The Port Elizabeth harbour must undergo an extensive face-lift so as to attract bigger cruise liners and welcome passengers who can be taken on tours to local attractions.
Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality is considering growing its earnings from the seasonal traffic of cruise liners by planning a major face-lift to the harbour of Port Elizabeth.
A task team consisting of members of the municipality, local academics and tourism experts has developed a “cruise liner strategy” aimed at attracting more cruise ships to stop over.
“The cruise liner industry is the fastest growing category in the leisure travel market,” said Peter Myles, a tourism consultant, who is part of the task team.
This statement is supported by the Cruise Lines International Association, which is based in Washington, DC, in the US, and said in its 2018 report that global cruise sales are on the rise.
This was because cruising was seen as one of the most economical ways for families to travel and more cruise ships were being built, the report said.
A study conducted by the Port Elizabeth team has revealed that the economic impact of one cruise ship docking in Port Elizabeth for one day and carrying 2 000 passengers is R3 million.
Myles says cruise liners carry a massive economic potential, adding that, for this opportunity to be fully exploited, the Port Elizabeth harbour must first undergo an extensive facelift so as to attract bigger cruise liners.
Former Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality tourism and economic development political head, Queenie Pink, told City Press that, as part of the development of a waterfront at the Port Elizabeth harbour, there must be a dedicated cruise ship terminal.
“This must be part of Transnet’s immediate priority,” said Pink.
Transnet National Ports Authority Port Elizabeth manager Rajesh Dana said that a cruise ship terminal was estimated to cost R100 million, and Transnet had put forward a number of funding options.
The project could start construction in the first quarter of next year.
This terminal should be conveniently accessible by train, coach or car, and must have restaurants and boutiques and provide a safe environment.
Pink said they must also see to it that port charges and taxes are competitive with other cruise liner destinations.
She said that there must be packaged tours for the passengers.
This is so that when the passengers disembark, they can be taken on sight-seeing excursions to places such as the Addo Elephant National Park; St Croix Island, which has the largest breeding colony of African penguins; and Bird Island, which has the largest Cape gannet population in the world, together with penguins and cormorants.
The projected cruise liner passenger throughput in South Africa by 2025 is about 1 million, with the average age of the passengers being 50 and above.
The metro has even declared the period between November and April as cruise liner season, as this is the time the liners dock for an average of four days at Port Elizabeth harbour.
Transnet’s Dana said that, between November and April, 20 cruise liners, operated by 12 different companies, docked in the Port Elizabeth harbour.
Some of the names of the cruise liners were the Queen Elizabeth 2, Crystal Serenity, Viking Sun, Saga Pearl II and the Seabourn Sojourn.
“The cruise liner season provides a big boost for the Nelson Mandela Bay economy, allowing tourists to access recreational, leisure and wildlife experiences in and around our city,” said Dana.
The national tourism department estimates that the coastal and marine sector will contribute about R21.4 billion to GDP by 2026, creating about 116 000 direct jobs.
The development of a Port Elizabeth waterfront has been postponed on numerous occasions. However, Dana is confident the development will “definitely” commence next year.
The cruise liner season was officially launched in November last year.
When one of these vast ocean-going vessels docks at the Port Elizabeth harbour, a small welcoming ceremony is arranged, including Xhosa traditional dancers entertaining the passengers.
During their stay the passengers are entertained and go to various places of attraction and shopping malls.
Provisional schedules indicate that about 24 ships operated by 17 different companies are expected to call at South Africa’s four other ports this season, these being Cape Town, Durban, East London and Richards Bay.
Myles says the average spend per passenger is estimated at R1 600 per day compared with R950 in 2010.
The liners carry between 650 to 1 000 passengers, excluding the crew.
“A cruise terminal is the starting point of a cruise vacation. A functional cruise liner terminal must not only be the ideal starting point or ending point of a cruise itinerary, but also a perfect port of call,” says Myles.
Paul Bruning, from travel company Akorn Destination Management, said cruise liner itineraries are planned at least two years in advance, adding that such matters as port capacity and building a dedicated cruise liner terminal needed to happen “almost immediately” if the bay was to grow its slice of the cruise liner pie.
Akorn manages about 70% of the market share of the cruise liner business.
“There are massive opportunities for local tour planners and land programme managers, as most cruise liners put a mark-up of between 50% and 100% on the tour packages booked on board,” said Bruning, adding that this gives local tour operators good opportunities to offer price-competitive packages.