DURBAN - TOURISM along the North Coast of eThekwini has been left reeling, following the continued closure of beaches and recreational activities due to contamination after the United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) warehouse in Cornubia was burned down in July.
DA eThekwini councillor Rory Macpherson said that while the beaches remained closed the tourism industry was suffering, as visitors were unable to make use of the beaches for swimming, fishing, surfing, or relaxing.
Macpherson said it was devastating and that hotels were receiving many cancellations.
“Jobs are at stake here, a whole industry is at stake – the hospitality industry, right up to Ballito – this doesn’t just affect uMhlanga,” said Macpherson.
Last Friday, Futcher & Poppesqou Attorneys, who represent the DA in KwaZulu-Natal, emailed the chairperson of the Joint Operations Committee (JOC), the minister and director-general of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the mayor and city manager of the eThekwini Municipality, on the closure of beaches due to the UPL warehouse fire.
It was also copied to the MEC and director of legal services of the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea), the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on environment, forestry and fisheries, and the chairperson of the KZN legislature environmental and conservation committee.
One of the points was that uMhlanga was a popular tourist destination, attracting thousands of local tourists and visitors each weekend, and tens of thousands of tourists – including international tourists – during holiday seasons. The uMhlanga Tourist Node contributed hundreds of millions of rand to the local economy in eThekwini.
The uMhlanga coastline is home to a large number of hotels, as well as many smaller enterprises within the hospitality, restaurant and short-term accommodation industries. These enterprises provide direct employment for scores of people. In addition, the industries provide, indirectly, revenue opportunities for various informal traders, who rely solely on the influx of persons to the beaches.
“The continued viability and existence of these enterprises is of vital importance to the province, for the revenue they generate within the local economy in uMhlanga, within eThekwini, the local economy in the North Coast region in the Ilembe District Municipality, and within the province,” read the email.
It called for urgent and definitive communication on a number of issues, among others the current status of beaches, the extent of the closure, and the short, medium and long-term status of beaches. The attorneys were instructed to demand responses to the issues by the close of business on Wednesday.
A report by business consultant Herbert Achhammer revealed that the uMhlanga Community Tourism Organisation’s membership base had a capacity of about 5 107 beds, with about 195 restaurants, and if beaches remained closed, the accommodation and the restaurant industry in uMhlanga would suffer a loss in revenue of about a R1.7 billion.
National Accommodation Association of SA chairperson Rosemarie van Staden said the closure of beaches would affect the October and December holidays.
“We already see that bookings have been cancelled, and it’s really bad because the people pay a deposit and we need that deposit to stay afloat, so now – if people cancel – then we need to pay that back,” Van Staden said.
She said it was not just their industry that was affected. They now ordered fewer eggs, milk and everything else, and could not support farmers, bakers and tour operators.
Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa East Coast chairperson Brett Tungay said the closure of beaches did have a negative impact on hospitality, but they were confident in the actions of the government.
“At this stage, the negative impact is reducing quickly now, as beaches are reopened and the clean-up continues,” Tungay said.
“We’re just encouraging the government to carry on with the clean-up efforts, and we hope that everything is resolved speedily on that.”