MSC Cruises SA, the South African division of the Italian cruise line, expects to see minimal growth in the number of cruise passengers sailing out of Durban, according to Ross Volk, MD of MSC South Africa.
The cruise line, the only one that currently homeports annually in the city and caters almost exclusively to the local South African cruise market, expects to see 110,000 cruise passengers during the coming cruise season, compared to 108,000 last year.
Volk was speaking at a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Durban Tourism under the theme “Durban on a rise”, during which various tourism stakeholders spoke of the city’s efforts to attract more tourists to the city post-COVID.
“The downstream impact is incredible,” said Volk. “We do 36 to 40 trips a year out of Durban up to Mozambique. This is major sector of the hub for MSC. It’s also a major conduit of getting guests through.”
MSC Cruises recently invested R300 million into developing a dedicated cruise terminal in Durban, and despite the low growth in local cruise demand, it is planning a further R30 million expansion, largely to enable it to accommodate MSC Cruises’ ever-larger cruise ships.
“This year alone we have provided employment to around 784 South Africans, especially to the youth of this region, but our target is to provide more than 1 000 jobs to the people of Durban and surroundings,” Volk said.
Volk added that they always try to procure produce needed to feed tourists during the cruises from local small, micro and medium enterprises (SMME). Volk said that they always tried to procure as much as possible, especially from around Durban’s agricultural food producers.
In addition to being the homeport hub for MSC Cruises’ annual South African cruise seasons, Durban is also a major cruise port for visiting ships sailing the South African coast on ‘safari cruises’.
Dube TradePort CEO Hamish Erskine said the safari offerings across the African continent had “re-boosted” tourism, from Durban to Zimbabwe and Lusaka, in Zambia.
Durban Tourism deputy head Winile Mntungwa said the advantage that Durban has is that it is land-, sea- and air-based, in terms of transportation, so tourists have a variety of transportation modes to choose from.
King Shaka International Airport in Durban lacks international connections to the world’s major source markets of North America, Europe and Asia, while South Africa’s primary cruise source market, Johannesburg, primarily chooses to drive rather than fly to the city.
Durban has been beleaguered since the COVID-19 pandemic by local mismanagement of wastewater infrastructure, resulting in dangerous amount of sewage being discharged onto the city’s coast, while repairs to roads and public infrastructure following the floods in 2022 has been slow.
The city’s appeal as a tourist destination was also badly damaged by the riots that destabilised large swathes of Durban in mid-2021.