KZN North Coast grows despite weak economy

Credit: Umhlanga Tourism

Tourism to the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast has increased by 9% over the past three years and contributed in excess of R3 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) of iLembe District Municipality for the period March 2017 to February 2018.

“This is a clear indication of the importance of tourism to the prosperity of the region, especially during a period when economic growth in the country has been particularly subdued,” says Nathi Nkomzwayo, CEO of Enterprise iLembe.

The North Coast area stretches from Zimbali –  KwaDukuza in the south to Amatikulu – Mandeni in the north, extending inland to Ndwedwe and Maphumulo.

Enterprise iLembe, the economic development agency for the iLembe municipality, commissioned Grant Thornton to conduct research into the impact of tourism on the North Coast, as there was limited tourism data specifically available for the region.

“The study has enabled us to determine the behaviour of tourists when they visit the district, including accommodation preferences, and activity and spending patterns. It is not always possible to get accurate data for municipalities on these subjects from national surveys,” says Nkomzwayo.

According to the study, the North Coast attracted more than 800 000 visitors between March 2017 and February 2018. Of these, domestic overnight tourists accounted for 62,8% of total visitors, while foreign overnight tourists comprised 6,5% of total visitors. Approximately 30,6% were day visitors.

These visitors spent R1.95 billion in the municipal region between March 2017 and February 2018.

“It is especially encouraging that tourism has been able to create or sustain approximately 6 595 employment opportunities in iLembe. Given South Africa’s high unemployment number, this trend is exciting, as it highlights the real potential that tourism has in an economy,” says Bernadine Galliver, Associate Director at Grant Thornton.

Approximately 8% of these opportunities were in highly-skilled occupations, while 36% were in skilled occupations. Unskilled and informal occupations comprised 22% and 34% of the opportunities respectively.

“In most of the feedback from tourists it is evident that the North Coast is still very much treasured as a leisure destination, with 79% of domestic overnight visitors and 43% of foreign overnight visitors choosing the area for leisure,” says Galliver.

According to Nkomzwayo, the agency has used this reputation of the North Coast, which includes towns such as Ballito, Salt Rock and KwaDukuza, to promote tourism.

“We are well aware that visitors value our area’s beautiful beaches and see the North Coast primarily as a leisure destination. We have leveraged off this and aim to encourage people who come here for leisure purposes to also visit some of the region’s other, perhaps lesser-known, attractions.

The Grant Thornton report cites that 95% of visitors rated iLembe as an excellent or good tourism destination, while over 99% of the visitors described it as a value-for-money destination.

“This is especially positive feedback for us in terms of retaining and attracting local visitors. With the economy still not performing optimally, many local tourists opt for good-value destinations and we should be able to leverage more off this,” says Nkomzwayo.

The region’s top markets for foreign overnight visitors are the USA, Australia, the UK, and Germany.

According to Nkomzwayo, the number of day visitors to the North Coast is another growing source of tourism revenue for the municipality.

“Shopping and eating at local restaurants have proven to be popular activities for visitors to the area. We also welcome the tourists visiting heritage and natural attractions in our region,” says Nkomzwayo.

The municipality saw the addition of the Ballito Junction regional mall and the revamp to the Lifestyle Centre which served to attract especially local visitors from other regions in KZN to the area.

Galliver is encouraged by the relatively good average room occupancy rate, which refers to the total room occupancies from the survey applied to the total number of establishments in the iLembe municipality.

“This rate is 58,3% for the period for the North Coast, which indicates a healthy level of demand, compared to the seasonality that one typically associates with destinations primarily valued for leisure.”

Nkomzwayo believes the study shows the potential of tourism in the area.

“Tourism has been identified at national level as an area with potential to grow the economy, and we have seen the effects in our local municipality. It has served as a welcome buffer to the otherwise weak economy, and we will endeavour to continue growing this sector,” concludes Nkomzwayo.

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