Last weekend, TRL, a local travel agency invited four media personalities to explore Durban, in the Kwazulu Natal province of South Africa.
The brief was for the group, which comprised Phenyo ‘DJ Sly’ Ntshinogang from RB2, Kabelo Dipholo from The Voice and Comfort ‘Big Fish’ Ramatebele of Gabz FM, to have a feel of the place and come back home to share experiences with the Botswana public.
As a weekend trip, it started on a Friday and ended on Sunday and was organised through a partnership of TRL Travel, a local travel agency and Syavaya Tours of South Africa and Tourism Kwazulu Natal.
It was meant to create excitement as the festive season nears, when travelers have to make decisions on how they plan to spend the long vacation.
┬áTo compare Botswana as a destination to Durban is a difficult task although it might seem easy from the book. Botswana is a sovereign state and Durban is only a city within a province, but comparing the two is like David and Goliath.
┬áKwazulu Natal, let alone Durban, is vast and its population is bigger than that of Botswana.
┬áOn the other hand, Botswana is tiny and its tourism product is based on single major source of revenue. From the onset, there is where a major line can be drawn.
┬áWe sell the country as Big 5 destination although efforts are being made to involve other communities around the country in an effort to diversify the product. Little has been done to turn the country’s towns and cities into tourism attractions. What happening to the creation of Destination Gaborone and why is it that we are the largest producer of rough diamonds, yet the country still does not have a diamond museum? These questions were asked by the group as we descended on Durban.
┬áBut during the trip, our hosts pointed out that this where a mistake is made. For example, Nigerians and other African nationals would like to travel to cities and those cities should be vibrant and lively.
┬áThey should not be vibey by the day and dead by the night.
┬á“We sell Durban as the beaches, family outings and the climate,” explains Sonto Mbonambi, Managing Director of Syavaya, which is a 100 percent black owned and run transport and tourism company.
┬áThe conclusion for Botswana is that the country has put all its eggs in one basket, which means when disaster strikes, the impact is higher. That is why the country was devastated when recession hit as key travelers felt the pinch.
┬áThis is the season of traveling and TRL wants to start selling packages to Kwazulu Natal and hope Batswana will come on board. The package will include few nights in Durban with a link through OR Tambo International Airport and then Durban.
┬áTraveling by the air is convenient, but critics say bus travel offers a more scenic experience, allowing you to see other places on the way. But going to Durban, both means of transport could work.
┬áExcluding the time you spend at OR Tambo waiting for the next connecting airline, the distance covered by the Air Botswana chartered jet is 35 minutes. It is the same for British Airways on the Durban route.
┬áThe view expressed by members of the group is that the place offers more variety than Botswana where the industry is not that diversified. It caters for everyone; whether you are in Durban for shopping or are looking for a night life.
┬áThis makes the destination attractive as travelers will have a choice, which is why the group recommended Durban for travelers this coming festive season. The recommendation is not to despise Botswana as a country although many will questions the group’s patriotism.
┬áAs a Big 5 destination, it means the country’s selling point is The Okavango Delta, but the African traveler is not interested in this kind of hospitality. Batswana have argued that the Okavango is out of their reach, although there are citizen rates.
┬áThe African traveler wants to see modern cities because they experienced the bush life as Africa is more agrarian and will not be surprised to see an elephant or lion.
┬áFor example, Mbonambi says the Nigerian traveler who carries hard currency prefers to be booked around the shopping area, preferably in Santon, Johannesburg, which is always bubbling with other tourists from the continent.
┬áApart from the Big 5, the Botswana market does not offer other attractions that Durban provides. Without taking anything from this peaceful nation, the country has no night life comparable to that one of Durban.
┬áBars, clubs and malls close early in Botswana. This is made worse by the new laws that govern the drinking and entertainment hours.
┬áThe 30 percent alcohol tax has not helped the situation, which means most people craving free entertainment time cross the border every weekend to spend their money outside the country.
┬áDurban is not an exception; it has become a favourite destination for many Batswana as seen by interest from locals who respond to advertisement on packages to that tourism hot spot.
┬áThey will go to South Africa in droves which will offer them the entertainment they need. In┬áBotswana, we are told there is recklessness in drinking which in turn endangers lives.
┬áBut what the group found in Durban is that crowds are controlled and police presence is visible. That is contrary to stories we heard in the past about crime in South Africa. There is no violence in places of entertainment. Pick pocketers are nowhere to be seen at the malls, unless they did not make any hit that weekend.
┬áThe other thing different is that accommodation seems not to be a big business as guest houses, lodges and hotels are seen everywhere. From smaller ones to the most expensive ones like Beverley Hills owned by billionaire Sol Kesner, the South African hotel and gambling magnate.
┬áWe were given the feel the Durban hospitality with our stay at Fairmont Hotel, which overlooks the beach in Ballito area in the North Sea where the most expensive house goes for R40 million.
The five start accommodation, with its balconies that offer a good view of the ocean, is fit for a king and to sleep there you should be prepared to pay between R2000 and P10, 000.
┬áAs if that was not enough, the next lodging was at Elangeni hotel on the Marine Parade area overlooking the South Beach.
┬áThis is where the Durban tourism is at its best as the area comprises top rated hotels that overlook the north beach. It is a stone throw from the U Shaka Marine World.
┬áOpened in 2004, it has fast positioned itself as a key attraction on Durban’s Golden Mile, offering a world of entertainment, excitement, fun and uniqueness.
┬áEntertainment is non-stop, extending from the day-time operations of Sea World; Wet ‘n Wild, and uShaka Beach, to the night time festivities of the Village Walk.
┬áThis is why Durban attracts people of all nationalities because of the variety it gives. TRL and Syvava will begin selling the packages for Durban for the coming festive season and the group has recommended that Batswana buy the packages.
┬áTRL Travel, which has a large corporate clientele in Botswana, is part of the Khupe Group of Companies and wants to make a mark in the leisure travel market.