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Tourism leaders in Durban have welcomed news that the city has featured highly in the latest MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index.
The survey by the influential global credit card payments and technology giant – released last week – predicted that Durban would be the fastest-growing tourism city in Africa this year and one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world.
Tourism expert and chief executive of the Durban KZN Conventions Bureau, James Seymour, said MasterCard’s index had a strong basis, considering Emirates’ expansion out of King Shaka International Airport and plans by SA Express to introduce flights between Durban and several African cities.
“We attract just under a million foreign tourists a year and 50 percent of that is from Africa, so there is big growth potential. Emirates’ decision and plans by SA Express to establish Durban as their regional hub will have influenced the MasterCard study,” he said.
MasterCard forecast that Durban’s tourism market would grow fastest in terms of visitor numbers and expenditure on the continent.
It also predicted that Durban would be the second fastest-growing tourism city of the 132 cities surveyed worldwide as part of the study.
It projected a 33.3 percent growth in the number of international visitors and 41.3 percent growth in visitor expenditure this year. However, it said this tourism growth was off a low base.
The MasterCard study comes in the wake of Durban being named by CNN as one of the 10 most underrated cities in the world.
Durban Chamber chief executive Andrew Layman said Durban was clearly an “underrated city on the move”. He said the MasterCard survey was excellent news.
Durban Tourism chief executive Philip Sithole agreed. He said the study represented a major vote of confidence in Durban’s future tourism growth.
However, he acknowledged that there were still challenges after criticism last week that the city and KwaZulu-Natal were not being marketed well enough as tourism destinations.
He said things were changing and Durban Tourism’s main marketing initiative was an international television marketing deal with National Geographic.
Durban Tourism had also signed a Three Cities Partnership agreement with Cape Town and Joburg to jointly market the cities locally and globally.
The MasterCard study showed that despite a downbeat global economy, as a result of the economic woes in Europe, tourism to cities in emerging market economies such as SA would grow faster.
Durban, Joburg and Cape Town were among 13 African countries included in the index.
The global index, which encompasses 132 of the world’s most important cities, was compiled largely using advance flight schedules from 87 airlines to estimate actual passenger departures and forecast departures for the year.
It also used information from national tourism boards, the UN and other global agencies.
“This is the second instalment of the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, which is used as a barometer for understanding the global economy and the dynamic flow of commerce across the world,” said Dries Zietsman, country manager of MasterCard Worldwide in SA.
MasterCard identified the Emirates’ expansion of its Durban route by 30 percent and the competitiveness of Durban as a conventions city as two key areas that support its predictions for growth.
“Durban’s International Convention Centre provides the largest flat floor, column-free exhibition and conferencing space in Africa,” said Zietsman.
“It attracts many international exhibitors to the city while playing host to some of the largest and most complex conferences and business events in the world over the past 15 years.”
Seymour also welcomed MasterCard’s mention of Durban’s performance in the conference tourism market internationally.
“Clearly our successful hosting of the UN COP17 climate change conference and the International Olympic Committee congress last year contributed to increasing awareness of Durban,” he said.
“This will boost our profile and future business tourism prospects.”
Speaking at a Durban Chamber of Commerce event last week, Ahmed Bassa, the aeronautical executive at Dube TradePort, criticised tourism authorities for not marketing Durban and KZN aggressively enough internationally.
“MasterCard clearly sees that Durban has potential as a tourism destination otherwise they would have not cited Durban in their study,” he said.
“Durban and KZN needs to be better marketed internationally both by tourism authorities and the tourism local tourism industry. People from around the world still don’t know Durban as well as they know Cape Town and Joburg.”