Taken by Mercury reader Marius van der Walt of a little girl mesmerised by a wreck on display in the aquarium at Durban’s uShaka Marine World. File Picture.
Taken by Mercury reader Marius van der Walt of a little girl mesmerised by a wreck on display in the aquarium at Durban’s uShaka Marine World. File Picture.

UShaka Marine World ‘must think out the box’ to stay in business during the Covid-19 pandemic

By Xolile Bhengu Time of article published Sep 21, 2021

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DURBAN - USHAKA Marine World turned 17 years old this year but the iconic theme park, which was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, is seeking solutions to stay in business.

The theme park attracts mainly tourists from out of KwaZulu-Natal particularly because of the price of entry to the establishment which attracts the higher-end of the market.

The entry into Sea World costs R157, entry to the water park for a four-hour session is R157, the reptile exhibit with the world’s most venomous creatures from Africa and other parts of the world costs R62, a zip line above rocky reef for people aged 13 and above costs R195.

This means as an individual to fully enjoy the activities of the establishment you need to budget R571 – for a family of four that would be a cost of R2284. An additional shark dive would cost R213 and a snorkel experience R111.

Earlier this year, Durban mayor Mxolisi Kaunda revealed that uShaka would receive R160 million, with an additional amount of R6m to be used by the entity to research how it can reinvent itself and attract new visitors.

He said at the time that the entity has embarked on cost-cutting measures and was aggressively pursuing revenue-generation opportunities.

Mdu Nkosi, IFP and eThekwini executive council (exco) member, said the party had tabled a proposal to uShaka management to come up with a strategy that would accommodate everyone to visit the iconic site.

“The pricing for amenities and activities at uShaka are just not for everyone, they are for a certain class. Management has to consider that it is not everyone that has a car or money who wants to visit the park. A couple from the township can’t just decide to visit the place because the price is too high.

“For as long as they don’t think out of the box, they will keep losing their foot traffic to places such as Suncoast that caters for every market irrespective of their earnings. People are still clawing back from the recent looting and pandemic. Some shops have also not been able to reopen. It’s just not worth it,” said Nkosi.

Nicole Graham, DA leader in eThekwini and exco member, said uShaka was too reliant on municipal bailouts for its existence, adding the cost of entry at uShaka was one component, and the other was a lack of strategic skill.

Graham said running a theme park required experience to keep it attractive throughout the year and not just during the festive season, which she also said was a pity because uShaka ran many outreach programmes in underprivileged areas.

“UShaka has unfortunately become a novelty experience and does not have anchor tenants that would keep people coming back, and that requires special skills. All they have done so far is to hike up the price to make money off the fewer people (visiting the entity). The marine park is run well, but the overall theme park is just not being run well.”

Ndabo Khoza, chief executive of Ushaka Marine World, said most of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions affected both the Water park and Seaworld.

He said there were significant fixed costs that are associated directly with these two attractions within the park which included electricity and water, which are critical for maintaining the well-being of the marine life especially in the aquarium.

“Furthermore, for the water park there has to be scheduled operation and maintenance of these facilities in order to ensure that it is kept in an operational state for example water pumps, slides etc,” said Khoza.

He said the average monthly costs of maintaining this section of the park was about R3.2m.

Penguins line up for their feeding by a staff member at Ushaka Marine World.

One of the reptiles that can be seen at Ushaka Marine World.

One of the exotic reptiles that can be seen at Ushaka Marine World.

THE MERCURY

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