The doors are open of the long-awaited Radisson Blu Hotel Durban uMhlanga and soon, the wider Oceans precinct. Its impact as a beacon for economic development is far-reaching, from the dramatic boost for tourism in the province, to diverse and ongoing employment opportunities, writes Anne Schauffer.
The opening of the prestigious, certainly glamorous, shiny new Radisson Blu Hotel Durban uMhlanga on Lagoon Drive – is a landmark moment for uMhlanga and the KZN North Coast belt. But for KZN, the 206-roomed five-star hotel and its greater precinct goes way beyond glamour. Vivian Reddy is chairman and co-developer of Oceans uMhlanga, under which falls ownership of Radisson Blu Hotel Durban uMhlanga.
Radisson Blu Hotel Durban uMhlanga is at the heart of a 250 000 bulk square metre development, the largest in South Africa. At R4,5-billion and counting, the investment i’s substantial, the complexities often unimaginable. “It’s going to change the face of uMhlanga Rocks,” says Vivian. “It’ll be the focal point of entertainment here.”
Radisson Blu Hotel Durban uMhlanga is the globally acclaimed Radisson Hotel Group’s entry into its fourth South African city, Durban. This brings the Group’s portfolio in South Africa – one of its key African markets – to 14 hotels in operation and two under development. It’s set to be a significant player and catalyst for growth in KwaZulu-Natal. Seasoned South African hotelier – and new general manager there – Marius Earle believes the hotel could not have come at a better time: “The hospitality industry has endured some tough times, and opening a new hotel has brought with it new jobs, renewed hope, world-class guest experiences and a turn-around in the tourism sector. I could not be prouder to lead this amazing hotel.”
This sculpture that welcomes gests to the Radisson Blu Hotel was created by Carl Maritz to capture a eureka moment – one that evokes a feeling of complete emersion with its curling barrel waves alongside a splashing wave, highlighted by two dolphins plating together.
Neville Matjie is CEO of Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal (TIKZN). He explained the role of TIKZN generally in the KZN landscape, and in particular, the “partnership” between Radisson Blu uMhlanga/Oceans uMhlanga development, and TIKZN: “TIKZN is the official trade and investment promotion agency for KZN, with the mandate to attract and retain investments into the province as well as assisting KZN companies to access international markets for their products. As a generator of investments into the province, we work closely with project promoters of Catalytic Projects so as to ease the red tape and ensure speedy implementation of the different KZN projects.
“This project forms part of KZN’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan which drives the fast-tracking infrastructure projects – both public and private – which are critical in order to ensure that economic activity can be stimulated. TIKZN, through its facilitation, partnered with Oceans in the marketing of the facility in different markets, as well as through the funded mandate of the KZN Growth Coalition to fast track decisions that impacted on the successful implementation of this project.”
He, too, commented on the massive advantages which go beyond the obvious: “The opening of this hotel, conference centre and shopping mall precinct is about so much more than what we see before us. It’s about realising the growth in demand for such facilities in the uMhlanga node; about realising the importance of this uMhlanga node, which through added investments could sustain an additional 200 to 400 hotel rooms over and above what Radisson is offering. The uMhlanga node has also shown tremendous growth, boasting the highest hotel occupancy rate in the eThekwini region. This project is a practical demonstration of the resilience of our home-grown companies, and of their determination to press ahead with developments that will have a lasting impact on the city, the province and the country.”
As with tourism, development has had an extremely tough few years: “KZN has been hardest hit for the past two years with Covid-19 that crippled tourism, the July civil unrest, and the most recent and devastating floods,” says Neville. “It has plunged our economy into turmoil, people have lost jobs and many promising investments were put on hold or shelved. This investment here, and the opening of this facility, is a clear indication of the belief that business has in the KZN economy. It demonstrates that KZN is SA’s premier investment destination which has a resilient business community. Government support is also very visible in supporting all investments into the region. This investment will also open space for us to encourage intra-regional tourism. Earle sees the hotel’s conference and events centre as a key drawcard: “It’s the largest in the node and very flexible.”
Neville expanded on the Radisson Blu brand: “It’s actually Chinese owned, which is a great advantage for KZN in our strategy to attract tourists from the Far East, particularly the Chinese market. With over 40 hotels on the African continent, it’ll assist us not only in attracting linkages with other African markets, but also in support of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.”
There are clear advantages to aligning oneself with an acclaimed international hotel group – the Radisson Rewards programme being one of them. Radisson has nine separate, distinctive hotel brands, and more than 1 700 hotels in operation and under development in 120 countries. Radisson Blu has in the region of six million guests globally, so the frequent guest aspect works significantly in the brand’s favour. Across all their hotel brands – 50 million guests.
Two aspects of the development are still works in progress. The 500 towers – luxe apartments – coming in at R2-billion. On the 27th floor, there will be two presidential suites of 650m² each, the biggest in South Africa. uMhlanga will have the most expensive presidential suites anywhere. The second is the R1,3-billion luxury mall which is due to open in October.
Corporate social responsibility initiatives and the generation of authentic employment opportunities has been an integral part of the project: “During construction, we had 1 300 people working on our site. Aside from employment, we set up a food kitchen and school training centre for our neighbouring communities in Blackburn,” says Vivian. For Matjie at TIKZN, “Hotels play a vital role in sustainable tourism. The demand for hotels is usually associated with the number of tourists seeking an overnight stay and the popularity of a destination. This, our focus as KZN, is to ensure the growth of investments into tourism products. We know when an area’s tourist demand grows, the demand for hotels rises, driving developers and hotel companies to rush into popular destinations. Hotels, tourism, and local communities intertwine in close symbiotic relationships due to their physical proximity and inevitable collaboration.
“For this reason, sustainable tourism practices and ethical hotel development (that connects social, cultural and economic factors) are vital factors for both the long-term preservation of culture and the social-economic stability.”
“In a nutshell,” he says, “it will not only increase the rates revenue for the municipality but will create sustainable jobs for employees of the establishment and the suppliers of products and services to the facility.”
Radisson Blu Hotel Durban uMhlanga lays claim to a number of firsts which go beyond being the first Radisson in KZN, and include elements such as SA’s first Firelake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, one of only eight in the world. As Earl says, “It’s certainly the most talked-about property in town, and the community is excited. It’s a fresh, new take on accommodation, dining and hospitality and fits in perfectly in the Durban skyline. In essence, we can be classified as an urban resort.”
- 3 000 parking bays have been created; 1 400 allocated to the mall and public, 26 000 jobs were created during construction.
- Once completed, 3 500 new jobs will have been created.
- The project will generate R130-million in rates and utilities.