We have previously written about Cape Town Tourism embracing the ‘100 Women 100 Wines’ competition, promoting it actively, and listing it in its ‘Strategic Plan’ as a means to ‘stimulate domestic tourism demand’.   The competition brought 100 women to the V&A Hotel in the Cape Town Waterfront on Saturday for one day, hardly a major boost to domestic tourism, especially as a number of the participants were from the Cape anyway! The wine industry has slated the event as ‘frivolous’, ‘patronising’, and a ‘joke’!

Sceptical as I tend to be when it comes to the marketing activities of Cape Town Tourism, I checked what information was available via Google, as we have not received information about this event as members of Cape Town Tourism.  Not much was written about the competition – only two blogposts by organiser Clare “Mack” McKeon-McLoughlin (why does she not use her real surname?) of Spill Blog, a media release and two website posts by Cape Town Tourism, and three participant blogposts.   Sponsors of the competition were TOPS by Spar, Newmark Hotels (V&A Hotel), Destiny magazine (with a circulation of 26128 ‘black diamonds’), and Cape Town Tourism. The aim of the competition was to generate “South Africa’s Best 100 Wines” list, a ludicrous claim made by Cape Town Tourism in its media release.

The competition premise was that 80% of women buy wines in supermarkets, thus making the brand decision, which is largely made on the basis of word of mouth recommendation by friends.  On the basis of this statistic, Ms McKeon-McLoughlin devised a competition whereby 50 women could enter, by motivating by e-mail why they and a friend should be invited to be a ‘judge’ in a wine competition “where you choose and pick the wines that you prefer, wines that suit your palate and mood, and that you would be more than happy to recommend to a friend”. The ‘judging’ took place at the V&A Hotel in the Waterfront, with participants having been flown to Cape Town (if not from the Cape); attending a lunch, a cocktail party, and a gala dinner; participating in the ‘judging’; and spending the night in the V&A Hotel.  About 30 % of the group of hundred women were from Cape Town and the Winelands, judging from Twitter. Cape Town Tourism refused to confirm the geographic breakdown.

The patronising media release written by Cape Town Tourism stated that ‘this event will see women from different backgrounds being empowered as opinion leaders in the field of wine, and will set in motion the debunking of the myth that this right is reserved for the connoisseurs and the ‘bourgeois” (who writes stuff like this?!).  Their website post also stated that the participants reflected the South African demographic profile, but the ‘black diamonds’ dominated.  Cape Town Tourism appears to have forgotten that this country has four ‘demographics’, and not just two, as is visible from their delegate photograph. Categories in which wines were selected are ‘Girls Night Out’, ‘Celebration’, ‘Sunday Lunch’, ‘Braai drinking’, ‘The in-laws are coming’, The Big date – romance is in the air’, ‘Long lunch’, ‘Mid-week easy drinking’, Posh Present, ‘Baby it’s cold outside, ‘Bubbly’, and ‘Kiss and Make Up’.  Ten wines were allocated per each of the ten categories, hardly a ‘judging’, and more of a classification of the 100 wines, information not provided as to how the original list of 100 was selected!  The Cape Town Tourism media release quoted its CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold as follows: “The innovation of food and wine is an integral part of what makes Cape Town an inspirational city.  We are looking forward to welcoming 100 women from across South Africa to Cape Town, and sharing our best wines and gourmet offerings with them.  Winter is the perfect time to explore our wine culture and our partnership with 100 Women 100 Wines demonstrates our commitment to unlocking Cape Town’s superb winter offering to the domestic market. We look forward to celebrating this as an annual event”! We do not believe that the event met the stated goal at all, as only the food of one hotel was experienced by the delegates, and mainly non-Cape Town wines were ‘judged’!

We asked Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold two questions about her organisation’s involvement in the event: what would its benefit be for domestic tourism to Cape Town, and how much did Cape Town Tourism pay for sponsoring the event.  This is the rude response we received on Twitter to our e-mails from Mrs Helmbold (she has not replied to our e-mails about the event):” For info on role in #100women event follow @CapeTownTourism‘s tweets. Event fund = R20 000″.

We question Cape Town Tourism’s sponsorship of the event, which will have gone to the organisers.  If Cape Town Tourism pays R20 000 for each of the 70 local and international events (we did not know that there are so many events in Cape Town in a year) it claims to support, it would be paying a precious R1,4 million, which it could use to greater benefit to attract more tourists to Cape Town by means of fewer, more fundamental events.  It is unheard of for a tourism bureau to pay a sponsorship fee, it being usual for them to just endorse an event, to give it credibility.  One wonders how Cape Town Tourism could have seen so much benefit in the event that they paid for it, and had the time to handle the (poor) publicity for it! It is clear that Cape Town Tourism has little knowledge of the wine industry, and blindly endorsed an event without credibility in the wine industry, and without any tourism benefit.  No local media (radio or newspaper) covered the event.

Mrs Helmbold did not attend the event at all, spending the weekend in Pringle Bay, and Cape Town Tourism’s PR Manager Skye Grove appears to have only popped in at the sponsored event. However, Mrs Helmbold was at great pains to Tweet about the event on Saturday, overstating the ‘benefits’ of the event for tourism to Cape Town as follows:

#100women is supported by @CapeTownTourism as part of focus on building winter brand, food/wine tourism and domestic tourism”

*   “#100women is 1 of many good examples of how partnerships can be used to accomplish much through events without investing a lot of money”.

*   “#100women 100 wines event is 1 of more than 70 events supported by @CapeTownTourism and 1 of earmarked domestic tourism events of year”.

Cape Town Tourism Tweeted ‘comments’ from delegates about how good they felt about being in Cape Town, but these were prescheduled via Tweetdeck, and do not appear to have been ‘live’ comments from delegates, making one question their credibility. In its website post at the conclusion of the event, Cape Town Tourism wrote ‘testimonial’ comments about Cape Town, quoting senior executives who apparently had never been to Cape Town before.   Some ‘justification’ Tweets were sent by them during the weekend event:

*   #100women 100 wines event proving that South African women love their friends, their wine, their food…. and Cape Town” (no delegate Tweets proved this!)

* City Press & Sunday Times at #100women event – this is how we do business. Unlocking CapeTown’s stories through national & int (sic) media” (City Press sent only a Trainee Journalist, and the Sunday Times was represented by their wine writer Neil Pendock, who in fact was one of the organisers!  There were no international media representatives).

*   We are loving the vibe at #100women 100wines. Women from all over SA falling in love with the Mother City and our food and wine offering” (not supported by delegate Tweets)

Proud partners with @NewmarkHotels, @1time_Airline & Tops at Spar of #100women100 wines. All about telling CapeTown’s food & wine stories” (no such ‘stories’ have been seen in the media!).

Pendock is known to be a good friend of Mrs McKeon-McLoughlin, and wrote about the event twice on his The Times ‘Pendock Uncorked’ blog in two days. He was the scorer at a previous round ‘judging’ event, as well as at the weekend event, at which the list of 100 wines was finalised.  He ‘shyly’ discloses in his first blogpost that he ‘advised 100 Women 100 Wines on selection of wines for the event’, vastly understating his involvement, and he makes no disclosure of his involvement in the second blogpost.  He praises  the ‘seminal’ idea of the ‘revolutionary’ competition (these two descriptions seem a gross exaggeration), alliteratingly (as he is fond to do) writing that “Mack” (whose real surname is known to him) gathered ‘ordinary women’ (not ordinary at all, from the descriptions of their careers) from ‘Pretoria, Porterville and Putsonderwater’ (maybe his creativity to alliterate town/city names with Johannesburg and Stellenbosch was limited!).  Pendock gives sponsors 1Time Airlines, V&A Hotel, Destiny magazine, and ‘Spar’ (not getting its bottle store brand correct) a punt in his blogpost, but does not mention sponsor Cape Town Tourism nor brand ‘Cape Town’ in his blogpost at all! Pendock is known as a very critical wine writer, and would have slated such a frivolous competition, had he not been involved in its organisation, especially as the wines were ‘judged’ sighted at the weekend event, his biggest criticism of Platter judging.

On Twitter only 55 Tweets were generated by 15 Twitterers over the two days, a poor tally. The ‘black diamond’ Destiny delegates from Johannesburg appear to not have embraced Twitter yet.  Newmark Hotels probably received the best benefit of the exposure on Twitter, with some Tweets praising its V&A Hotel.  The sponsors airline 1-Time, Cape Town Tourism, and Destiny, and TOPS at Spar came off worst, in receiving no acknowledgement at all from the delegates!   Only eight wines out of the 100 tasted and tested, being Graham Beck MCC, Stellenrust Timeless, Warwick The First Lady, Nederburg Riesling, JC le Roux, Miss Molly, Le Bonheur Sauvignon Blanc, and De Morgenzon Sauvignon Blanc, received Twitter mentions during the tasting. Distell  sponsored the wines for the dinner, and the Fleur du  Cap wines appeared to receive more favourable comments on Twitter than did the wines in the 100 Wines testing collection!

Nigel Cattermole, fearless wine-knowledgeable owner of Wine @ the Mill, laughed about the event, and called it patronising and a joke.  He said that most of the 100 wines in the collection were bulk mass-produced wines, being ‘mediocre to poor’‘There is no providence in these wines’, he added.

The ‘100 Women 100 Wines’ competition is a farce in more ways than one: The results, in generating a ‘Top 100 best wine list for women’, will hardly be an accolade winemakers would strive to achieve, not having any credibility.  Cape Town Tourism’s involvement in the competition is questioned, given that its energy should be focused on attracting as many tourists to Cape Town as possible, a group of 100 (of which many were from Cape Town or Stellenbosch anyway) making only a negligible  impact on tourism in our city, if any at all, given that the delegates stayed at the V&A Hotel, had all their meals and drinks there, and all activities took place at the hotel, meaning that there was little spend by them in the rest of the V&A or in Cape Town. The association with the competition is a serious dent to the credibility of Cape Town Tourism, in supporting a competition that is patronising to women; is frivolous and lacking credibility in its results; was poorly marketed; benefits the Winelands more than Cape Town; does not meet its intended goal of growing ‘domestic & intl (sic) markets’; does not meet the goal of ‘building winter brand, food/wine tourism and domestic tourism’, and makes no contribution in addressing the tourism crisis in Cape Town!

POSTSCRIPT 31/8: Cape Town Tourism has sent us a comment in reaction to this blogpost, in the name of ‘Thandiwe’, with a false e-mail address thandimotse@yahoo.com, in defence of Cape Town Tourism’s sponsorship of the ‘100 Women 100 Wines’ event, using similar yet contradictory information contained in its Media blogpost and a Tweet about the event.  A Google search confirmed that the only reference to ‘Thandiwe Motse’ is from two mentions on the Cape Town Tourism website.  We have not allowed the false comment, and we are surprised that Cape Town Tourism’s PR department would stoop so low in trying to justify their involvement.

POSTSCRIPT 1/9: The latest Spill blogpost brags about the success of the ‘100 Women 100 Wines’ event, quoting all feedback it has received on Twitter and its blog, even from its co-organiser ‘Dr Neil Pendock’!  Interestingly, the blogpost refers to ‘Thandiwe Moitse’, with a different spelling of the surname compared to the way Cape Town Tourism spells it.   There are no Google entries for this business executive, on either spellings of her surname!  The Cape Town Tourism spelling in its Tweets and media blogpost is the same as the spelling in the Comments posted to this blogpost!

POSTSCRIPT 3/9: A ‘judge’ of the first stage of the event, who was given a voucher for a meal at Societi Bistro by the organisers, and who expressed her dissatisfaction on Twitter with the poor quality of the meal and the service, was called by Mrs McKeon-McLoughlin and asked to remove her Tweet, as she had promised Societi Bistro that they would receive good publicity if the restaurant donated the vouchers!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage