - more teams with more training bases would have brought more people - but we got 12 percent. This World Cup was sold to us on the economic spin-offs."

That most of the matches were to be played in Gauteng had affected World Cup tourists, sponsors and journalists' decisions on where they would be based, Robbertse said.

The Mercury


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