Cape Town-121219- The V&A Waterfront is buzzing with life, as tourists flock to the cape for the festive season. Photo: Ross Jansen

Cape Town is experiencing one of its best festive seasons yet, with popular tourist attractions already receiving record numbers of visitors.

Between January and March last year, tourists spent more than R5 billion in the province. And visitor spending in the city is set to be the same or even more this year.

The Table Mountain Cableway sold nearly 120 000 tickets in December – the highest number sold in a month since 1929 – while more than three million people visited the V&A Waterfront.

But it hasn’t been a bumper season for one of the city’s most popular World Heritage Sites. Visitor numbers to Robben Island have again dropped, this time by about 1 000 visitors in December. Visitor numbers to the island also fell sharply in December 2011, when it received 3 140 fewer visitors than in December 2010.

Robben Island Museum chief executive Sibongiseni Mkhize said the “slight drop” in visitor numbers was mainly due to bad weather and a few windy days.

He said exact statistics, including how many people had visited the island over the festive period, would only be available next month, but confirmed that their numbers were down by about 1 000 for December.

“We’ve done our best to market the museum and have been getting a lot of bookings,” Mkhize said. “However, due to strong winds on a few days over the festive season, we’ve had to cancel some trips.”

Mkhize said their ferries were in good condition and that the festive season had been “incident-free”.

“No bad publicity in the past has resulted in people not (making) bookings. We have long queues here every day,” he said.

Cape Town Tourism communications manager Skye Grove said the Table Mountain Cableway had sold a record 119 000 tickets in December, 19 000 more than expected.

“We believe that Table Mountain’s status as (one of the) New 7 Wonders of Nature contributed to this increase – the highest monthly visitation for the last 83 years.”

Cableway chief executive Sabine Lehmann said: “We are very pleased that December has been so good. We are extremely weather-dependent and we managed to sell 3 000 more tickets in December last year compared to the previous year.”

The V&A Waterfront saw a 9.84 percent increase in visitor numbers last month.

A total of 3 015 227 people visited the Waterfront during December, Grove said. This is up from 2 745 386 in December 2011.

She said Cape Town also saw a spike in the number of domestic visitors this festive season, mainly from Gauteng.

“Feedback from tourism companies and Cape Town Tourism members indicate that December 2012 was similar in terms of international tourism activity to December 2011,” Grove said. “We did see an increase in domestic tourists in our Visitor Information Centres and at Cape Town attractions, but will only be able to confirm final numbers of this once we receive (Airport Company SA) arrival figures and complete our formal accommodation and attraction survey later this month.”

Grove said the City Bowl and Atlantic Seaboard had been exceptionally busy this December and that there had been a good dispersal of visitors in the metropole, along the Peninsula, to the Winelands and to towns outside the city’s borders.

“Rental vehicles were fully booked for the last two weeks of December and the good weather has encouraged visitors to get out and about to explore Cape Town,” she said. “Peak season usually ends as we move into autumn at the end of March.

“February is traditionally our peak international tourism season and we are expecting an increase in arrivals from key source markets of the UK, USA, Germany and the Netherlands for February.”

Tourism MEC Alan Winde said: “It is pleasing that the rest of South Africa and the world loves the Western Cape as much as we do.”

Winde said this put the Western Cape firmly on track to achieve its aim of growing the contribution of tourism to the Western Cape’s GDP from 10 percent to 14 percent by 2014.

“It is particularly important that our tourism industry continues to do well because its development means economic and job opportunity growth for the people of the province.” - Cape Argus