V&A Waterfront gears up for economic recovery

Waterfront CEO David Green provides an update of the precinct since lockdown restrictions were lifted.

The V&A Waterfront, one of the most-visited spaces in Cape Town, is preparing for a bumper festive season this year as the precinct shows significant recovery.

CEO David Green gave an update of the Waterfront’s business and retail performances up to now, as well as details of infrastructure upgrades, at a business lunch held at Harbour House on Wednesday October 26.

“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.

“We have experienced a rapid recovery since January 2022, with international tourism increasing every month,” said Mr Green.

He added that in the past six months, retailers at the Waterfront have been trading at around 70% more than the same period last year.

According to statistics from the V&A Waterfront, using the last ‘normal’ year, from April 2019 to March 2020 as a base, retail sales at the Waterfront have rebounded, surging to a 20% increase in September 2022 after being down 21% for the same period last year, in 2021.

Mr Green said the new additions to the retailers, including clothing stores Zara and Adidas, and the return of the cinema are positive indicators of the economic recovery at the precinct.

He said while footfall in the Waterfront was still down since last year, there has been a steady recovery of up to 79% of people visiting the area.

Restaurant trade at the Waterfront had also increased in the precinct, with new restaurants opening, and old favourites returning and revamping in time for the tourist season.

The hotel sector, which was one of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic, had seen bookings climb just six months into 2022, said Mr Green.

“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.”

Mr Green said during the pandemic, the Waterfront took time to look at the precinct’s infrastructure, and explore ways to refresh old buildings and spaces.

Some of the works in the pipeline include the construction on the multi-tenanted office building in the Canal District anchored by Investec Bank scheduled for completion in early 2023; 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 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 views out to Robben Island and passing shipping traffic.

The helipad, which is one of the busiest in South Africa, will also be upgraded, and a 4×4 truck track will be installed, said Mr Green.

Some of the more sustainable infrastructure upgrades include a 3.3 megalitre desalination plant at the Pierhead District, which will be completed in 2023. “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.”

The Waterfront has reduced its grid energy consumption by 47% and invested R40 million in energy-efficiency projects.

The V&A currently generates two mega watts 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 under way.

The V&A has also invested in essential infrastructure to ensure the precinct is sufficiently immune to the immediate challenge of load shedding. “Having all our hotels, restaurants and retailers consistently trading normally throughout load shedding is a competitive advantage.”

He said the team wanted to get the precinct to a zero carbon footprint by 2025.

This festive season, the Waterfront will continue its Joy from Africa to the World Initiative, which celebrates local arts and crafts instead of importing festive decorations, with a view of reusing and recycling.

For New Year’s Eve, Mr Green said he wanted the Waterfront to be the place to celebrate. He said while they will do away with the famous fireworks display, they will replace it with an animation display.

Mr Green said with all the changes at the Waterfront, the message they were trying to bring was that, despite inflation pressures, this was a unique opportunity to create change and grow the tourism industry and the Waterfront has grabbed it by the horns.

“The recent signs of recovery have been extremely positive and at the V&A Waterfront, we are looking forward to the ongoing return to normalcy while playing our part to support our communities and building for the future.”