Jessica van Tonder
THE downgrading of the Billabong Pro from World Championship Tour status to six-star World Qualifying Series status has seen fewer tourists book into Jeffreys Bay for the event, which kicks off in two weeks’ time.
But businesses are optimistic it will still be a success.
The event was downgraded because of financial constraints experienced by the main sponsor, Billabong, earlier this year, although event organisers have promised to keep the excitement and feel of the event by inviting a bigger contingent of South African surfers to participate.
But some tourism establishments said that judging from the low number of bookings for accommodation so far, there would also be a downgrading of the number of visitors to the event.
Salt Rock Lodge owner Aige Harmon expressed his concern regarding the change of the event’s layout.
"The interest I have found is not the same as last year. The downgrade means fewer international big surfing names. When [tourists] travel internationally, they want to see the best that the surf scene has to offer,” he said.
"I still have vacancies that I usually did not have.”
Seashells Accommodation owner Nico van der Merwe echoed Harmon’s sentiments.
"We are very quiet due to the downgrading of the Billabong Pro. Many people phone and book three weeks in advance. They want to check if there is going to be surfing as the weather plays an important role in the surfing action,” Van der Merwe said.
Yet, despite some low-level hotel and B&B bookings, event organisers and some businesses remained optimistic.
This was because most fans only booked into establishments at the last minute, they said.
Another boost for the new-look event was a three-day music festival which would draw major South African artists as well as international acts.
The festival will showcase 25 top national bands and more than 20 deejays, with the headline acts including Hard-Fi, from Staines in the UK, and local artists Shadowclub, Flash Republic, Prime Circle and Jack Parow.
"It’s going to be fantastic. There are usually only 34 top surfers and this year they have allowed 130 more people the opportunity to join. The locals have a chance to step out from being the underdogs and earn points that will begin to earn them an international rating,” Wavecrest accommodation owner Andrew Moon said.
"There is going to be huge opportunity for businesses as they will be benefiting from the number of people following the surfers and the musicians.”
Island Vibe Backpackers operations manageress Marcelle Hickley said she was still waiting to see "how the change to the set-up of the surfing will affect us”.
"I believe this is still an amazing event and the music festival will only benefit our town. We are already fully booked over the time of the 5FM Music Festival.”
Parow said he was looking forward to the event.
"I’m really excited for this festival ... I love the vibe that J-Bay has,” Parow said.
Shadowclub said they would be performing four new tracks from their upcoming new album.
"Our show is going to be high- energy, in-your-face rock ’n roll,” drummer Isaac Klawansky said.