Terminal sets sail

2018-05-01 06:01

Only a few years ago, the cruise liner terminal at E Berth in the harbour was functional and inhospitable – a converted precooling facility for fruit export, open on the sides, and “not fit” for welcoming tourists to the Mother City.

But after an R80m investment, the cruise liner terminal has been transformed to have tourism and hospitality at its heart. The terminal was opened to the media on Tuesday following the completion of the upgrade and the relocation of seafood restaurant Panama Jack’s to the terminal last month.

The two-year upgrade became a reality after Transnet began considering such a project in 2014, after realising the importance of the cruise ship industry. The industry brought in around 65 000 passengers during the 2017/2018 season, with these passengers typically staying at port for around three days.

In 2015, Transnet announced the V&A Waterfront as the preferred bidder to manage the cruise terminal redevelopment project. The bid involved operating the terminal building for multiple uses to ensure year-round activity, instead of just during the cruise season (October to May).

The operation of the terminal was handed over to the Waterfront in December 2015, in a 20-year agreement, with a phased upgrade planned for the next two years. Phase one started in September 2016, with the building’s sides secured and the ground floor retrofitted for passengers. This included the creation of customs facilities, immigration desks, passenger infrastructure and baggage handling services. Phase two commenced last year and saw the upper level of the terminal retrofitted to create a mixed space for events, restaurants and tenants. The parking area was improved and a viewing deck is open to allow locals to see the cruise liners.

“What is special about the way the Waterfront is set up is that there are not many places in the world where you get to sit and be this close to these ships,” says Green.

This “soulful experience” is similar to the harbour activity still taking place at the Waterfront, which “you don’t get anywhere else”, he adds.

Waterfront CEO David Green says that at the heart of the redevelopment was tourism and hospitality – something that is often lacking for cruise liner passengers.

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“Our vision was really that it would be an extension of the Waterfront. As soon as you walk in you’ve got our tourism information people. And the key was the experience of the passengers is special and unique. Historically, and in many ports around the world, these kinds of vessels of this size would be quite deep into the bowels of the port, and there’s movement and activity and it’s quite inhospitable. They come from luxury and are sort of dumped into this wasteland.”

Cape Town is one of the top five natural ports, Green says, and visitors are greeted by Table Mountain and the Zeitz Mocca building when entering the port. It was important that this sense of destination be carried through the terminal, to create a positive first impression of the Mother City.

“Cruise liners, in the tourism space, are the fastest growing [market]. Something like seven out of 10 passengers who take one cruise will take a repeat,” Green explains.

The terminal received over 40 vessels in the 2015/2016 season and processed over 86 000 people. The average processing time was 20 minutes. Four cruise liner companies currently make regular visits to Cape Town, with another having signed on from next year for five visits, Green says.

“The cruise industry is an important part of Cape Town’s ocean economy and of our City’s proud marine heritage. As beautiful as Cape Town is, if a passenger’s experience on arrival is unpleasant, it can affect their entire perception of the City. From international experience we know that the cruise liner industry offers enormous potential for tourism growth, so we need to extend the world-class experience the V&A Waterfront is known for to the cruise terminal,” Green says.V

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