SA Cruise News

South Africa must follow UAE’s example to grow cruise tourism say experts

The UAE has firmly established itself as a major destination for cruise lines and can handle even the largest class of cruise ship, with turnaround port calls carried out seamlessly thanks to advanced ticketing and customs procedures.

“One of the most critical aspects of creating a vibrant cruise industry is investment in world-class infrastructure,” says Gaurav Sinha, a Dubai-based tourism expert and the CEO of branding agency Insignia. “From ports to terminals and on-ground support that’s essential for tourists to access a destination in a seamless manner, and this is what Dubai has done well.”

Sinha says that this even more important considering that cruise ports do not operate in isolation. Vessels that stop in Dubai also call in other Arabian Gulf ports, to give tourists a regional experience.

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Cape Town has vast potential as a global cruise port, but struggles to accommodate ships larger than Queen Mary 2.

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Sinha feels that this can be replicated in Africa. “Ships move from one port to another and there’s great potential to build the cruise industry in sub-Saharan Africa as people want to discover the abundance of nature, culture and heritage across the continent,” he says.

Last year was one of the best ever for Cape Town in terms of cruise vessel calls, with 28,000 cruise tourists visiting the city, but this is only a fraction of the 625,000 that arrived at Mina Rashid over the same period.

South Africa’s appeal as a cruise destination remains untapped, according to Andrew Robinson, a transport expert and director at Norton Rose Fulbright attorneys.

“Currently, South Africa’s share of the cruise tourism market, estimated globally to be at plus 21 million tourists, is less than 1 per cent,” he says. “Given its attractions such as safari parks, miles of beaches and great food, South Africa is punching below its weight regarding cruise tourism.”

And it’s largely down to infrastructure. In the 1990s, when Dubai was the only dedicated cruise terminal in the region, and a small and inefficient one at that, the UAE’s cruise tourism numbers were similar to those of South Africa’s at present.

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The country needs to take on the lack of infrastructure and administrative inertia to make the country more cruise friendly, according to Robinson. The UAE has redeveloped its cruise infrastructure in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and is planning further redevelopment at all of the major cruise ports in the region.

It has also streamlined visa regulations for cruise passengers, allowing all passengers to get a multiple-entry visa for almost all nationalities.

There is progress, however. In both Cape Town and Durban new cruise infrastructure has been built. While the N-Shed Passenger Terminal in Durban was redeveloped recently, it will soon be replaced entirely by the new Durban Cruise Terminal.

The terminal will boast a host of new features and facilities, allowing for simultaneous embarkation and disembarkation of passengers on multiple vessels.

Parking for vehicles, curb side drop-off for a dozen buses and a new concourse to process passengers will replace the rather drab buildings that are used now. Like the UAE versions, the Durban terminal will also include shopping, conferencing and leisure components.

These advancements in South Africa’s cruise infrastructure can’t come soon enough, with the 3,000 Queen Mary 2 capable of overwhelming Cape Town Cruise Terminal, the country needs to make way for the new generation of cruise ships capable of carrying up to 6,000 passengers.

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