DURBAN – MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately owned cruise company, plans to grow its offerings to South Africans despite the weak economy with consumers under heavy pressure.
MSC said this week that it would be bringing two ships to South Africa for the 2020/2021 cruise season – adding capacity for 50 000 additional cruise passengers.
From December 2020 to March 2021, MSC Musica would be home-ported in Durban, with MSC Opera in Cape Town.
MSC Opera can host 2 500 people and will offer 22 cruises next season alongside the MSC Musica, which accommodates 3 200 guests, will offer 40 cruises.
Ross Volk, the managing director for MSC Cruises South Africa, said, “Our decision to increase the number of ships for the South African cruise season in 2020/2021 is due to the significant growth in demand we have seen in our guest numbers over the past few years.”
He said that in the recent seasons, the company had seen a 25 percent increase in guests compared to the same period in 2017/2018.
When asked about the South African visa policy, Volk said that of the majority of guests on cruises, 138 000, of them were local South Africans on inbound trips.
However, it would be an issue with MSC Opera and MSC Cruises, which were in talks with the South African government.
Volk said more South Africans were realising that a cruise was an affordable, convenient and an exciting holiday option.
Despite the economic downturn in South Africa, people still wanted to go on holiday. He said South Africans were more likely to cut other products such as life insurance, which was hitting insurers like Old Mutual and Sanlam.
He said people now opted for shorter and more frequent holidays that were more affordable, but they were keeping a close eye on the costs.
Volk said that while someone in the past might have gone to Mauritius once or twice a year, they now cut down the quantity of travel and might opt for a local option.
As regards to investment in South Africa, the group had invested in the Durban Cruise Port Terminal in a joint venture with Africa Armada Consortium worth more than R200 million. The terminal would definitely open in 2021, Volk said.
He said the new terminal would be iconic for Durban, with a Zulu design.
“This multi-user terminal will make Durban an even more desirable destination for cruise ships from all over the world,” explained Volk.
He said,“All the partners in the initiative will shortly sign off the final design of the terminal and ground-breaking is scheduled to begin in November this year,” he said.
“The design phase took a little longer than we anticipated, but it was vital that we got this right as we want the Durban Cruise Terminal to be an iconic destination. We hope the new port will be operational by January 2021.”
Directly it would provide 100 to 150 jobs through the year and through construction between 10 000 to 15 000 people.
He said MSC was confident about its business in South Africa.
To demonstrate this, last week MSC South Africa had named a container vessel which had been in the Port of Durban for the first time, the MSC Aino.
Volk said the ship naming was a huge accolade for South Africa as it could have happened anywhere in the world.
MSC South Africa also announced the formation of its new training facility in Durban, the Shosholoza Ocean Academy, which would begin to operate from November.
MSC said in a statement last week that Captain Salvatore Sarno, the chairperson of MSC SA, said, “It is part of our company’s long-term vision to support the president’s call for job creation by creating 5 000 more jobs within five years.”
Talking about the new academy, Volk said: “What MSC is going to do is take young South Africans who are going to qualify through the medical and the other requirements and we will train them for free in a three-month course and put them on board MSC ships around the globe.”
MSC is adding 17 new ships as it invests in to its fleet it had invested in for over the next 10 years.
Volk said each of these ships would need an average of 2 000 crew members. It would add up to between 30 000 to and 35 000 new crew.
MSC plans to get 3 000 to 5 000 new placements from South Africa from now until 2024.
“The benefit of that is R5 billion in salaries coming back to South Africa,” Volk said.
“Again, with all these factors, MSC is trying very hard to ensure that South Africa remains an incredible place to do business and as a tourism destination and supporter of job creation.”
The MSC Cruises fleet currently has 16 ships, but MSC Cruises said it had an €11.6 billion (R195.7bn) investment plan, which would see the fleet is set to expand to 25 cruise ships by 2027.
Volk said that in addition to crew placement, the new academy aimed to provide training that was relevant to the cruise sector, as well as technicians, welders, boilermakers and maintenance and repair personnel for the container and cargo sector.
Students would be required to do theoretical training and also serve on either a cruise or container vessel on any of MSC’s vessels globally to gain hands-on experience and expertise while studying towards their chosen area of interest.
Details of recruitment and enrollment would be communicated at a later stage, MSC Cruises said.
MSC Cruises said it was committed to investing in African tourism.
“This investment has included infrastructure development in Mozambique – a popular cruising destination for South Africans – and continued collaboration with the Namibian government, as Walvis Bay is one of the ports that MSC Cruises sails to. There are also knock-on benefits for the tourist industries in the destinations that MSC Cruises sails to, which have been enhanced by increased passenger volumes.”
Angelo Capurro, a global executive director at MSC Cruises, said: “South Africa is an important market for MSC Cruises and reflects our broader growing investment in cruising globally. We have committed to launching 13 next-generation ships between 2017 and 2027, which will bring our fleet total to 25 and see our passenger capacity more than triple. Our total investment in these ships amounts to approximately R200bn.”
MSC Cruises is a relatively new company within the MSC stable and has achieved 800 percent growth in its first 10 years.