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Durban Beaches closed due to contamination: Tourism groups call for urgent action

In response to the abrupt closure of six popular beaches in Durban during the peak holiday period, leading tourism industry groups are urging the government to take immediate action.

The Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA) and SATSA, the voice of inbound tourism, are calling for the eThekwini municipality to immediately address the water quality crisis that precipitated these closures. Recent tests conducted by the eThekwini municipality and Adopt-A-River revealed alarmingly high E. coli levels.

“Closing prime tourism beaches now deals a huge blow to hospitality businesses and tourism operators in prime beach areas,” said Brett Tungay, FEDHASA East Coast Chairperson, adding the repercussions are profound. “It comes at a time when they rely on the influx of tourists to bolster their businesses. The closure of these beaches sends ripples throughout our broader economy, affecting jobs and local communities. We cannot afford to miss the economic opportunities this season traditionally brings.” He added that until the city can address the water quality issues, many small businesses face prospects of lower profits, potential closure and lay-offs this season.

The tourism industry in the region has faced persistent water contamination issues after the catastrophic April 2022 floods, which KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said led to “unparalleled” destruction to infrastructure. Before the floods, five beaches in eThekwini, including Ushaka, North, Point, eManzimtoti and uMhlanga Main, held full Blue Flag status.

David Frost, SATSA CEO, added a call for urgent action from the city to address sewage infrastructure issues. “We ask the eThekwini municipality  to provide clarity and assurances on sampling schedules and reopening timelines. This must be treated as a critical priority. Tourism is a key economic driver. Therefore, we cannot afford to lose out on economic opportunities that the peak season brings.”

While the beach closures in Durban present a temporary challenge, FEDHASA and SATSA emphasise that Durban remains a vibrant tourist destination. This is thanks to the resilience and passion of local tourism stakeholders and KwaZulu-Natal’s diverse offering of experiences. Tungay says, “Durban has confronted setbacks before by rallying around our community’s spirit, and we will do so again. We remain wholly committed to welcoming

visitors to experience everything that makes Durban such a uniquely thrilling and memorable destination.”

He added that KwaZulu-Natal has something to offer every type of traveller. “Beyond Durban, KwaZulu-Natal offers bush, mountain, and game park experiences in areas like the Drakensberg Mountains, Midlands, and greater Zululand regions. The province is also home to over 400km of magnificent coastline beaches to discover and many unaffected beaches in the Durban area can still be enjoyed.

He went on to highlight that in addition to working urgently to solve the water pollution issues and return the beaches’ Blue Flag status, this holiday season still promises visitors a wealth of vibrant cultural, culinary, sporting and entertainment offerings that have long cemented Durban as a favoured South African holiday destination.

The groups are advocating for regular communication about the progress in addressing the water quality crisis and infrastructure repairs. This transparency is seen as crucial for restoring confidence among tourists, hospitality stakeholders, and investors. Their call to action goes beyond the immediate issue, emphasising the need for long-term solutions to protect Durban’s reputation as a top tourist destination and to ensure the health and safety of its beaches.

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