The V&A Waterfront is not waiting around for international tourists to return
While the return of international tourists is crucial to the economic wellbeing of the V&A Waterfront, management is not holding back investment and development while it waits for them. And in the meantime, local tourists are the flavour of the month.
South Africa’s tourism industry has its eyes fixed on the UK government as it updates its red-orange-green travel list this week. Despite lobbying from the Southern African Tourism Services Association, SA has remained firmly on the red list, which is costing the economy more than R790-million every month in lost tourism spend, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Losses since May exceed R2.4-billion.
Providing a faint glimmer of hope for SA is the fact that the UK’s traffic light system will be subjected to a strategic review before 1 October with suggestions of a new two-tier system that will ditch expensive PCR tests for double-jabbed holidaymakers and a significant reduction to the red list.
One person who is desperate for SA to be removed from the red list is David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront. Visits to the iconic destination are 40% down from 2019 when the Waterfront hosted more than 26 million visitors. “We have no international tourists, no events, no business travel,” he says, pointing out that before Covid struck, international tourism was the fastest growing sector of the South African economy.
Attracting visitors is vital if the 123ha “neighbourhood” as Green likes to call it, is to return to making the economic contribution of previous years. In the year to March 2020 the V&A Management company, its tenants, and their suppliers contributed R36.4-billion in GDP, equivalent to 2% of the provincial economy, creating almost 50,000 direct jobs and 25,000 indirect jobs. Continued investment in, and development of the V&A precinct has seen this contribution grow consistently over the years, up from R28.9-billion and 16,000 direct jobs in 2012.
Despite the unwelcome Covid-19 interruption, the management company has worked hard to preserve and protect the existing infrastructure, while planning and investment in new infrastructure continues. “The tourists will come back, the cruise liners will berth again at the Cruise Terminal, and we need to be ready.”
The cruise terminal, which opened in December 2018, is one of the investments that has yet to reach its full potential. In the 2020 financial year 42 cruise liners berthed at the terminal, pouring out some 74,000 passengers, up from 22 liners and 33,000 passengers in 2017. Green sees no reason why this terminal will not host 300,000 to 400,000 passengers within the next few years.
Another project that is yet to reach its full potential is Makers Landing, the R63-million farm-to-fork food experience that opened its doors to the public last December.
It’s a partnership with National Treasury’s Jobs Fund.
Other investment is under way. A R4.3-billion project to upgrade and redevelop the historically significant Canal District is almost complete. This development reconnects the Waterfront with the city. It includes the Roggebaai Canal, which connects the V&A and the Cape Town International Convention Centre; the Waterfront Theatre School, commercial, retail and hotel space, and the newly redeveloped Battery Park. The park preserves remnants of the old Amsterdam Battery and incorporates a skate park and basketball courts that are already well used – when lockdowns allow. A primary school is still in the planning stages and further “densification” is possible, says Green.
Public access and a link to the city are his favourite hobby horses.
“When Transnet first sold off the land, 30 years ago, it was walled off and inaccessible.
Today, although the land is privately owned, it is publicly accessible,” he says. This means visitors can get quite close to cruise liners, boats in the marina, the dry docks and watch the tugs working. The downfall of waterfronts elsewhere has been that too much private property has been incorporated into the precinct. “Preserving the freshness, growth, and flexibility is not served by selling to private residential; they do not have the public good in mind,” says Green. As a result, the Waterfront (co-owned by Growthpoint Properties and the Government Employees Pension Fund) owns the 200-odd buildings in the precinct.
Another recent investment is the completion of 250 studios for rent. With rents averaging R7,000 to R10,000 for a one-bedroom flat, these are accessible to young professionals, a group Green is trying to entice.
What is apparent, talking to Green, is that the Waterfront is not simply retail and leisure space. It is a mixed-use neighbourhood that is attracting more than its fair share of commercial tenants. What is also clear is that development is far from over.
“There are two ways to be bigger. One is to develop the areas that are less developed, such as Granger Bay, which incorporates Grand Beach and the Oranjezicht Market.” There are long-term plans for this area, which include the possibility of land reclamation. The other idea is to further develop the area around the cruise terminal. While the “oceans economy” already occupies 21% of available land, Green (and others) see potential in further developing this sector – at the heart of which is Cape Town’s world-renowned catamaran building – and space could be made available for businesses operating on the periphery of this, like the sailmakers, kiteboard makers and the like.
“We could grow by another 50% in terms of bulk (buildings) and activity. We have a 20-year plan…”
Of course, there are a few small thorns niggling Green. One is finding ways to bring people back into the city. Another, the biggest thorn, is that of public transport, or its lack. “MyCiTi is great, and we are looking at Park and Ride from the northern suburbs. But the future is rail.
“Cape Town has an amazing rail system. Most cities would kill to have those links to their most population-dense areas. Our priority is to see Prasa operating – this is a catalyst for growth. Let’s use what we have. This is where the energy and focus should be going.”