Umhlanga, playground of the rich
As the festive season gets going, an ambitious plan is under way in KwaZulu-Natal to position Durban’s Umhlanga tourist precinct – where more than R5 billion in new investment is under construction – as a playground for the rich. Local tourism authorities want to build on the success of the precinct management system, put in place eight years ago to deal with crime and urban decay in parts of the city’s premier tourism destination, and market Umhlanga to the higher end of the market.
On Friday, the marketing drive to promote Umhlanga as Durban’s premier tourism node was launched, with the backing of the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality. It aims to “place-brand” Umhlanga as a “must visit” for the upper end of the market.
This comes after 18 months of research, aimed at taking quaint old Umhlanga “village” and repositioning it as a must visit for the well-heeled tourist.
Jodi Robertson, director of ITI, the Durban-based agency running the Umhlanga Rocks brand development process, said the idea of place branding was about being able to “capture the essence of what makes you you, and share it with the world”.
“Place making is what brings places to life beyond bricks and mortar,” she said.
The bricks and mortar side is impressive enough, though.
Three new developments in the area are set to boost this drive to draw the well-to-do.
The first phase of Beach Rock, valued at R500 million, is under way, while the exclusive Pearls and Oceans complexes, worth a collective R4.5 billion, are also under construction.
A new interchange at Umhlanga is near completion and will improve the flow of traffic into the area, now home to a large number of city businesses that have moved northward from the CBD as the city, in its entirety, grows to the north.
Not only has crime declined since the creation of the Urban Improvement Precinct in 2008, when there were 17 attacks on tourists in three months, but reinvestment since then in the area’s hotel strip alone has totalled a conservative R6 billion.
This has generated about R105 million in rates for the city, which has made major contributions to the Umhlanga upgrade in terms of infrastructure, services and supporting the precinct. The precinct’s annual operating budget is R9 million. Urban Improvement Precinct management company spokesperson Cara Reilly said the plan was to develop a “new Umhlanga” from the iconic Umhlanga village, which had attracted generations of the same families.
“The vision is mindful of Umhlanga Rocks’ history, while shaping a new village and a new experience with better pedestrian accessibility and connection to green spaces and beaches,” said Reilly.
“While we believe that what we have here is special, we are aware of the need to continually grow and improve the offering.”
eThekwini spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the cash injection though the upgrade of the neighbourhood’s iconic hotels made the city more attractive to tourists and investors.
She said the city, which had repaved the 2.5km Umhlanga promenade, welcomed the move to sell Umhlanga as a destination for the affluent and praised the success of the Urban Improvement Precinct, which the city – along with 55 local businesses and other players – participates in.
“The developments and upgrades seen in Umhlanga have impacted positively on job creation,” she said. “The growth of the hospitality industry in the area, as well as of businesses, increases the need for services and has resulted in the creation of direct and indirect jobs.”
BRING ON THE BIG BUCKS The iconic lighthouse on Umhlanga beach. Construction is under way to turn the town, which attracts generations of families, into a playground for the rich