Holiday makers, Andisa Mnyute (Right) and Akho Mayatula (Left) soak up the Durban sun at Cappello Restaurant on Florida Road, 3 January 2012. Photo: Lauren Rawlins

Durban - After a tough financial 2012, Durban businesses are celebrating a buoyant festive season with more people visiting the province who, they say, “spent more sensibly”.

While shopping malls, tourist attractions and hotels agreed that foot traffic and occupancy were up, retailers reported conservative spending.

Suncoast casino regional head Mike Dowsley reported double-digit growth, with more than a million feet through the door and a lot of “holiday action” still under way.

Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa chairman Gerhard Patzer said hotels along the beachfront and in the Drakensberg had done well, with 98 percent occupancy. He agreed that more people were visiting the province but staying for fewer days. However, the season had exceeded last year’s “by far”.

A representative of a local retail giant, who cannot be named because of company protocol, described the sales growth over the past month as “indifferent but steady”.

“Our butcheries performed the worst. Our liquor stores went mad.”

He said sales in shops along the coast and in higher-income areas had in some instances increased by 13 percent on last year, while in poorer areas sales at some shops were less than 10 percent ahead. “The emphasis in these stores was on basic foodstuffs,” he said.

Liberty Liquors head Chris Hensey said liquor sales, particularly in ciders, had exceeded expectations. “Brandies had a tough Christmas, whisky sales were up by 18 percent and we sold 700 250 litres of Savannas. Last year we sold 674 000 litres.“

Shawn Thompson, the chief executive of uShaka Marine World, said footfall through the theme park had increased by about 3 percent and revenue by 5 percent. “That can be attributed to better performance on merchandising, food and beverages,” he said.

Anton Dekker of The Pavilion confirmed the trend, saying 2.3 million people had visited the mall – a higher number than in previous years. But consumers had less disposable income. “Spending was more sensible,” he said.

Marco Santoniccolo, the owner of Florida Road eatery Spiga d’Ora, said while the restaurant was buzzing, growth was on a par with last year.

“It’s not even 1 percent more. I am expecting a spike during the Afcon Cup, though,” he said.

Clive Coetzee, the general manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Treasury, warned that the good economic news over the season would be short-lived because growth had dropped to 2 percent in the province after predictions at the start of 2012 that it would be 3.3 percent.

“The figures don’t look good. We had quite a drop in the second half of last year due to the labour unrest. The good festive season is welcome news, but it’s not going to make a big difference,” he said. - The Mercury