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DESPITE vehement protestations from hospitality industry stakeholders and the city itself, the Environmental Affairs Department believes there is a basis for its concern that hotel accommodation prices for UN Cop17 to be held in Durban have been unjustifiably inflated.

And Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has been asked to establish the validity of the concern and, if justified, how widespread such abuse is.

Blessing Manale, deputy director-general of communications in the Environmental Affairs department, who confirmed the inquiry would take place, said he was privy to complaints over accommodation costs from “all over the show”.

Manale said representatives from certain African countries had been among those who deemed the hotel costs in Durban unaffordable.

And although a government source had previously revealed that such concerns were shared by the International Relations Department, the department’s spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said delegates were not being ripped off. He said yesterday that he believed accommodation prices were not “extraordinary” when compared to other conferences of this nature and previous UN climate change talks. Last week, 10 000 rooms had been snapped up, he said.

The Mercury reported last week that eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo had urged hoteliers not to overcharge delegates, following reports that some had doubled their prices.

Consensus

The consensus among industry authorities was that there were a few “bad apples” operating independently from UN climate change talks accommodation service provider Thompsons Africa. The Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) said these unscrupulous operators were exploiting the situation and giving the entire sector a bad name.

Fedhasa’s CEO Brett Dungan said that while he could not rule out the possibility that certain hotels were “taking chances” and milking the opportunity presented by the UN talks, this was not true of the majority.

He said hotels and the city had agreed on what accommodation fees would be acceptable. Thompsons has denied that its service charge had resulted in prices being pushed up and that the hotels were asking exorbitant amounts.

“For the most part, hotels have provided pricing that is in line with the peak demand period. We believe that the pricing is comparable to other international trade fair periods where there is high concentrated demand on hotel rooms,” said Erica Gardner, the head of Thompsons’ team for the conference.

According to Sue Bannister, deputy head of eThekwini’s strategic projects unit, Thompsons is not being paid to be the official booking agent. The company was earning a fixed 5 percent commission from sales.

“A series of meetings was held with the few hotels that did set charges or booking conditions over and above those recommended,” Bannister said.

Mike Dowsley, chairman of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s tourism committee, said he favoured eThekwini’s arrangement with Thompsons, because it decreased the number of “rogue operators” who could try to take advantage of the conference. - The Mercury