The Vodacom Durban July was held behind closed doors Watching horse race on the big screen at 9th Ave Waterside restaurant is Siyanda Myeni and Gina Neilson.Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)
The Vodacom Durban July was held behind closed doors Watching horse race on the big screen at 9th Ave Waterside restaurant is Siyanda Myeni and Gina Neilson.Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

R300 million: That’s how much Durban lost yesterday

By Siboniso Mngadi Time of article published Jul 26, 2020

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Durban - A much-needed R300 million direct injection into the local economy and hundreds of jobs was the loss the city counted after yesterday’s running of the Vodacom Durban July (VDJ) at an empty Hollywoodbets Greyville Racecourse.

With the country on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the event went ahead minus more than 50 000 onlookers comprising punters, celebrities and fashionistas who usually gather at Greyville.

But it’s not only the horse racing fraternity that feeds off the VDJ’s money spinning qualities.

The hype begins well before the big event, which has a long history of being a boon for Durban’s tourism and related industries, as locals and tourists enjoy the fanfare.

“When we count our loss, it’s not only on race day, but our functions begin on a Thursday with numerous pre-parties,” lamented Philip Sithole, eThekwini’s deputy city manager for economic development.

“The pandemic affected many people, restaurants and their suppliers, the hospitality industry and transporters. There are also artists and event organisers who have lost so much.”

Sithole said they also missed an opportunity to enhance Durban’s reputation as a tourism destination.

Instead of packing the grandstands or the marquees on course, punters and others watched the 124th running of the event on TV and social media platforms.

As a countermeasure, Sithole said the city staged virtual parties across Durban, including townships, to preserve the VDJ’s image as the premier local horse race.

Palesa Phili, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said while they couldn’t project the estimated losses, a decline in revenue and spending was guaranteed as South Africa is a depressed economy.

“The pandemic has brought many businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector to a complete halt, translating into huge losses in revenue and jobs.”

Lee Zama, chief executive of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa, said the hosting of the Durban July generally generates over R260m over the weekend.

“It is one of the premium events on the tourism calendar. It’s usually a massive injection to the local economy. The event also provides for a flow of business. There is the whole value chain. The hotel bookings are usually over 85% full. The restaurants are usually pumping and the shebeens and shisa nyama in the townships are always buzzing.

“It’s a massive loss that it had gone virtual, but I am glad that they kept the interest and the event alive,” said Zama.

Michel Nairac, Gold Circle CEO, said Covid-19 had a devastating effect on Gold Circle, the VDJ, the city and the province.

He said the event was not the same without the tent town, entertainment, dignitaries, fashion displays and parties as an eerie silence covered the stands.

“Horse racing is loss making, but Gold Circle has a responsibility to thousands of stakeholders who depend on the industry. Stakeholders are suffering but we are grateful that racing has resumed providing some relief.

“The Vodacom Durban July is normally profitable. This year we will post a loss but ours will be small compared to the loss to the city, province and the hospitality industry,” said Nairac.

The fashionistas and socialites too missed flaunting their butterfly-inspired designer garb in keeping with this year’s theme.

Designer JJ Schoeman, who over the years dressed Miss South Africas for the event, said the VDJ was all about the fashion and outdressing each other.

“It is all about being fabulous on the race course. I would’ve normally been snowed under in the lead up to the July.

“Special occasions are what I specialise in and thisyear people are not hosting special events. We have to find different channels,” said Schoeman.

Nadine Pillay, of Nadine Designs, said the Durban July hype started in April as soon as the theme was announced.

“Everybody starts making the calls, getting their ideas together and then we source fabric and put ideas together. People who attend the July are die-hard regulars and come dressed to the nines to make a statement. It’s the biggest fashion event in the country. “It was a solemn occasion this year. I think we are going to look at fashion so differently from now on,” said Pillay.

Sean Coleman, chief executive at The South African Bookmakers’ Association, said that typically a punter had an extended stay at their preferred betting outlet, socialising with other punters.

“This is not possible and extrapolates on to the race course in the ordinary course of racing and betting. It makes for a challenging environment in which to operate and business survival is the order of the day. Turnovers have been directly impacted and the provincial taxation that the betting industry generates for the provincial fiscus is also directly and negatively impacted. This despite the innovative attempts to create virtual events and even betting drive throughs,” said Coleman.

Sunday Tribune

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