A man bit­ten by travel bug

MADE A HUGE SUC­CESS OF FAM­ILY’S CRUISE BUSI­NESS, DE­SPITE OCEANOS DIS­AS­TER

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - PROFILE - Bren­dan Seery

The last thing you’d as­so­ciate with Allan Fog­gitt – South Africa’s “Mr Cruis­ing” and the man who helped turn the cruise tourism in­dus­try here into a mega money-spin­ner – is chop­ping down trees. Yet, for nine years, he was a lum­ber­jack in Canada.

It was when he came back to visit his fam­ily in South Africa, he chuckles, that he re­alised “I couldn’t stand the weather”. When his fa­ther, the leg­endary travel en­tre­pre­neur, John G Fog­gitt, of­fered him a job in the cruise side of the busi­ness, it was a no-brainer for Allan.

The fam­ily TFC Tours had grown into one of the big­gest travel com­pa­nies in South Africa, with Fog­gitt snr’s vi­sion open­ing up sev­eral new des­ti­na­tions and op­tions for South Africans, in­clud­ing char­ter flights to the Sey­chelles and South Amer­ica.

In the be­gin­ning, Fog­gitt ad­mits, cruis­ing had the im­age of “granny and grandpa, sit­ting on deckchairs, wrapped in blan­kets”… but South Africans quickly be­gan to catch on to the idea of a no-re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, all-or­gan­ised en­vi­ron­ment where you could, if you wanted to, let your hair down.

“It’s still like that: South Africans, it doesn’t mat­ter what colour they are, sure know how to have a good time!” he laughs.

It wasn’t all smiles back in Au­gust 1991, when Fog­gitt got a 2am tele­phone call and the voice on the other end said “she’s sink­ing!” The “she” was the Oceanos, a French-built, Greekowned ves­sel char­tered by TFC for that cruise sea­son.

“I thought: ‘What are they on about? This is a big ship, it can’t sink! My worse-case sce­nario was that it would have to be towed into PE, which would be highly em­bar­rass­ing…”

It quickly turned out to be a cruise tour oper­a­tor’s ul­ti­mate night­mare. Not only was the ship go­ing down in the tem­pes­tu­ous wa­ters off the Wild Coast, but the crew and the Greek cap­tain had aban­doned ship and left the 200-plus pas­sen­gers to their fate.

Fog­gitt hardly slept for the next day, an­swer­ing calls from jour­nal­ists from all over the world, mon­i­tor­ing the res­cue oper­a­tion mounted by the SA Air Force and Navy and a num­ber of com­mer­cial ves­sels in the area. There were res­cues of peo­ple from the tip­ping deck of the ship by air force Puma he­li­copters in a drama which would go down as a mod­ern mar­itime mir­a­cle. Fol­low­ing the sink­ing of the

Oceanos, Fog­gitt and his sis­ter, Daphne, started Starlight Cruises, which pi­o­neered cruis­ing in SA, grow­ing the in­dus­try from 12 000 pas­sen­gers to 87 000 in 2011 when they sold Starlight to MSC Cruises.

The busi­ness has con­tin­ued to grow since and 140 000 is the tar­get for the 2018/19 sea­son.

One of the most pop­u­lar cruises is the one up the Mozam­bique Chan­nel from Dur­ban, stop­ping at var­i­ous places in Mozam­bique. Even though Fog­gitt has done it “20, or maybe 30 times”, he says “I still don’t get bored, be­cause I am a peo­ple-watcher. I love sit­ting there with my Heineken, just look­ing …”

One of the in­ter­est­ing as­pects of the cruises – still of­fered by MSC Cruises (Fog­gitt and the fam­ily sold their in­ter­ests back to the Ital­ians last year but still mar­ket the prod­ucts through their Cruises SA com­pany) – is that, once the ship pulls away from the dock in Dur­ban, South Africans seem to for­get their dif­fer­ences. No mat­ter what gen­der, what race, or what age … they just party, says Fog­gitt.

The wheel of life has also swung full cir­cle for Fog­gitt as he has re­cently em­barked on a new ven­ture which, in many ways, echoes his fa­ther’s pi­o­neer­ing tours to ex­otic des­ti­na­tions.

Work­ing with Keith Gow, an­other lo­cal travel in­dus­try icon, Fog­gitt has put to­gether a se­ries of char­ter flights di­rect to the is­land ar­chi­pel­ago of the Mal­dives. For the first time, South Africans will be of­fered a di­rect flight to the is­lands (most peo­ple go there via an air­line hub, like Dubai). The di­rect, seven-hour, flight also cuts down on the trans­fer time – which can be up to six hours in boats or on small air­craft in other parts of the Mal­dives.

Air­bus A340 air­craft have been char­tered from South African Air­ways (SAA) with crews and “full ser­vice … no pack­ets of chips” he smiles.

Even as some­one who has seen some of the most beau­ti­ful parts of the world – and who him­self owns prop­er­ties in a beau­ti­ful places like Zanz­ibar, the charm of the south­ern Mal­di­vian is­land of Gan is that it is not crowded.

“You can­not be­lieve how amaz­ing the wa­ters are when it comes to fish life. You see more off the jetty there than snorkelling else­where!”

He is hope­ful that the char­ters, which run through De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, will be pop­u­lar enough to con­vince SAA to make the place a reg­u­lar des­ti­na­tion.

Fog­gitt re­alises he should have re­tired long ago, but “once travel gets into your blood, it’s there for­ever”.

He adds: “What bet­ter job to have than where you get to meet in­ter­est­ing peo­ple from all over, get to ex­pe­ri­ence amaz­ing places…”

Pic­tures: Tracy Lee Stark

MR CRUIS­ING. Allan Fog­git of SA Cruises poses for a pic­ture in his of­fice in Sand­ton.

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