Cruise ship bonanza for South Africa


South Africa is set for a money-spinning cruise tourism bonanza heading into next year with Durban at the heart of the action. The highly-anticipated MSC Sinfonia – touted to be the largest and most modern cruise ship to operate out of South Africa – docked in its home port of Durban for the first time on Friday, kicking off the season.

At 58 600 tons and accommodating 2 100 passengers and crew – the MSC Sinfonia will operate out of Durban, calling at the port more than 30 times in the next five months and cruising the Indian Ocean between Mozambique, Mauritius, Reunion and the Comoros.

However, the MSC Sinfonia will not be the only high profile cruise ship to make its maiden voyage to Durban. Next year in March the uber-luxurious Queen Mary 2 – which is almost three times the size of the Sinfonia will call in Durban for the first time.

In addition, the big cruising news for the 2010 Fifa World Cup is that German promoter ONE OCEAN CLUB will bring two cruise ships from Holland America Cruise Lines – the MS Noordam and MS Westerdam – to operate as floating hotels for the duration of the tournament out of Durban and Port Elizabeth.

ONE OCEAN CLUB said with the thousands of visitors expected for the 2010 World Cup and the shortage of four- and five-star accommodation in the host cities of Durban and Port Elizabeth, it aimed to cater for this market.

It will be offering 4 600 additional beds for visitors on the two luxury cruise liners.

The MS Noordam will be based in Durban and travel to Port Elizabeth for big match days there, while the MS Westerdam will be based in Port Elizabeth and will make trips to Cape Town during the tournament.

For the summer cruising season going into 2010, Durban will have more than 50 calls at the port with about 30 of those being calls by the MSC Sinfonia, which is using Durban as its home base throughout the season. Other cruise liners expected in Durban and Richards Bay during the season include the Balmoral, Voyages of Discovery, Seven Seas Voyager, Silver Wind, Crystal Serenity and C Columbus.

“The arrival of the new generation MSC Sinfonia in South Africa ushers the region into a new era of world-class cruising. This is definitely the biggest single development in the local cruise industry since we first pioneered leisure cruising off this coast,” said Allan Foggitt, director of Starlight Cruising, the general sales agents for MSC Cruises in South Africa.

“We have had unprecedented advance bookings, which confirms the timing for launching MSC Sinfonia in the country. Most departures in November and December are already either sold out or heavily booked and we are expecting more than 70 000 passengers on board this season,” Foggitt added.

According to Starlight, MSC Sinfonia will represent a significant boost to the local economy.

Local hotels, transport and ground service providers in Durban are set to see an increase in demand, while food and beverage suppliers will also benefit.

Local airlines will also enjoy increases in catering for upcountry cruise guests who will jet into Durban for the cruise. Revenue to the Port of Durban in the form of port charges and taxes alone will be around R20-million for the year.

James Seymour, of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal and the secretary-general of the Cruise the Indian Ocean Association, said MSC Sinfonia’s introduction to the Southern African market marked a bonanza year for cruise tourism in the region.

“This won’t be our busiest cruise season on record, but it will definitely be a landmark with not only the introduction of MSC Sinfonia, but the maiden call of the giant Queen Mary 2 in Durban in March next year.

“This no doubt is going to be a major highlight next year together with the MS Noordam based in Durban for the 2010 World Cup,” he said.

“Durban will be the Queen Mary 2’s first port of call in South Africa on its world trip. Passengers are expected to visit a Zulu village in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. This is the case with many of the other cruise liners that will stop over in Durban.

“All this is going to have tremendous economic spin-offs for KZN and bolsters our efforts to promote the southern Indian Ocean region as the new frontier and destination of the cruise tourism industry.”