193 days. That’s the duration of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown which brought the country to a standstill and plunged us into fear and uncertainty, some of which remains even as we are now at the least restrictive level of the national state of disaster lockdown.
A lot remains of the abnormal that’s defined the past six months. However, things are slowly changing for the better.
We have opened up the Watershed and V&A Food Market to trade four days of the week; our charter boats and helicopters are accepting bookings; our corporate offices’ staff are returning; and some of our hotels will bring forward opening dates ahead of the summer season. And with our buskers back, we have seen some life and energy return to the precinct.
These positive signs are of course tempered by the reality of businesses that have had to permanently shut their doors; the absence of foreign visitors; reduced spending by individuals and families; and degrees of caution to venturing out in a world where the virus still lurks. All of which challenges us.
How are we trading?
Footfall numbers have been on the rise in line with the falling away of restrictions around personal movement. Over the week we are now averaging more than 38 000 visitors a day, a far cry from the less than 3 000 a day at the start of lockdown.
Locals clearly love the Waterfront for its top-quality restaurants, retail shopping and attractions as well as its outdoor spaces. The marked difference in visitor numbers is partly seasonal, coming off the winter months when visitor numbers are traditionally low, but also from the pressure on personal finances as consumers adjust to reduced discretionary spending arising from the effects of the lockdown.
On marketing our precinct
The safe relaxation of travel regulations is good news, as is the start to the safe reopening of our borders for international travel, coming in time for us to salvage something out of what will be a very different summer season.
The season itself will be marked by the noticeable absence of foreign tourists in large numbers, and the domestic tourism market is also likely to be diminished, with increased competition amongst local and regional attractions. Yet, the current climate has also fostered a greater spirit of collaboration within the travel and tourism industry, spanning across the public and private sectors.
With increased focus on the revival of the tourism sector, we are working closely with the various bodies at a city and provincial level to support recovery plans, prepare and facilitate seamless travel experiences, and market the city and our neighbourhood as a destination of choice.
Our first priority will be to ensure that for South Africans – particularly those from Gauteng and KZN – Cape Town is top of mind and is their first choice to “escape to “as well as a destination offering great value.
Challenges remain, yet with a balance of grit, ingenuity and a deep commitment to our purpose of creating an inclusive and inspiring waterfront neighbourhood for all, we continue to find ways to animate the precinct. Our focus has been on creating a safer environment for Capetonians and those from further afield to enjoy, and we have focused our attention on making shopping, entertainment, living, working and reconnecting with friends, family and strangers in the neighbourhood, safer and easier. You can text us on our “Hey V&A” WhatsApp line – 0214087600 – to stay up to date on all Waterfront related information.
Our visitors want to be confident that we remain a protected environment to which they can safely return, and we continue to invest in tools that are helping us to do this.
New automatic hand sanitizers populate our general access areas to our shopping centre and bathrooms, and we are maintaining our increased cleaning regime on all general high traffic areas. Our stores, restaurants and attractions must maintain the COVID-19 health protocols as prescribed by government regulations. I urge you to take every opportunity to make your safety and hygiene practices visible and obvious to customers at all times.
The way forward
Amidst the uncertainty we have faced so far, our response has been to engage regularly with all of you and sector by sector to determine the best recovery opportunities. Assumptions on changes we expect to see must remain pragmatic. The lifting of restrictions on retail, restaurants, and hotels hasn’t meant a return to normal trading conditions. Same applies for our attractions. Return-to-work practices for employers and employees have been affected by public transport and the reopening of schools.
On the positive side, we are seeing great enthusiasm and demand for business that are local and embracing sustainable practices. Early in September we opened a new section for locally made skincare and hair products within the Watershed. I extend a warm welcome to this new group of tenants.
As we approach the festive and holiday season, we will be looking to further refresh our offer.
We are also expanding our ecosystem with a celebration of the wide and exciting culinary flavours of Cape Town with the launching of the R63m investment we have made together with National Treasury’s Jobs Fund into our kitchen incubator at Makers Landing in the Cruise Terminal – due to open in early December. This is an exciting development to grow future markets and showcase the best Cape Town’s ethically sourced local food.
Experiences are still critical of course, particularly at the V&A Waterfront. People want to be outside, safely, and we have an excellent track record on both. It will be important that any decisions we make continue to make this a priority.
Thank you for your resolve and perseverance through this difficult time. At the same time, I appeal to the continued spirit of collaboration as a neighbourhood as we enter more of a phase of “Light and Hope “. Let’s continue to engage and map a new way forward together. Our strength, as always is in our actions as a community.