No leisure ride


With its white sandy beaches and year-long tropical climate, Durban has always been a favourite holiday destination. Interestingly however, South Africa’s third largest city is becoming increasingly recognised for its value as a business destination, as Lynley Main discovered.

Durban conjures up images of welcoming beaches and leisure time, but there is another side to this coastal city. The city has identified becoming a go-to destination for business travel as a strategic focus, and is working hard to achieve this.

Durban has been helped along by some useful PR of late, with the city ranked seventh on the New York Times list of the 52 places to go in 2015, and one of the New Seven Wonder Cities in the world, according to

Business travel into this market is driven by the city’s agricultural sector, as well industries such as manufacturing, transport, accommodation, food, beverage, events, sport, culture and eco-tourism.

Further to that, the convenient location of King Shaka International Airport and its proximity to both the Durban CBD and the emerging north coast hub provides a substantial advantage to the discerning business traveller.

There are already a number of high-profile events on the Durban calendar that attract extensive travel to the city, including awards shows such as the Metro FM and MTV Africa music awards, and sporting and cultural events such as the Durban July, Mr Price Pro Surfing competition, Top Gear festival, and international rugby, cricket and soccer fixtures.

Working in conjunction with a variety of partners, the Durban KwaZulu-Natal Convention Bureau aims to build on these successes by attracting further business travel and events to the city. According to CEO James Seymour, it is aggressively identifying and bidding for small, medium and large MICE gatherings.


Durban is already home to Africa’s biggest travel show, with the Tourism Indaba attracting in excess of 8,000 delegates. It is hosted annually at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (Durban ICC), which was ranked by the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) as one of the top 15 convention centres in the world in 2014.

Over the last few years the ICC has hosted approximately 300 events annually – and if an event with over 500 delegates is classified as ‘big’, then approximately 130 big events have been hosted each year.

“Although Durban has traditionally been known as ‘South Africa’s playground’ and has always had a bustling leisure tourism trade, the city also has a thriving business tourism industry which attracts delegates throughout the year,” says Durban ICC Acting CEO Nicolette Elia-Beissel.

There were seven million local and international visitors to Durban last year – an increase of 12% from 2013 – with a direct spend of R19 billion ($1.5 billion), but it’s difficult to differentiate between business and leisure travel, says Elia-Beissel, particularly as many international delegates use the opportunity to extend their stay.

Durban has, in fact, been recognised as playing a pioneering role in the country’s blossoming international business events industry, by building South Africa’s first international convention centre in 1992.

Milestone events

Business events such as conferences, trade shows and exhibitions are innovative platforms, and Durban will, for the first time, host the World Routes Development Forum in September this year, as well as the International Aids Congress in July 2016.

World Routes is the largest global event in its category, attracting the most senior and respected airlines, airports and tourism representatives from around the world. This year will mark the first time the event has been hosted in Africa, and Durban was selected as the host city for its growth proposition.

Hosting the International Aids Congress in 2016 is a further coup for the city, as it will make Durban the only city in the world to have hosted the event twice. Next year’s event is predicted to attract approximately 20,000 delegates, with an expected economic impact of R700 million ($56 million).

While the outcome of Durban’s bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games has not yet been determined, being selected as the host city would provide both economic and infrastructural benefits. The hosting of these Games, maintains Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, could potentially create 11,650 jobs, deliver a R20 billion ($1.6 billion) boost to the country’s economy, and leave the legacy of an integrated transport system.

“Durban offers all the conveniences one would expect from a modern convention city, including a world-class airport, an efficient transport system, and a wide variety of excellent hotels and restaurants,” says Elia-Beissel.

First-class infrastructure

Durban’s infrastructure – an international airport that provides access to the city, good road networks, a convention centre and top-rate hotels with world-class conference and meeting spaces – contributes towards making Durban a viable option as a top destination for business travel, notes Protea Hotels Group Marketing Manager, Nicholas Barenblatt.

And there is more to come. Hilton, for example, is investing over R150-million ($12 million) in a renovation of its Durban property that is situated adjacent to the ICC.

Tsogo Sun has also recognised the value of Durban as a business travel hub and, as has invested heavily in properties around the city, led by the refurbishment, consolidation and re-launch of the Southern Sun Elangeni and North Beach hotels into one complex, the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani, in 2013.

“Our investment is a direct response to the substantial investment into the revival of the Durban beachfront promenade by the eThekwini Municipality, which has seen the destination being upgraded,” says Tsogo Sun’s Mike Jackson, Operations Director for the KwaZulu-Natal region.

The city’s airport moved from the south to the north coast at La Mercy, between Umhlanga and Ballito, in 2010. King Shaka International Airport, which was opened in time for the FIFA World Cup, was purposely built with approximately 40% additional capacity in order to position it as a connecting hub into Africa in the future.

Although the larger airport was built to grow the area’s international services, it also serves as a key airport for domestic services throughout South Africa, serving the ‘Golden Triangle’ between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.

Comair’s low-cost local airline Kulula currently operates over 30 flights a week between O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and King Shaka International, with roughly the same number between Lanseria International in the north-west of Johannesburg and King Shaka.

Owing to the proximity of Lanseria to Sandton and the surrounding business hubs, many corporate travellers make use of this airport, and there is high demand for the airline’s peak flights in the morning and afternoon from both of Johannesburg’s main airports. Corporate travellers commute to Durban from all of South Africa’s major cities, though, with daily flights from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and George.

“These peak flights are mainly booked by business travellers who want to get maximum time in Durban to conduct their business,” says Comair Marketing Manager Shaun Pozyn. “King Shaka International Airport is conveniently situated to accommodate the growth and expansion of Durban’s northern areas. Due to its world-class facilities, additional parking, retail areas and restaurants, customers are able to enjoy their time at the airport while waiting for their flight.”

Carla da Silva, Air Mauritius Regional Manager for Southern Africa and Latin America, notes that there has been a growth rate of between two and five percent in business travellers into Durban in the last five years, and cites the upgrade of the airport experience as one of the major factors.

In the past, international business travellers to Durban struggled with the limited lounge options at the airport. According to Da Silva, it was a priority to find a solution that appealed to both airlines and business travellers. That solution came in the form of the Umphafa lounge, opened by Menzies Aviation in collaboration with Airports Company of South Africa in 2014.

“The unprecedented influx of travellers to KwaZulu-Natal created a gaping need for exclusive facilities,” says Menzies Aviation GM of Executive Services Charmaine Richards. “Through our new offering at King Shaka, we believe we are further raising the bar for discerning travellers from across the globe.”

“The airport also forms part of the Dube TradePort, which will additionally consist of a trade zone linked to the airport’s cargo terminal, facilities to support the airport such as nearby offices, and transit accommodation for tourists, an integrated agricultural export zone and an IT platform,” says Liezl Meier, Director of Sales and Marketing at Fairmont Zimbali Lodge and Resorts.

Two business centres

A recent trend has seen a growing number of businesses move their offices out of the Durban CBD up the north coast to Umhlanga, which has become a thriving business district – due in part to the relocation of the airport. Many of the country’s major corporates and banks have also established regional head offices in the region – with notable examples such as Vodacom, Nedbank, Investec and FNB.

FNB opened Acacia House in Umhlanga Rocks in 2013, to serve as a regional head office for FNB, Rand Merchant Bank and other divisions in the group.

“KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s second largest economy and is well-positioned in the agricultural, manufacturing, tourism and accommodation sectors,” explains First Rand CEO Sizwe Nxasana.

Dube TradePort is further set to drive investment and business opportunities in cargo, transport, warehousing, offices, retail, hotels and agriculture, particularly on the north coast, as far up as Richards Bay Harbour. A R160 million ($13 million) deal was signed between Dube TradePort and Eureka Capital to build a seven-storey innovation hub and office block adjacent to the airport by 2016, indicating the region’s widespread growth.

“The Umhlanga area is a node that is experiencing growth due to the corporate companies relocating to this area,” confirms Barenblatt. “This has created a greater demand for accommodation, which is why Protea Hotels has invested heavily in the expansion of Protea Hotel Umhlanga, to the point that the hotel is doubling in size.”

That being said, the major hotel groups are not putting all of their eggs into one basket. Protea has a further interest in growing its footprint into primary and secondary nodes where there is also a demand for hotel accommodation. As a result, the group still has a vested interest in the Durban beachfront.

“We have been gratified to see that the area has experienced regeneration as a result of investment from the KZN government, which has had a direct impact on tourism and on our business there, as represented by the Protea Hotel Edward,” Barenblatt confirms.

Consequently, Durban’s CBD continues to play an important role as a business destination.

“With its port being one of the 10 largest in the world, and the busiest in South Africa, Durban will remain a very active CBD,” reports Meier. “The Durban Metropolitan Area has a large and diversified economy with strong manufacturing, tourism, transportation, finance and government sectors.”

Durban CBD also retains a strong retail and legal sector, a transport hub in Warwick Triangle, and the harbour itself attracts widespread business opportunities.

Each node caters for a different customer and business need, so growth is expected to continue at a rapid pace on the north coast for a number of reasons. Umhlanga started off as a very popular leisure destination, but the gradual shift of businesses towards the area has seen a definite shift in market segmentation for hotels.

Fairmont Zimbali Resort selected its location – five minutes outside Ballito, 20 minutes from Umhlanga and 30 minutes from Durban – for precisely this reason. The rapid development of the Dube TradePort made it the ideal location to capitalise on both business and leisure travel, Meier reports, and explains why the property has seen a 25-30% increase in business travel year on year.

The last word goes to Seymour.

“Our province offers business event delegates a particularly distinctive overall meeting experience, which we fondly refer to as being the ‘Zulu Kingdom’ experience,” he says.

King Shaka International Airport

King Shaka International Airport currently serves daily domestic flights for Airlink, British Airways operated by Comair, Kulula, Mango, and South African Airways, and international flights for Air Mauritius, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Airlink and South African Express. Emirates offers daily non-stop flights between Durban and Dubai, Air Mauritius has twice weekly direct flights, and Qatar Airways operates four weekly flights via Johannesburg.

King Shaka upgraded its runway length in order to accommodate more flights and passengers, and the improved airport has an annual passenger capacity of 7.5 million. To serve these numbers, there are 72 check-in counters and 6,500 parking bays. Top-notch retail outlets and restaurants were added to the facility, ranging from Woolworths and Exclusive Books to the Cape Town Fish Market, Mugg & Bean and Spur.

There are also a group of domestic lounges offering Wi-Fi, conference rooms, showers and a host of other services. They include the SAA Baobab Lounge, Bidvest Premier Lounge, and the SLOW Lounge, with 05h00 and 21h00 the standard opening and closing times.

The exclusive Umphafa lounge is the only international departures lounge option and caters to high-end travellers by offering Apple iMac workstations, free Wi-Fi, shower suites, drinks and a buffet.

King Shaka also has a host of car hire options. Avis, Europcar, Budget and Tempest all have offices conveniently located at the airport and offer cars and services to fit all budgets.

Hotel options

Durban has an excellent spread of quality hotels, catering to both leisure and business travel, with South Africa’s big hotel groups all enjoying significant representation.

In addition to the flagship Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani on the Golden Mile, Tsogo Sun has four other properties in relatively close proximity, in the form of the Suncoast Towers, the Sunsquare Suncoast, and two Garden Courts – South Beach and Marine Parade – giving the group a fairly diverse spread in this area of the city.

Further north in Umhlanga, Tsogo Sun’s standout property is the iconic 5-star Beverly Hills, whilst there’s also the Cabana Beach and Umhlanga Sands resorts, along with the Garden Court Umhlanga.

AHA/Three Cities also has a decent mix across the two main business nodes. The city is covered by the group’s Waterfront Hotel & Spa on the beachfront, along with the Riverside Hotel & Spa (undergoing refurbishment) and Auberge Hollandaise Guest House properties in Durban North. Umhlanga, meanwhile, has four AHA/Three Cities properties, in the form of the Gateway Hotel, the Royal Palm Hotel, the Square Boutique Hotel & Spa, and the Urban Park Hotel & Spa – all geared towards primarily servicing the business travel market.

For a group with over 50 properties in South Africa, City Lodge has a relatively small presence in Durban and Umhlanga, although there is some representation in both nodes, in the form of a City Lodge – the group’s 3-star brand – and a Road Lodge (1-star) in each.

South Africa’s other big group, Protea Hotels, has a similar spread, in the form of its Edward property in the city, African Pride Audacia Manor on the Berea, and then a property in each of Umhlanga and Umhlanga Ridge.

Completing the ‘Big Four’ groups, Sun International’s sole presence in Durban is in the form of its Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom, situated between Umdloti and Umhlanga, and in close proximity to the airport.

Outside of the big groups, The Benjamin in Florida Road and both the Concierge Boutique Bungalows and St. James on Venice in Morningside have received good TripAdvisor reviews, whilst the Hilton adjacent to the ICC is the city’s sole big internationally-branded hotel and is undergoing a huge refurbishment project this year.

 What to do in Durban

Durban’s reputation as the country’s playground is well-earned and there is a plethora of activities to keep you entertained in your spare time.

From horseback beach rides to kayaking on the Umgeni River, jet-skiing at Blue Lagoon and scuba diving, Durban offers the best in beach and water activities. Ushaka Marine World is the fifth largest aquarium on the planet and definitely worth the trip.

The iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium offers a variety of activities, ranging from the SkyCar to the 550-step adventure walk to the top of the arch and the world’s tallest 106-metre Big Swing. You can also take a city tour on a Ricksha Bus to give you insight into Durban’s history and best attractions. The Township Experience includes an authentic experience that takes in the Inanda Heritage Route, Clermont and Umgababa Beach.

Golfers are spoilt for choice with some of the best courses in South Africa, including Durban Country Club, Beachwood, Royal Durban and Zimbali, among many others, while sports fans can take in regular fixtures at Kings Park and Moses Mabhida.

Durban is a cosmopolitan culinary destination, featuring restaurants that cater to every taste, from trendy sidewalk cafes like Spiga d’Oro on the bustling Florida Road, Freedom Café and Parc Café in Glenwood, to fine dining at 9th Avenue Bistro in Morningside, Butcher Boys on Florida Road and Havana Grill on North Beach. Durban is the home of the ‘bunny chow’, and a trip to the city is not complete without a curry. Capsicum in Durban North, Jeera in Stamford Hill and Palki in Berea shouldn’t be missed if you’re in search of some of Durban’s finest curries.

Markets, museums and shopping centres – including Africa’s largest centre, Gateway – also abound, offering hours of entertainment.