The Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) and SATSA, the voice of inbound tourism, is calling for the government to take immediate action following the abrupt closure of six popular beaches in Durban during the peak holiday period.
According to the tourism groups, eThekwini Municipality must immediately address the water quality crisis that precipitated these closures after recent tests conducted by the eThekwini Municipality and Adopt-A-River revealed alarmingly high E coli levels.
Fedhasa East Coast chairperson Brett Tungay said closing prime tourism beaches has dealt a huge blow to hospitality businesses and tourism operators in prime beach areas, adding that the repercussions are profound.
“It comes at a time when they rely on the influx of tourists to bolster their businesses. The closure of these beaches sends ripples throughout our broader economy, affecting jobs and local communities.
“We cannot afford to miss the economic opportunities this season traditionally brings,” said Tungay.
He added that until the City can address the water quality issues, many small businesses face prospects of lower profits, potential closure and lay-offs this season.
The tourism industry in the region has faced persistent water contamination issues after the catastrophic April 2022 floods, which former KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said led to “unparalleled” destruction to infrastructure.
Before the floods, five beaches in eThekwini, including uShaka, North, Point, Amanzimtoti and uMhlanga Main, held full Blue Flag status.
In October 2023, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) revealed the list of beaches that received Blue Flag status in the country for the 2023/24 summer season.
Only 48 beaches received the coveted Blue Flag status for 2023/24 compared with 51 beaches in the 2022/23 season. WESSA and the eThekwini Municipality revealed that the City hadn’t applied for the coveted listing.
“Due to the various issues that have had an effect on the state of our beaches, the City made the decision not to apply for Blue flag status for the 23/24 period.
“For years, 12 Durban beaches have had Blue Flag statuses, which were considered an international standard, indicating that our beaches were among the safest, cleanest, and well maintained,” said the City.
It also said the disasters and inclement weather that hit the city in April and May last year also had a significant impact on the state of the beaches, while the damage to the sewer infrastructure caused by the floods was unprecedented and included damage to its wastewater treatment plants, sewer pipes and more than 50% of its wastewater pump stations.
David Frost, SATSA CEO, echoed Tungay’s sentiments and said that urgent action from the City was needed to address sewage infrastructure issues.
“We ask the eThekwini Municipality to provide clarity and assurances on sampling schedules and reopening timelines. This must be treated as a critical priority. Tourism is a key economic driver.
“Therefore, we cannot afford to lose out on economic opportunities that the peak season brings,” said Frost.
While the beach closures in Durban present a temporary challenge, Fedhasa and SATSA emphasised that Durban remains a vibrant tourist destination and this is thanks to the resilience and passion of local tourism stakeholders and KZN’s diverse offering of experiences.
Tungay said that Durban has confronted setbacks before by rallying around their community’s spirit, and they will do so again, and added that KZN has something to offer every type of traveller.
“We remain wholly committed to welcoming visitors to experience everything that makes Durban such a uniquely thrilling and memorable destination. Beyond Durban, KwaZulu-Natal offers bush, mountain, and game park experiences in areas like the Drakensberg mountains, Midlands, and greater Zululand regions.
“The province is also home to over 400km of magnificent coastline beaches to discover and many unaffected beaches in the Durban area can still be enjoyed,” said Tungay.
He went on to highlight that in addition to working urgently to solve the water pollution issues and return the beaches’ Blue Flag status, this holiday season still promises visitors a wealth of vibrant cultural, culinary, sporting and entertainment offerings that have long cemented Durban as a favoured South African holiday destination.
Following the recent report on water quality, the eThekwini Municipality released a statement reflecting water-testing results it conducted with the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology (IWWT) at the Durban University of Technology.
According to the municipality, the joint sampling was done on December 11 and the sampling with IWWT was done on bathing and non-bathing beaches.
In this testing, three beaches with “poor” water quality results are Glenashley, Virginia and Umgeni South Beach and uMngeni River, which are non-bathing and have no impact on recreational use.
When it comes to other beaches, the municipality said the results show improvement of water quality as most are compliant with acceptable standards for recreational use.
“These beaches are either ‘excellent’ or ‘acceptable’. The monitoring and routine weekly testing across all the City’s 23 bathing beaches continues,” said the municipality.
SATSA and Fedhasa are advocating for regular communication about the progress in addressing the water quality crisis and infrastructure repairs.
The groups said that transparency is crucial for restoring confidence among tourists, hospitality stakeholders, and investors.
The tourism groups said that their call to action goes beyond the immediate issue and emphasises the need for long-term solutions to protect Durban’s reputation as a top tourist destination and to ensure the health and safety of its beaches.