Surf's up on coastal playgrounds
Durban battling wave of bad news, Cape Town set for rebound
Crime and overcrowded beaches during peak periods are making it difficult for Durban to project itself as a secure and relaxed destination - meaning many hotel beds are likely to be empty over the Christmas and New Year break.
In Cape Town, however, the tourism industry is preparing for a rebound after the drought kept visitors away in 2017.
Negative perceptions about the Durban beachfront meant hotels there were likely to struggle to fill beds, said Charles Preece, east coast spokesperson for the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa).
"Year by year it is becoming harder to fill the big beachfront hotels," he said, adding that a recent TV report about some beaches being littered with used needles and shards of broken glass from bottles smashed to make crack pipes had not helped.
eThekwini municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said a nonprofit organisation that had been distributing needles to drug addicts in an attempt to prevent them sharing had stopped doing so after an ultimatum from the city council.
Mayisela said 340 additional guards would be deployed at the central beachfront over the festive season, but Preece said overcrowding on certain days also deterred tourists from staying in beachfront hotels.
"Families primarily look for a relaxed and secure destination for their vacation. The Durban beachfront is struggling to project itself as such, even though the hotels themselves give their very best to ensure that their guests are comfortable, safe and secure," he said.
Hotels and resorts in the Drakensberg and along the south and north coast, however, were doing brisk business.
"The Drakensberg gets stronger occupancy levels by the year. The south and north coast are very busy. Zululand is also going to do well. All of these areas will run around 90% occupancy for the holiday period," Preece said.
Tourism KwaZulu-Natal acting CEO Phindile Makwakwa said the authority had noted the contents of the Carte Blanche programme about drug use on beaches.
"We are taking all the issues raised on the show very seriously.
"We are engaging with the province and the city to take steps towards resolving some of the issues raised."
Makwakwa remained positive about how the province and Durban would fare over the holidays. "Our projections are showing a healthy festive season, with a projected increase in international arrivals.
"Domestic tourism has over the years taken a knock with the current economic status of the country and high petrol prices."
According to Makwakwa, the province was expecting 700,000 domestic travellers and at least 132,000 international visitors over the festive season.
She said British Airways' direct flights between Durban and the UK would provide a major boost in international arrivals.
Rob Collins, Sun International Group's chief strategy and operations officer, said occupancy at Sibaya Lodge, north of Durban, was estimated at 77% over December, while the Wild Coast Sun was at 90%.
Tsogo Sun's Elangeni & Maharani are at 63% occupancy for the year and the company is projecting 80% over December.
Samantha Croft, Tsogo Sun's KwaZulu-Natal operations director, said, "Tsogo Sun is still receiving bookings for the festive season and therefore cannot comment on occupancy figures."
News of Cape Town's ample winter rainfall, which has left the city's dams twice as full as they were a year ago, had reached the tourist market, said Fedhasa Cape Town chairperson Jeff Rosenberg.
Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy said international arrivals were expected to exceed last December's total of 127,300.
A year ago, domestic arrivals at Cape Town International Airport were down 2% as the drought kept tourists away. Rosenberg said: "We are gearing up for a busy holiday season, especially if we compare it to last year - a period marred by drought and political uncertainties. The industry couldn't be happier."
The City of Cape Town said it was deploying more than 1,300 law enforcement officers and traffic police to monitor roads, beaches and popular tourist sites. Around 300 lifeguards would be on duty at beaches.
Garden Route towns are also bracing for an influx, with Mossel Bay ready for more than 200,000 visitors, George expecting traffic volumes to triple and Plettenberg Bay preparing for its population to more than double thanks mainly to an influx of Gauteng holidaymakers.
George Tourism manager Joan Shaw said she expected tourist numbers to be slightly lower than a year ago due to the recent Garden Route fires.
She estimated visitor volumes for George at about 100,000, with beach villages such as Wilderness, Victoria Bay and Herold's Bay remaining the most popular choices. Plettenberg Bay is expecting about 50,000 visitors.