An aerial view of Durban, ahead of the COP17 conference on 28 November 2011.

Tony Carnie

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HOTELS and restaurants in the Durban area are getting ready to rake in millions of rand from the United Nations climate change meeting – but local ratepayers will have to fork out at least R50 million for the two-week conference.

While the national government is paying the bulk of the costs to host one of the world’s biggest conferences, the eThekwini municipality will be expected to pick up part of the tab as the host city.

Outgoing municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe has confirmed that eThekwini will pay about R50m, over and above the estimated R500m spent by the national government.

Sutcliffe said the council had already made provision in its budget for the extra expenditure associated with hosting the UN 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17), which starts next week.

He was responding to questions from The Mercury during a media tour of the conference venue on whether ratepayers would have to pay part of the costs, and whether the hotel and hospitality industry should contribute to the cost of hosting the event.

Transport

Sutcliffe acknowledged that hotels and restaurants would benefit financially from COP 17, but said he was not prepared to get into a public debate on whether the hospitality sector should foot part of the conference bill or not.

These costs include daily People Mover and shuttle bus transport to move at least 15 000 official delegates to and from their hotels and the International Convention Centre.

Other costs include overtime pay for metro police officers and other city personnel, as well as a number of greening projects and festivals in eThekwini.

However, Sutcliffe noted that COP17 would not be as costly as the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held in Joburg in 2002 at a cost of about R1.1 billion.

Mayor James Nxumalo said COP17 was expected to be the “biggest conference ever held on the African continent”, with about 15 000 delegates and observers, and possibly another 5 000 to 10 000 other visitors.

“We must ensure that we are prepared to host them in the warmest way possible – warm people, warm food, warm beaches, warmth all around.

“But being the warmest place to be also signals to us that our earth is getting warmer and we must do something about that,” he added.

“Of course we will be benefiting enormously, through the huge international exposure and the many economic benefits.

One example is our accommodation. I am sure that this will be fully booked for the event period, with over 160 000 bed-nights of accommodation being sold.”

Sue Bannister, of the city’s strategic projects unit, said the conference would lead to major exposure for Durban, both from international media coverage and from the personal accounts of delegates from more than 190 nations.

From this week, a designated zone in the vicinity of the conference centre would come under the official control of the United Nations for the duration of the event (see graphic opposite).

Only accredited delegates and observers would be allowed entry into the security zone.

The Hilton Hotel, which falls outside the UN security zone, would mostly be occupied by ministers from South Africa and the other 193 governments involved in the talks.