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Massive investments in tourism are paying off

New direct international flights, upgraded facilities and new hotels all point to growing confidence in the KwaZulu-Natal tourism sector.

Major investments are being made into getting tourists to KwaZulu-Natal and new hotels are being built to accommodate the increased number of visitors. Durban’s casino has had a major refit and the Durban International Convention Centre (above) is constantly upgrading its facilities to cope with demand.

In terms of the vital transportation of tourists into the province, the most significant developments are:

  • The decision to go ahead with the construction of a dedicated cruise-liner terminal in the Port of Durban.
  • The announcement in 2018 of a new direct British Airways (BA) flight between Heathrow Airport in London and King Shaka International Airport (KSIA).
  • Africa’s longest suspension bridge has dramatically reduced travel times between tourist hotspots in northern KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring country Mozambique. The Maputo-Catembe bridge forms part of a new road from Maputo to Kosi Bay which was officially opened in November 2018.

KwaZulu-Natal offers astonishing variety for the visitor. Awesome natural beauty extends from the beaches all along the coastline to the iSimangaliso (Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park and the spectacular mountainous scenery of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. The history of the Zulu kingdom includes a number of battlefield sites outlining famous clashes with the British Empire such as Isandlwana. Mahatma Gandhi lived in the province and the site of Nelson Mandela’s arrest is commemorated. Big sporting events such as the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Durban July Handicap and the Comrades Marathon attract thousands of participants and supporters every year.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the combined contribution of retail and tourism to GDP is 14%. Many thousands of visitors to KwaZulu-Natal arrive by road, and the statistics show that the Mooi River toll plaza bringing visitors from Gauteng Province is a vital portal.

Meetings and Events

Facts about the Inkosi Albert Luthuli ICC Complex
  • The ICC can seat 5 000 delegates
  • Raked seating for 1 800 can be lifted to the ceiling to clear floor space
  • 10 000 delegates can be accommodated when combined with the Durban Exhibition Centre (DEC)
  • The ICC offers 70 000 square metres of column-free space
  • 23 meeting rooms and undercover parking for 1 200 cars
  • Three courtyards, one central kitchen and 12 satellite kitchens
  • Albert Luthuli was president of the African National Congress and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960

Improving access

In 2018 Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the KwaZulu Cruise Terminal (KCT) signed an agreement for the construction of a cruise-ship terminal in the Port of Durban that will be completed by late 2020.

KCT, a joint venture between MSA Cruises SA and Africa Armada Consortium, will spend R175-million on the financing‚ construction‚ maintenance and operation of a cruise terminal for a 25-year concession period.

The number of cruise-ship passengers attracted to Durban grew from 42 000 in 2004/05 to 157 000 in 2010/11 and the new terminal is expected to radically improve these numbers. The number of annual passengers is expected to grow from the current 200 000 to more than 700 000 by 2040. South Africa attracts 0.5% of the world’s cruise-ship market which comprises about 15.4-million passengers annually. Durban’s hosting of 60 ships per annum will rise to 150 or more.

The decision by BA to introduce a direct London flight is a major boost for KwaZulu-Natal’s main airport. Although Qatar Airways, Emirates Airlines and Turkish Airlines provide direct flights to their own hubs (Doha, Dubai and Istanbul), a direct link with London will be very attractive to tourists and to importers and exporters. KSIA is within the Dube TradePort and cargo volumes have been increasing steadily every year.

The opening of the ambitious Maputo-Catembe bridge has opened up a number of possibilities for tour operators in northern KwaZulu-Natal. With access to Mozambique no longer involving a tortuous process of driving through Swaziland, the chances of tourists wanting to combine a visit to the parks in South Africa with a visit to Mozambique’s vibrant capital are much higher. It is possible that the bridge itself will become a tourist attraction. The improved roads connecting Kosi Bay to Maputo will also mean increased trade, with the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone only about 250 km further south from Kosi Bay.

New and improved

Tsogo Sun has spent R1.6-billion on refurbishing its Suncoast complex on Durban’s Golden Mile. Suncoast Casino Hotels & Entertainment covers a huge area and offers a wide variety of entertainment options.

Photo supplied by: Tsogo Sun

The recent upgrade included the addition of seven new restaurants, new retail outlets, a new theatre and an event venue, and increased space at the casino. More underground parking was created and the whole complex was given a fresh look.

Tsogo Sun has four other hotels on the Golden Mile and more than 100 hotels and 14 casino and entertainment destinations in South Africa, Africa and the Seychelles. Tsogo Sun runs 14 hotels in KwaZulu-Natal, five of which are Garden Courts. Six hotels are in Durban with a further four in nearby Umhlanga, where one of the group’s most luxurious hotels, the 89-room Beverly Hills, is located.

A new “mega-hotel” has been created by Tsogo Sun, with the amalgamation of the Southern Sun North Beach and Southern Sun Elangeni hotels.

A key reason for Durban’s high ranking in the meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions sector (MICE) is the Durban International Convention Centre (Durban ICC). Located within the Albert Inkosi ICC Complex in downtown Durban, the venue will spend R27.3-million in 2019 on capital projects.

The Durban ICC is one of the most flexible and versatile venues in the world. The main convention area of 11 600 m² can be opened up to form one large venue or subdivided into 22 separate convention halls of various sizes. The refurbishment of seats in Hall 1, which can seat up to 1 680 delegates, will cost R6-million.

More than 20 000 delegates will use the Durban ICC in 2019. In the 2017/18 financial year, the venue hosted 450 events, contributed R4.7-billion to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product and created 9 474 jobs.

Durban’s hosting of the Tourism Indaba further supports the idea that the province is a major conference destination. More than 7 000 delegates are annually attracted to exhibit South Africa’s assets to international tour operators. The city has secured the Tourism Indaba until 2022.

The range of topics covered by recent conferences held in KwaZulu-Natal is wide and includes the World News Media Congress, the Pan-African Health Tourism Congress, the National Association of Automotive Components and Allied Manufactures (NAACAM) Show and the Durban Maritime Summit.

Premier Hotels & Resorts will spend about R420-million on two new hotels at Umhlanga. Currently under construction, the hotel complex is located alongside the Gateway Theatre of Shopping next to Umhlanga Ridge. The four-star Premier Hotel will have 130 rooms while the three-star Splendid Inn by Premier will be equipped with 64 bedrooms. The group has hotels and resorts in six provinces.

A new Radisson Blu Hotel will open in Umhlanga Rocks as part of the ambitious R3-billion Oceans Umhlanga development. Some construction work has been halted because of problems experienced by construction companies, but it seems that the hotel and the shopping mall sections of the planned complex are going ahead.

A 207-room Hilton Garden Inn will be operating at Umhlanga Arch by 2020. Hilton Durban acquired a new owner in 2018 when Bin Otaiba Hotels bought it, together with four hotels in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.


Research by Tourism KwaZulu-Natal shows that the coastal province consistently has the best hotel occupancies in the country.

Protea Hotels has 18 properties in the province, with seven in Durban including the Protea Hotel Edward. The upgrading of the Point area between the beach and the Port of Durban has resulted in major investments. The Docklands Hotel at the Durban Waterfront is a four-star Signature development that cost about R100-million to develop.

The Royal Hotel in the heart of Durban is one of eight Three Cities Group hotels in the province. The Golden Horse Casino Hotel is a Three Cities property, and the Group administers the International Hotel School in Westville that is also home to the Christine Martin School of Food and Wine.

IFA Hotels & Resorts runs several luxury properties including the Zimbali Coastal Resort and Zimbali Lakes Resort. Signature Life Hotels has 13 properties and Gooderson Leisure has a varied portfolio.

Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom, a Sun International property, is north of Durban between Umdloti and Umhlanga. The casinos in Newcastle (Century City), Empangeni (Tusk Umfolozi Casino) and Pietermaritzburg (Golden Horse Casino) are run by Century Casinos Newcastle, Peermont Global and Akani Msunduzi Management respectively.

Airbnb is a fast-growing option in South Africa. The Airbnb visitors to South Africa in 2016 engaged in R2.4-billion worth of economic activity. Durban had the largest increase in Airbnb bookings from the previous year.

Annual sporting events and exhibitions

  • January: Dusi Canoe Marathon, Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
  • February: Midmar Mile, Midmar Dam.
  • April: Durban International Boat and Leisure Show, Durban.
  • May: Tourism Indaba, Durban. Comrades Marathon, Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
  • June: Mr Price Pro international surfing contest, Ballito.
  • July: The Durban July, Greyville.
  • August: Durban International Film Festival, Durban.
  • September: Dolphin Coast Ultra, North Coast. KZN Music Imbizo, Durban.
  • October: Zululand Expo. Richards Bay. Berg and Bush bicycle race, Drakensberg.


Several of KwaZulu-Natal’s regions are investing in tourism projects:
Harry Gwala

Dramatic mountain landscapes and a plentiful supply of water help make this district perfectly suited to tourism. The main towns are Kokstad and Ixopo. The Drakensberg Mountains define the district’s western boundary. The Harry Gwala Development Agency believes that niche sectors such as avi-tourism (birding), rail tourism and mission tourism hold great potential.


The Isimangaliso Wetland Park extends 220 km along the northern reaches of the province, to the border with Mozambique, and offers unrivalled birding, game viewing, deep-sea fishing, turtle tours, kayaking and whale-watching. It is a World Heritage Site and, together with the Hluhluwe-uMfolozi Game Reserve, forms the core of the tourism and conservation offering in the province. With agriculture the other dominant economic activity in the area, any new investment would have to be ecologically sensitive. A new entertainment complex at Hlungweni Peninsula within the Tembe Tribal Authority, 30km north of Sodwana Bay, is being contemplated.


Larger towns include Estcourt, Colenso and Ladysmith. Predominantly rural, the district encompasses two of the greatest natural assets in the province in the Thukela River and a part of the Drakensberg mountain range, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. A cableway system in the Drakensberg (near Bergville) with entertainment and accommodation facilities has been mooted.


Zululand is a popular destination for cultural experiences and the area is rich in Zulu history and Anglo-Boer War history. Vryheid and Ulundi are the main towns. A possible development of a heritage site at Nongoma has been suggested to serve as a catalyst for other sites to offer traditional Zulu experiences, including arts and crafts, agri-processing, traditional medicines and cosmetics and leveraging the profusion of aloe plants in the district.

Drakensberg mountain range (source: iStock)



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