V&A Waterfront: From derelict seafront to responsible tourism beacon

2017-11-08 06:30 - David Green
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Today is World Responsible Tourism Day. Here V&A Waterfront CEO David Green shares how in just two short decades one of SA's most iconic attractions has transformed from a near derelict seafront to a responsible tourism beacon. 

Tourism has been a remarkably resilient beacon amid the challenges facing the South African economy over the past few years, once again outstripping national GDP growth in 2016.

In total, travel and tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (10.2% of global GDP) and 292 million jobs in 2016, equivalent to 1 in 10 jobs in the global economy. The sector contributed direct GDP growth of 3.1% last year and supported 6 million more net additional jobs.

Impact of the V&A Waterfront 

As the top tourism destination on the African continent, the V&A Waterfront makes an outsize contribution to these economic benefits, on its own adding an estimated accumulated R335.4 billion to the national GDP between 2002 and 2016, and R294 billion to the accumulated provincial gross geographic product (GGP) for the period.

Importantly, by 2016 ongoing operations and capital expenditure at the V&A Waterfront was sustaining 39 306 jobs in the Western Cape, of which approximately 23 000 are direct jobs on the property.

These are impressive figures for a piece of land which, two and half decades ago, was rapidly becoming a derelict seafront and illustrate the enormous role that tourism could play in the economic fortunes of the country – if developed responsibly.

The role of responsible and sustainable tourism

It is fitting to reflect, as we celebrate World Responsible Tourism Day on November 8, on the place of the leisure travel industry in promoting sustainability – this year also having been declared International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations.

The aim of World Responsible Tourism Day is to help drive change through education and to promote more responsible behaviour within the industry and travelling public, to explore how countries and destinations can be made more sustainable, and to encourage the industry to drive the responsible tourism agenda forward.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, meanwhile, seeks to promote tourism’s role in the following key areas, as they relate to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 

• Inclusive and sustainable economic growth;
• Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction;
• Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change;
• Cultural values, diversity and heritage; and
• Mutual understanding, peace and security.

This broadens the understanding of sustainability to include the social, cultural, environmental and economic dimensions.

The V&A Waterfront driving responsible and sustainable tourism

Closer to home, the water crisis afflicting the Western Cape has made residents of this province cognisant of the reality that natural resources are finite and under pressure. With this, however, has come a perceived conflict between tourism industry/economic growth, and the preservation of our very scarce water resources.

We firmly believe that there does not need to be a conflict between these ideas. Through careful management of the V&A Waterfront’s water resources, we have reduced our consumption by more than 25% since 2009, in a sustainability process begun well before the drought struck.

Additionally, it is important to know that out-of-town visitors (foreign and local) will only account for an additional 3,4% of the total provincial population over the festive season, and that their water consumption will be around 1% of total consumption over the festive season. 

Tourism already plays a largely unrecognised role on each of these fronts and the V&A Waterfront, in particular, has always understood the need for a holistic, sustainable vision for development, protection of historical assets and an inclusive approach that is as welcoming of locals as it is of visitors. These key strengths have enabled the Waterfront to hold its own on a global tourism platform.

Tourism is also a great vehicle for poverty alleviation, because it is possible to employ people with limited skills and upskill them over time. Even in this age of increasing automation, tourism remains both a hi-tech and a high-touch sector in which the human element is central.

The V&A Waterfront is committed to driving meaningful growth in entrepreneurs and enterprise development, and this sits at the heart of its plans for growth and development.

Through the allocation of barrows at the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre, shops within the Watershed, the Market on the Wharf and the Oranjezicht Farmers Market, the V&A Waterfront has created an environment in which previously disadvantaged entrepreneurs and small-business owners can flourish.

Today, there are 294 permanent enterprise development tenants, and between 2014 and 2016, total enterprise development jobs increased from 829 to 1 132, while average real tenant turnover increased from R603 094 to R936 522.

Similarly, 96% of the 130 buskers who form part of our busker programme rely on their earnings as the primary source of household income.

Small business has gone from 1% of our retail turnover in 2014 to 4% in 2017, bearing in mind that our retail footprint has grown substantially in that period.

A bustling hub for quality African craft and design, the Watershed opened for trade in October 2014 after a R50 million transformation of an existing craft market space, and has fast become an important facilitator and supporter of local entrepreneurship through the sale of handmade items and African design.

The redevelopment of the Watershed was an investment into small business and African craft and design, affirming our belief in craft as a business. We see our role as that of providing a platform for people to turn their talent into fully fledged businesses.

In the 12 months that followed its successful launch, the Watershed reported an exceptional 300% increase in retail trade. One of the primary tenets of the Watershed is that all traders must showcase and sell products that have a unique or original design, and are both produced on and made with materials from the African continent.

Another great example of this approach is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which not only houses an unmatched collection of contemporary African art, but was constructed as far as possible using local materials and labour – including the giant pillowed windows. More than 1 200 people worked on building the museum, while 30 million man-hours over four years went into the development of the Silo District.

In just six weeks since its opening, Zeitz MOCAA has become locally and internationally established as the top cultural attraction in the country, receiving 70 000 visitors and achieving a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5%.

We’ve given a face, a voice and a presence for African craft, design and fashion through the Watershed, and we’ve done the same with art and culture through Zeitz MOCAA, the landmarks we preserve, and the nature of the museums on the property.

What the V&A Waterfront example illustrates is the absolute imperative for growth and development in the travel and tourism sector to be matched by a commitment to sustainability in all its dimensions.

It also stands as a shining testimony to the possibility of achieving this balance. 

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