South Africa’s biggest horse race a huge drawcard

4 July 2014

With more than 50 000 fans on course and millions worldwide watching South Africa’s Vodacom Durban July on Saturday, the biggest winner will be the KwaZulu-Natal economy, which is set to receive massive exposure along with a cash injection of around R425-million.

The 118-year-old event has become enshrined as a national sporting icon and is recognised worldwide as Africa’s greatest horseracing event. Attendance has been sold out for the last five years, but in recent times there has been marked shift in the support base for the event.

Visitors to KwaZulu-Natal

“The July”, as it is known, has become hugely popular with socialites from Gauteng province, who for the last two years have made up more than 50 percent of the crowd at Greyville Racecourse for the race day, compared to the 2012 Durban July where the Gauteng contingent made up just over 20 percent of the visitors to the event.

The effect on the regional economy is a massive surge in spend on airfares, transport, accommodation and hospitality in the greater Durban area over the entire weekend.

Significantly, data from Durban July fans surveyed showed a marked trend towards using the trip to the race day as the basis for a longer stay in the province, with 25 percent of the out-of-province visitors spending three nights in KwaZulu-Natal, seven percent holidaying for four nights, and 17 percent spending five nights or more in the region over the Durban July weekend.

With each out-of-province visitor spending an average R5 296 on travel, accommodation and entertainment, the regional hospitality industry banked R133 750 000 from the Durban July last year.

Pre-race day record

Ticket sales have reached a pre-race day record for this year’s event, with another sell-out event assured, meaning the province’s regional economy can look forward to an even bigger windfall this weekend.

Betting accounts for over R200-million, with around R100-million being wagered on the totes nationally, and bookmakers turning over a comparable figure from their customers. Wagers on the R3.5-million Durban July race normally account for about half of that betting spend.

Hot on the heels of another successful Top Gear festival, and with surfing fans taking in the Mr Price Pro in Ballito, the region’s reliance on key sporting events has been clearly underscored.

‘Rewarding’

Ndabo Khoza, the CEO of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, said in a statement on Thursday: “It is always rewarding to see the influx of tourists for the Vodacom Durban July, and this year we will again welcome tens of thousands of people to the city and province, and I believe that a number of accommodation facilities are already fully booked.

“Events such as these form the cornerstone of our strategy to drive tourists into the province, and Durban is fast becoming entrenched as the events capital of South Africa,” Khoza said. “But more than that, it also provides an ideal platform for us to host the international tourism trade.

“This year, we are bringing travel agents from surrounding SADC regions to experience our province and the Vodacom Durban July, so that they are able to return to their countries and promote KwaZulu-Natal as an ideal holiday destination. This is further enhanced with the direct flights from Harare and Lusaka, straight into Durban, and we look forward to more routes being added in the future.”

Andrew Layman, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, feels that the region should build on a strategy that uses key sporting and social events to attract visitors throughout the year.

‘Mammoth significance’

“The Vodacom Durban July is an event of such mammoth significance that it stands head and shoulders above other events, particularly as it draws so many high-profile political, business and social personalities from Gauteng,” Layman said, “but in the broader scheme of things, all these events tend to hang together as contributing towards, and benefiting from, momentum.

“Events, especially, if they carry high status, exploit people’s willingness to spend and, in the case of the Vodacom Durban July, their desire to be seen in places that raise their levels of public exposure,” Layman said.

“The Vodacom Durban July is no longer just a premier horse race. It is the nucleus of a social event which includes a variety of associated functions and gatherings, all of which, in some way, have significant economic spin-off. The opportunities presented for the fashion industry are prime examples of this.”

SAinfo reporter