Africa had potential to become one of the biggest cruise tourism markets because ocean cruise lines were looking for new markets outside Europe and the US and the continent was largely untapped, speakers at the Seatrade African Cruise Forum said yesterday.
But cruise lines were not aggressively expanding into the region because of numerous challenges regarded as threats to the viability of their businesses. Top of the challenges list are a lack of infrastructure, poor safety and security, high port costs, unclear berthing policies, geopolitical instability, few shore excursions, low service standards and large distances between destinations.
Neil Palomba, the corporate operating officer of MSC Cruises, said the company had been calling on Transnet to build a dedicated cruise terminal in Durban. A lack of proper facilities had the potential to ruin the experience for passengers, which in turn reflected negatively on the cruise line.
“Our passengers want to enjoy their destination, they want to get onto a ship right away and that is not always the case at some ports. These are people who have already been on a plane for long hours and when they arrive at a port, they want to go on board,” Palomba said.
“Passengers are asking to come here but the more people we bring, the more infrastructure we need.”
Transnet is conducting a pre-feasibility study to assess the viability of a dedicated cruise terminal. Ricky Bhikraj, the manager at the port of Durban, said this would be completed by the end of September. Feasibility studies and tender awards would be done by the end of May 2013, and if there was merit in the plan, construction would be completed by June 2015 and it would be commissioned by July 2015.
“We still need to make decisions on whether it will be built and funded by ourselves or if we give concession to a third party. There is perhaps an opportunity for public-private partnerships but we would need to look at the pros and cons of that,” Bhikraj said.
He said responses received thus far showed the industry would prefer a terminal that could cater for two large vessels and 5 000 passengers and equitable access to the terminal.
The port of Durban had a cruise terminal but it was decommissioned in the 1970s. The area that is currently used to accommodate cruise lines is congested and can only berth one ship at a time because it is in a cargo terminal.
The number of cruise passengers at the port of Durban increased from 42 576 in 2004/05 to 157 424 in 2010/11. Cruise lines expect to transport 15 million passengers around the world this year.
Piracy is another concern that has prevented cruise lines from exploring African waters as some have withdrawn from destinations such as Tanzania, Kenya and Seychelles. The cruise lines said insurance costs were astronomical when they wanted to tour the Indian Ocean, which made coming to Africa expensive.
Gichiri Ndua, the chairman of Cruise Indian Ocean Association, conceded that piracy was impeding the growth of cruise tourism. Ndua said this issue needed a consolidated effort and resources and had to be fought under one banner.
Ndua said growing the cruise line industry in Africa could create various employment opportunities.
Port costs, especially in South Africa, which was regarded as one of the most expensive in the world, were also seen as a major challenge.
Chris Owen-Collett, the vice-president of worldwide cruise operations at Abercrombie & Kent, said South Africa should not rush to build a passenger terminal but use that money to subsidise port costs.