Cape Town has seen significant growth in its tourism industry, with the support of its cruise tourism sector, but Durban has experienced only marginal growth, undermined by persistent load-shedding, health concerns regarding its beaches and damaged infrastructure.
Wesgro CEO Wrenelle Stander said cruise tourism had an annual economic impact of R300-million, and supported thousands of jobs in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Wesgro is the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape.
Stander said the start of the 2022/23 cruise season was an important step towards achieving Cruise Cape Town’s goal of taking advantage of the growing global cruise tourism trend and expanding the cruise economy. The R300 million cruise contribution for Cape Town in 2022 compares to R100 million in 2017.
The Western Cape government’s ability consistently to remain at one load shedding level lower than the rest of the country has also added to the city and province’s attraction for domestic travellers, who make up a significant number of the Cape’s visitors.
“The collaboration between the public and private sectors has been a large part of the Western Cape’s success in recapturing its share of both the local and international tourism market. There are many examples of companies working together on joint marketing initiatives and joint messaging on social media which have strengthened our position,” Stander said.
Cape Town’s position as one of the country’s major international flight destinations has also helped, with 12 flights a week from the United States alone to Cape Town International Airport. That compares to zero direct flights from the US in 2017.
These initiatives have elevated Cape Town’s appeal as a cruise destination, not only for visiting cruise ships, but also as a homeport, which is a far more lucrative proposition for cruise destinations as they benefit not only from ship fees and passenger spending, but also hotel bookings, airline spend and reprovisioning by the ships.
Cape Town’s cruise and wider tourism growth compares favourably to Durban, which saw only marginal growth in tourism revenue during the Easter period, one of the peak seasons for the city. Despite hosting many activation events to encourage tourists to visit the city, Durban saw an increase in hotel occupancy of just 2% in 2023 compared to last year.
An eThekwini Municipality Economic Development and Planning committee report presented by Deputy head of Durban Tourism Winile Mntungwa said overall hotel occupancy reached 65%, with a marginal increase in visitors from 1,203,115 in 2022 to 1,241,790 this year. There was a direct spend of R2.3 billion compared with R2 billion last year.
Mntungwa highlighted crime as an ongoing impediment to tourism growth for Durban, pointing out that while metro police and other law-enforcement agencies had a crime-prevention plan in place, it was concerning when there was no visible policing in areas like uMhlanga after dark.
“The feedback that we have been getting is that people are not feeling safe, people are getting robbed inside restaurants,” she added, pointing out that this led to a cascading effect where patrons stayed away from restaurants, which impacted their business.
Shoreside crime is a major concern to cruise passengers, and cruise lines will drop ports call in cities where crime has become a danger to the enjoyment and safety of its passengers. Durban’s challenges extend beyond crime though.
Despite the opening of the new Durban Cruise Terminal, which is used as a homeport terminal by MSC Cruises annually, Durban has struggled to attract more cruise lines to homeport in the city, with all other major cruise brands preferring Cape Town thanks to its better governance and international flight connections.
The city’s beaches are also facing an ongoing sewage crisis. Many have been closed along the Durban coastline, with recorded water quality results, showing that most of the eThekwini municipality beaches are currently not safe for public and recreational activities.
Only three of the nine sampled beaches along the city’s extended coastline have acceptable levels of E. coli. They are uShaka, South and Westbrook Main beaches. This presents a problem as cruise passengers generally don’t enjoy swimming in sewage.
Although the April, 2022 floods in KZN have been highlighted by the local government as the cause of the crisis, it is largely a result of the municipality’s declining ability to provide informed water governance and reliable service delivery to its residents and businesses over the past two decades.
There is some good news for the city though, with Mntungwa mentioning in her report that King Shaka International Airport in Durban will soon get a new international flight connection to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).