Businesses and the tourism industry on the coast north of Durban say the periodic closure of some of the city’s beaches due to high levels of E.coli has been devastating.
The eThekwini Municipality has announced that the main Umhlanga beach will reopen for bathing on Christmas Day, while the Umdloti beaches have recently opened. But despite the opening of these beaches, holiday accommodation operators say it is a bit late as they count their losses.
With heavy rain and gloomy weather over the Christmas weekend, the skies cleared just in time for Umhlanga’s main beach to reopen. The eThekwini Municipality has reopened Umhlanga Main and Umhlanga Bronze beaches.
The decision to reopen the beaches was made after the results of the latest water test. Tests confirm that the water quality is safe for swimming.
Locals and tourists took the opportunity to take a dip – after the long closure of the popular beaches. Businesses on the boardwalk say the beach closures have affected them significantly.
“I’m too excited, I can’t explain my excitement because it’s been very difficult for us here, there’s been no work, first it was covid-19 and now E-coli, I’m just glad everything is back to normal,” says the Umhlanga vendor , Faizel Mohammed.
Those who have shelled out money and booked accommodation are breathing a sigh of relief, while others have revealed they almost canceled their holiday.
“I am very glad that the beaches are open. The concern was that we traveled from Soweto not knowing what was happening. This is already a profit for us,” explains a vacationer.
“The kids have been bothering us and we are very excited even the kids that the weather has cleared and we can come to the beach to lie on the sand and just have fun,” said another vacationer.
“I’m from Joburg and I can’t come to Durban and not swim. So now I’m very happy, I feel like I’m in Durban,” explains the holidaymaker.
“You know it’s open but we’re still very hesitant and nervous to swim, it’s a shame but there’s so much anxiety. We’ve been here for a few days, but we probably won’t be swimming,” repeats another vacationer.
Umdloti Beach, a hub for holiday accommodation and restaurants, had very few bookings. The tourism sector says lost revenue could run into the millions.
“In December in Umdloti you can’t even get last minute accommodation, now we have a lot, we use access drives for residents to get to their houses because the beaches have been full for the last twenty years, we’ve had blockades preventing people from they enter when it’s too full and this year we haven’t put up a roadblock because there aren’t enough cars, we haven’t reached 50% yet. People who have made a reservation leave early, so tourism has completely stopped, it’s very quiet,” explains Vicky Schnettler, district manager of Umdloti smart village.
Despite the beach closures, the provincial government says the number of tourists has not decreased.
“We are really worried that this could affect tourism, but so far the number of people coming to KZN is not as drastic as it is for us. We need to find a way to quickly resolve these issues, especially the infrastructure, but we are ready to welcome our visitors, we have thousands of coastlines that people can still enjoy in KwaZulu-Natal,” says KZN Premier Nomusa- Dube Ncube.
Meanwhile, eThekwini Metro says they are continuing to test the water quality to ensure safety for everyone.