By Dan Booth – Business Traveller USA
Always the bridesmaid, Durban seldom takes first place when one thinks of South Africa’s major urban centers; Johannesburg is the country’s magnet for international commerce and charming Capetown, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, claims the spotlight with its grandiose geography and picturesque bustle.
The truth is, Durban has all these things and more. The largest city on the eastern coast of Africa, Durban is nestled along the beaches of the Indian Ocean, making it a desirable destination for both business and leisure travelers. But sub-tropical sand and sun aren’t the only draws for this South African city of 3.5 million people.
Durban is built on a far-reaching economic foundation. Its waters are home to Africa’s busiest container shipping port, bringing in import/export businesses. It’s also the gateway to nearby nature reserves, national parks and the historic sites of Zululand and the Drakensberg. This vibrant city also has ideal meetings and convention venues, giving it a reputation as a gracious host for major continent-wide and international events.
Its glittering oceanfront strip of high-rise hotels, known as the Golden Mile, capped off with the glitzy Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World – with its gaming, shopping and shows – is a natural draw for both leisure travelers and convention goers. Add to that the now-iconic arched Moses Mabhida Stadium built for the 2010 World Cup, and the revamped Durban Point Waterfront which features the uShaka Marine World, Africa’s largest Marine theme park.
For business travelers, Durban is really a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too proposition. Well-appointed hotel rooms with spectacular Indian Ocean views are a convenient (and cheap) cab ride from Durban’s central business district and the International Conference Center.
Getting here is also a piece of cake, thanks to the five-year-old King Shaka International Airport situated some 22 miles north of the city center. Opened in 2010, it’s the first greenfield airport to be built in South Africa in the past 50 years, although its construction took about 40 of those years from the time it was first proposed.
King Shaka is designed to handle 7.5 million passengers right now with room to expand up to 45 million, based on demand. The current runway is capable of landing today’s superjumbo A380s and 747s, while the master plan also allows for the eventual construction of a second runway.
The terminal is a four-level affair with ground floor arrivals and a ‘meet and greet’ area for arriving passengers. Also on the ground floor, there’s a banking hall for local and foreign exchange and an open air food and beverage court. The Landside Piazza situated outside the arrivals hall features large open spaces with panoramic views, various retail shops and a statue of King Shaka himself.
The departures hall is the next floor up. There are four check-in islands, each with 18 check-in counters for a total of 72. Several VIP lounges are located upstairs.
Airports Company South Africa, which operates King Shaka along with nine other South African airports, has launched a free WiFi service for passengers in the airports’ boarding areas. Users have either a half hour of WiFi connection or 50MB of data available at no charge. Once the 30 minutes is up, or the 50MB data limit is reached, the service works on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Places To Meet, Sights to See
South Africa is scheduled to host 88 major conferences over the next few years, attracting around 200,000 attendees. Many of the largest are headed for Durban: the annual African tourism extravaganza, Indaba in May, World Routes 2015 in September and the 21st International Aids Conference in 2016, along with a host of other events.
One of the assets that puts the city squarely in the mix for these events is its International Convention Center. The complex incorporates South Africa’s first purpose-built convention center, an indoor arena and an exhibition space. Its state-of-the-art design offers flexibility, versatility and advanced technology. Together with the adjacent Exhibition Centre and the Arena, the ICC offers over 350,000 square feet of floor space.
The ICC is located on Bram Fischer Road, in the middle of Durban’s central business district. It boasts six halls and up to 23 meetings rooms, and the arena can accommodate an audience of up to 10,000. The smaller venues and meetings rooms are suitable for groups of five to 400. There are also three outdoor courtyards.
For events hosting a few up to a thousand, the city’s hospitality venues offer a number of other facilities. Several are located on Durban’s Golden Mile, including the aforementioned Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World, with its own conference center and theatre, the Durban Spa Conference Centre and the Garden Court Marine Parade, offering five conference venues.
Adjacent to the ICC is the Hilton Durban which has 10 meeting rooms, several of which offer flexible configurations for groups of various sizes. The venues can be booked via the hotel or online at Hilton.com, and there are a team of dedicated meeting specialists on hand.
Another major venue located just a block away from the ICC, the 24-story Coastlands Holiday Apartments and Convention Centre offers full-scale event facilities for up to 1,000 attendees.
Durban is proving to be a winning combination for business travelers, with its ease of access, sophisticated events venues and growing business climate. Frequently it’s the launch point for travels farther afield, such as tours into the rugged Drakensburg Mountains or the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
But as a destination, the city itself also has its enticements. In addition to the natural beauty of its beaches, Durban has recently seen the development of some world-class attractions to draw visitors.
Located in the suburb of Stamford Hill, the Moses Mabhida Stadium became world famous as one of the host stadiums for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. With its arches soaring 344 feet over the playing field, the stadium has become one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
The newly built multi-use facility was configured for a seating capacity of 62,760 during the World Cup and currently has scaled back to seat 54,000 for other sporting and concert events. However it’s designed to seat up to 80,000 for such major events as the Olympic Games.
The stadium’s most striking feature is the arch made up of two spans of steel which come together at the apex, a symbol of the once-divided nation of South Africa uniting as it achieves new heights. From the north side of the stadium, a two-minute ride on the SkyCar delivers you to the viewing platform at the top of the arch, offering a 360-degree view over the city and the ocean.
For the more adventurous among us, the arch also is home to the world’s tallest swing (according to the Guinness Book of Records). The aptly named Big Swing lets you get harnessed up and leap out into a 720-foot arc that carries you over the center of the stadium. The south side of the arch features a 550-step adventure walk, and there are Segway tours for those of us who prefer our adventures to remain earthbound.
Given Durban’s proximity to one of the world’s great oceans, it’s hardly surprising to find one of the globe’s premiere water theme parks in the city. Home to about 10,000 animals, uShaka Marine World is a 40-acre facility in four sections: uShaka Sea World, uShaka Wet ‘n Wild, uShaka Beach, and uShaka Village Walk. It’s located on a spit of land at the south end of the Golden Mile, between the beachfront and the harbor, and was the first phase of the harbor development called Durban Point.
uShaka Sea World is the fifth largest aquarium in the world. The underground aquarium is designed around five shipwrecks, with its entrance through the above-ground Phantom Ship. There are regular dolphin and seal shows, and penguin, shark and ray feeding at various times during the day.
The Dangerous Creatures exhibit features Burmese pythons, Nile crocodiles, black mambas, tarantulas, scorpions, and gila monsters. Underwater fun includes snorkeling in the lagoon with 1500 fish, shark cage diving and walking on the floor of the aquarium with an ocean diver. A scuba course is available for those over 10 years old, and certified divers can also venture out into the open ocean lagoon with pelagic fish and rays.
By Dan Booth – Originally published by businesstravellerusa.com