Cape Town needs a dedicated cruise liner terminal

The recent passing through Cape Town by the Queen Mary 2 makes this a good time to continue the debate about cruise liners, and in particular the need for a cruise line terminal, in Cape Town.

I agree with MEC Alan Winde and Councillor Grant Pascoe that the decision by Home Affairs to disallow the disembarking of cruise liners under 200 metres at the V&A Waterfront is unacceptable, especially since it appears to have been a decision based on narrow bureaucratic interests and taken after many years of precedence.

The Queen Mary 2 is the largest cruise liner ever to enter Cape Town, and at 345 metres she is way too long to fit into the Waterfront anyway.  But having been invited aboard the last time she was in Cape Town, berthed on the Eastern Mole,  I have seen the conditions under which passengers (many of whom are very old) are expected to embark and disembark, picking their way over railway lines and stepping across potholes and around bollards.  It is a disgrace that one of the world’s most beautiful ports expects some of the world’s wealthiest travellers to accept these conditions.

The irony of the Queen Mary 2’s berthing is that the Port had indicated that E Berth would be available, an offer the Port likely views as a great concession, and which ended up being turned down by the ocean liner company.  The problem is that the current facilities at E berth are also unacceptable and real effort will have to be made to upgrade the existing building to make berthing acceptable.

The reality is that for Cape Town to benefit from cruise liner tourism, it needs a dedicated cruise line terminal in the main harbour.  Preferably this should be as close as possible to the CTICC and the Waterfront, with a direct connection at top deck level (several storeys above ground level) into a handling facility much like an airport.  This is what one finds in world class ports such as Barcelona.

The Port of Durban is way ahead of Cape Town with regard to the establishment of a new cruise liner terminal.   They have identified a site and they are currently preparing a Request for Proposals from terminal developers.

But the fact remains that cruise liner operators will base their decisions on whether to deploy to South African waters on the sort of reception they get, not only in Durban or Cape Town, but at all stopovers along the coastline.  We need a comprehensive national policy directed at realising the benefits that can be achieved for the whole country.

It is important for South Africans to realise that attracting cruise liners here will not only benefit Cape Town but the entire country, as the well-heeled tourists will be exposed to all of the charms of the country as a whole.

What most Capetonians don’t realise, however, is that we essentially have no say at all about whether or not we should build a cruise liner terminal.  This decision sits squarely with Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), a national state-owned enterprise based in Johannesburg (bizarre as that may seem, being nowhere near the sea) that owns and controls all the major ports in South Africa.

This company is mandated to make money out of its operations, and plans its use of the Port of Cape Town according to the most profitable activity.  It has no interest in or obligation towards what is most beneficial to the broader Cape Town economy.  The most profitable activity for TNPA happens to be the movement of containers, and as a result the pressure is constantly on for the expansion of container handling capacity.  Other activities such as other cargo handling, ship repair or cruise liners fight it out for space elsewhere in the harbour, and cruise liners get shifted from berth to berth as they arrive.

Because TNPA makes very little money per metre of quayside out of cruise liners, they have no incentive to change this situation.  They argue that they cannot justify building a cruise line terminal when only 10-15 of them arrive each year, but this ignores the fact that, if there was a dedicated terminal and a solid cruise liner industry strategy, then this number would undoubtedly grow.

What is required is for potential private sector investors and local, provincial and national government departments to come together with Transnet National Ports Authority to identify a site, secure investment and a long lease, and build the terminal.  There is, in fact, a company in existence, known as the Ocean Liner Terminal Development Company, which has been trying for many years to negotiate with TNPA and other stakeholders to achieve exactly this, but to no avail to date.

It is likely that the only way for TNPA to finally move on this is for the people of Cape Town, particularly the tourism industry, and even the national Minister of Tourism, to make as much noise as possible about this and to insist that TNPA comes to the party on building what will undoubtedly be beneficial to the broader Cape Town and South African economy.  They have already built into their long-term plans a potential site where a terminal could go, but they need to be pushed to make this happen now, not in 15 years’ time.

Author notes:

Guy Lundy is CEO of Accelerate Cape Town, a business think tank made up of 45 top corporates in the Cape Town region.