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Western Cape gets R1.2bn boost from cruise industry, with 1,800 jobs and even more growth on horizon

The docking of cruise ship Vasco da Gama in Cape Town is not a re-enactment of the Portuguese colonialist’s 1497 arrival, but the opening of the cruise liner tourism season on 2 November.

A total of 49 ship visits and 30 turnaround port calls are expected until May 2024, with 22 world cruises. While this is lower than the 70 visits from November 2022 to May 2023 – the first full season since the Covid-19 lockdowns – the number of world cruises, crucially, is up from 17 to 22, according to Cruise Cape Town. 

And reflecting Cape Town’s cruise industry growth potential, overall the numbers generally are up from the pre-Covid period – between 2016 and 2019, 30 to 40 cruise liners called on Cape Town port.

International visitors, who embark and disembark in Cape Town on turnaround trips, and those on world tours that stop over in Cape Town, are key to jobs and the provincial and national gross domestic product (GDP), according to a study commissioned by Wesgro, the Western Cape economic development agency that runs Cruise Cape Town in a private-public partnership with the provincial and local governments, the V&A Waterfront, the South African Maritime Safety Authority and Transnet.

For the 2022/23 cruise season that GDP contribution totalled R1.23-billion to the Western Cape. Just under half (48%) came from international visitors, 42% from vessels and 9% from domestic cruise passengers. 

For every 30 international cruise visitors, one full-time job is established. And for the Western Cape that meant a household contribution of R501-million.

In rands and cents that’s R612-million from a total of 34,193 international tourists, and R132-million from domestic tourists who at 43,715 represented the overwhelming majority of passengers on the cruise liners that called on Cape Town.

Or as the study also put it: The average onshore spend of a cruise line tourist from Asia is R20,700, from the Middle East it’s R32,000 while a South African visitor spends R4,700.

Vessels’ provincial GDP contributions of R648-million were more difficult to detail given the dearth of publicly available information. But R50.8-million was generated over the 2022/23 season from a series of docking-related charges, including port fees, refuelling, baggage handling and V&A fees – and the estimated cost of refuelling one vessel stood at about R9.8-million, on the back of one vessel’s declared fuel costs, according to the study.

Western Cape cruise season

The passenger ship MSC Orchestra arrives at Cape Town Harbour. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

For every 30 international cruise visitors, one full-time job is established. And for the Western Cape that meant a household contribution of R501-million.

Crucially the 2022/23 cruise season led to 1,864 direct and 1,043 indirect jobs, including 1,060 full-time national jobs – most of them (43%) in shops and souvenir sales, followed by 37% in hotels and restaurants, 6% at tour operations, while government and other services accounted for 5%.

Ultimately the cruise liner sector’s economic and jobs contribution to the Western Cape would also reflect in the national GDP. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Hey, big spenders: Cape cruise initiative welcomes 145,000 passengers in ‘bumper’ season

Or, as the Wesgro-commissioned study said: “The Western Cape cruising industry can hold its head high. Nationally the industry made a 0.02% contribution to GDP and a 0.01% contribution to job creation. This is well ahead of China and India. It is comparable to Brazil and lags Mexico.”

This cruise liner success was “very, very much by design”, Cape Town’s economic growth mayoral committee member, James Vos, said at the study’s public release this week.

Cruise Cape Town is part of the Blue Cape initiative in the oceans economy valued at R40-billion, from retail and property to manufacturing such as boat building. “One catamaran is loaded (on ships) every calendar day,” Vos added. DM


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