Flat out good value
Flat out good value
A bargain is up for grabs for Umhlanga Rocks tourists, with special rates on holiday flats on offer through to the end of November. All but a handful of the area’s estimated 700 holiday flats were empty at present while Covid-19 lockdown restrictions remained in place. But the sector was preparing for this to change.
Penny Underwood, whose agency Umhlanga Accommodation lets out about 70 flats, said she and her colleagues in the sector were ready for an easing of restrictions. And when that happened, rates would be kept affordable to lure visitors back.
Her prices ranged from R600 a night for a studio flat to R2000 for a four-bedroom flat with all the trimmings.
Penny, who is also a committee member of the Umhlanga Community Tourism Organisation, said many regulars were itching to return.
“We are getting a lot of inquiries still. People are holding onto their bookings for July. We don’t know if we can take them yet. Some people have been changing their dates from March to later on in the year,” she said.
Penny has been in the business for 40 years and manages the letting of flats for owners in blocks along the length of the Umhlanga’s popular promenade, from Breakers Resort to Malindi.
“Clients right now need to know that although we have closed our doors we have not closed our business. We have a deep cleaning and sanitising company that we have been working with, and they are ready to move into the apartments as soon as we open. We will be training our staff in sanitizing properly and to the correct standards soon, when we open. We are getting all the information now so that we have all our ducks in a row,” said Penny.
She stressed that as soon as restrictions eased they would be ready to receive guests.
“For us, (and I am sure everyone in the hospitality industry) we will deep clean and sanitise all our apartments – before and after every guest.”
She said she had been in touch with many of the chairmen and representatives of body corporates who were all determined to put measures in place to sanitise their public spaces – lobbies, lifts and the like.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on 13 May announced consultations were under way to ease restrictions from the current Level 4 to Level 3.
The government expected this would come into effect for most of the country before month end. But Ramaphosa added that those regions with the highest rates of infection would remain on Level 4.
The Cabinet in a 14 May statement committed itself to reviewing regulations to improve clarity. It noted variations in infection rates between different municipalities and said the government was following a “differentiated level approach as a response”.
Details were still emerging, but it was likely to have some bearing on tourism. This included Umhlanga, as the different metros tweaked regulations to suit their circumstances.
Level 4 bars accommodation businesses like holiday flats, hotels and B&Bs from operating except for quarantine and essential services.
Level 3 keeps these measures in place, but eases travel restrictions somewhat.
Level 2 restores accommodation services for business travel, with an increase in domestic flights envisaged.
Level 1 represents a full return to business, but with safety measures and masks still in place.
The levels were part of a draft plan released on 25 April, which was subject to consultations and change.
Penny said a recovery in the holiday flats letting market would take time.
She acknowledged the economy had taken a pounding, with people having lost jobs which dampened demand.
“It’s going to be quite a while for people to build confidence again,” she said.
But she remained upbeat about Umhlanga’s prospects, particularly in the key Gauteng holidaymaker market.
“Umhlanga has a charm all of its own and the Village will draw people back. I still believe we are accessible to come down for a weekend or a couple of days,” she said.
About 90% of her guests were South Africans, but with a stronger demand from international tourists in February and March, she said.
It wasn’t like the holiday flats business had died away entirely under lockdown.
They had accommodated a few essential workers, although these had been “few and far between”.
Penny still has overseas guests in one or two of the flats she looks after. The guests had been unable to leave when lockdown kicked in on 27 March.
This included a couple who have upgraded to a bigger flat at Bronze Bay after a travel ban extended their Umhlanga holiday.
Penny agrees it would be hard to think of a better place to be marooned. The weather in Umhlanga at this time of the year was “stunning… beautiful”.
“I get calls from an owner who can’t wait till he can come and see the sea,” she said.
There had also been a kidney transplant patient and his donor, recuperating in an Umhlanga holiday flat when lockdown started.
They extended their stay, but the recovery went well and the patient and donor have since left.
Something curative in the Umhlanga air, perhaps?