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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

South Africa has a major opportunity as cruise industry booms

Cape Town alone could see an extra 220 billion rand (Dh65.62bn) added to the Western Cape province coffers over the next decade from cruise visits

<p>The QE2 at Port Rashid in Dubai. The cruise industry is booming. Karimn&nbsp;Sahib/AFP</p>
The QE2 at Port Rashid in Dubai. The cruise industry is booming. Karimn Sahib/AFP

Global cruise tourism is roaring ahead and South Africa could become a prime destination, bringing jobs and investment to an economy that has struggled to reach its potential.

Industry figures show that more than 300 ocean cruise vessels, both big and small, sail to more than 800 ports around the world. More that 21 million tourists take to the sea each year, presenting a significant opportunity to countries with welcoming port facilities.

Cape Town alone could see an extra 220 billion rand (Dh65.62bn) added to the Western Cape province coffers over the next decade from cruise visits, local government research shows. Official estimates of a recent visit by the Queen Mary 2, now a floating hotel at Dubai's Port Rashid, to Cape Town are that the ship's docking for one day alone brought 2 million rand in tourist revenue and harbour fees.

The country also has other ports that are promising cruise destinations – Durban and Port Elizabeth on the Indian Ocean, Mossel Bay on the south coast and Alexander Bay on the Atlantic.

Angelo Capurro, executive director of MSC Cruises, one of the world's largest operators, says the South African market is showing double-digit growth. Growth is so fast MSC was planning to introduce a new vessel to the region.

"Passenger growth will further accelerate next year, with the coming in November 2018 of a newer and even better ship: MSC Musica," Mr Capurro says.

The coming year is expected to be one of the best ever, tourism officials say. More than 20 cruise ships operated by 17 international cruise lines will call at South Africa’s ports during the 2017/18 cruise season.

To stimulate the industry the South African government is rolling out a programme it calls "Operation Phakisa" (the word means "hurry up" in Sesotho). Phakisa is intended to stimulate the "ocean economy" - a sorely neglected asset in a country with 3,000 kilometres of coastline.

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Phakisa is intended to encourage and fund the entire chain of sea-going – from ship building to training sailors to developing port facilities for both cargo and tourism.

Cruises in the region are not limited to South Africa but also take in neighbouring countries such as Namibia and Mozambique, docking at ports such as Walvis Bay and Maputo. Both blend their unique African heritage with their colonial past – the Portuguese influence is still felt in Mozambique, and Germany's legacy is still visible in Namibia.

The region does offer challenges, not least its distance from the northern hemisphere where most cruise lines operate from.

"We need to take into consideration some geographic complexities and longer than usual distances," says Mr Capurro. To get around the long sail times MSC has to ensure the time on board is well spent.

"The ship in itself is an important element of the holiday experience: it’s a destination in itself."