The V&A Waterfront, a major part of the country’s tourism offering, is bracing for a bumper season as local and international visitors are set to return in large numbers. Comparing this year to the last, retail sales indicate a positive growth and we predict the numbers matching, and possibly surpassing, the figures for 2019, regarded as the “last normal” before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Through a significant capital and operations expenditure programme over the past two years, the Waterfront is also continuing path to sustainably grow the city’s tourism appeal, create generous public access, grow incomes and jobs.
Key metrics on attractions, accommodation rates, and the aviation sectors for the Western Cape show an 80% recovery since the last normal and bode well for Cape Town. The tourism industry contributed R5.8 billion to Cape Town’s economy in 2021 despite the impact of the pandemic and industry watchers are confident that the sector will rebound strongly on the back of increased travel and the falling away of all Covid-related restrictions.
Also significant is the scheduled return of a substantial number of cruise vessels which will dock at the Cape Town Cruise Terminal. The cruise season runs from October to March and jointly, these vessels will deliver approximately 195 000 visitors to the V&A Waterfront’s door with 26 ships expected for the season.
The V&A Waterfront’s CEO David Green said: “People the world over have been muzzled for the best part of two years but borders have reopened, airlift is returning, and people are raring to travel. We have experienced a rapid recovery since January 2022, with international tourism increasing every month.
“As this will be the first festive season without pandemic-related restrictions, we anticipate positive footfall across the V&A Waterfront and a significant increase in our sales as we’re already seeing double digit positive growth in previous months up to now.” Green said.
He added that the V&A’s extensive and varied food and retail offerings and festive season programme, highlighted by the hugely popular Joy from Africa to the World initiative, cemented the Waterfront’s position as a premier tourist attraction.
One of the stand-out festive season 2022 programmes is the V&A’s Joy from Africa to the World initiative which celebrates Africa with purpose and provides a platform to benefit local communities. Joy From Africa has its genesis when the Waterfront questioned its approach to the festive season and decided to challenge age-old narratives and traditions.
The return of large sporting events and conferencing drives footfall through the Waterfront as well as visitations to restaurants and taverns. The Waterfront continues to show double digit positive growth on 2021 and 2020 with their Covid restrictions. When comparing against the last “normal” year in 2019, we see between 64% to 79% recovery rates depending on the area within the precinct.
Food, clothing, retail and hotels show signs of recovery
According to Green, “so far this year, retail sales figures have shown a very strong recovery”.
“Using the last ‘normal’ year, April 2019 – March 2020 as a base, retail sales at the V&A have rebounded sharply surging to a 20% increase in Sep 2022 after being down 21% this same period last year. Retail space vacancies across the precinct are currently below 1%. We foresee the trend continue to escalate into the bumper festive season. We retained most of our tenants and some have upgraded their offerings,” he said.
Green cited ZARA which has opened a new concept store, the return to operation of Ster-Kinekor cinemas, and Adidas which has opened its “greenest” store in Africa as “significant positive indicators” about the continued and sustainable economic reboot.
Restaurant trade at the Waterfront has also rebounded strongly in the wake of the end of pandemic-related restrictions. La Colombe Group has opened two new fine dining restaurants in the Waterfront – PIER and The Waterside – with newcomers Paul and Tang opening soon.
Cape Town CBD favourites Tigers Milk and Beluga are now also to be found at the Waterfront, while an old favourite in the ever-popular Belthazar is returning while Sevruga and Harbour House have undertaken revamps of their spaces.
Makers Landing, continues to go from strength to strength, “cultivating new food offerings for locals and tourists to sample”.
The hotel sector was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic as tourist travel was grounded, but according to Green, six months into 2022, “all our hotels are open and seeing bookings climb”.
The V&A has a total of 15 leading hotels located within the precinct. Prior to the pandemic, 75% of their revenue was driven by international key source markets.
“The return of local and international sporting events such as the recent Rugby World Cup Sevens and World Masters Hockey and the Ocean Race 2022/2023 which stops over in the Mother City for the month of February 2023, as well as leading conference events, are the drivers for this notable recovery for the hotel sector.”
Place of safety for commercial businesses
The V&A’s office portfolio surpassed retail some years back, modifying its reliance on the dominance of retail and tourism.
According to Green, the precinct’s blue-chip tenants held onto their space and in recent months staff occupancy levels have returned to levels close to pre-pandemic as companies appear to opt for a hybrid work system rather than a fulltime work-from-home approach.
“Continued economic recovery is also driving demand for additional office and commercial space which is being accommodated in existing buildings,” he added. “A safe and well managed V&A Waterfront is proving attractive for business.”
The V&A Waterfront is continually exploring ways to refresh and reenergise buildings and spaces in order to keep the visitor offering unique.
Green said among other key developments are:
- construction on the multi-tenanted office building in the Canal District anchored by Investec Bank and scheduled for completion in early 2023;
- this development includes the new Caltex/Astron Energy fuel service station which is on track to reopen in November;
- a refresh of the Alfred Mall below the V&A Hotel, including a new welcome plaza to signpost Cape Town;
- the reimagining and redevelopment of the Union Castle Building;
- the international Time Out Market scheduled to open in Cape Town in 2023; and
- the new positioning of the iconic Cape Wheel which will open at its new setting overlooking Granger Bay, with spectacular views out to Robben Island and passing shipping traffic.
- Energy efficiency and trading through loadshedding
The Waterfront has reduced its grid energy consumption by 47% and invested R40 million in energy-efficiency projects. The V&A currently generates 2MW of renewable energy through solar power and intends to double this in the next two years, supported by the reroofing of the Victoria Wharf, which is well underway.
The V&A has also invested in meeting the challenge of loadshedding. “Having all our hotels, restaurants and retailers consistently trading normally throughout load shedding is a competitive advantage, and nothing less than what is expected from a premier destination” he said.
- Water and Waste management
According to Green, construction of a 3.3 megalitre desalination plant in the Pierhead District has commenced and will be completed by the end of FY23.
“The plant’s capacity will be sufficient to meet the V&A’s daily water requirement and take its water consumption completely off-grid,” he said. “To offset the energy required to operate the plant, we are exploring pyrolysis in line with our goal of using zero-energy from the grid.
“We have also launched a black water treatment plant which will convert 10% to 15% of the precinct’s sewerage water for re-use in irrigation and toilet flushing.