Cape Town has made it to the top of the TripAdvisor 2011 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards, beating world cities and destinations Sydney, Machu Picchu, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, Rome, London, Barcelona and Hong Kong.  It is a fantastic accolade for our wonderful city, and could lead to millions of visitors to Cape Town, if the TripAdvisor numbers are to be believed!

“With beautiful scenery, great wine and gorgeous weather, it’s easy to see why Cape Town, which also played host to last year’s World Cup, has topped this year’s list” said Emma Boyle, TripAdvisor spokesperson.

I am extremely sceptical of TripAdvisor, a love-hate site for hospitality establishments, that allows users to rate hotels and restaurants around the world.  Boldly they claim to have “over 45 million trusted travel reviews and opinions”, which Cape Town Tourism promptly misinterpreted on its blog as being the number of voters for Cape Town.


While I am delighted at the visibility for Cape Town as a result of the top ranking of our Mother City, the market researcher in me was disappointed in TripAdvisor’s announcement not answering two key questions:

*   who participated and voted for the top destinations?

*   what methodology was used, including sample size, vote methodology, time period of vote, etc, or was it purely based on the number of Google-type searches recorded on the TripAdvisor site? 

A vague sentence in the TripAdvisor announcement stated: “honor top travel spots in the world based on millions of real and unbiased opinions from TripAdvisor travelers.  Award winners were determined based on a combination of travelers’ favourite places and overall destination popularity”.  “Millions of TripAdvisor travelers around the globe have helped identify the world’s top travel spots,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “The Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards not only recognize some of the most beloved travel destinations worldwide, but serve as inspiration for millions of travelers looking to plan their next trip.”

As a registered TripAdvisor owner for my four establishments, each with their own e-mail address, I received four e-mail announcements of the winning destinations, which means that all TripAdvisor users and product owners will have received the e-mail on Thursday, clearly a potential benefit for our city in terms of future enquiries and bookings.  Yet I was not requested to participate in a poll to choose my favourite travel destinations on any of the e-mail addresses.

When one clicks onto ‘Cape Town’ on TripAdvisor, a top ranking of B&B’s, hotels, restaurants and things to do appears.  Here the rankings are explained, in that they are based on a ranking derived from an average user score out of 5.  The number of reviewers having stayed/eaten at an establishment is also mentioned.

Once again the TripAdvisor sceptic that I am, and knowing that reviews can be written by establishments themselves (a severe criticism TripAdvisor faces continuously), by competitors wishing to disparage fellow establishments via false reviews (another severe criticism TripAdvisor faces), and by vindictive anonymous past guests, with a difficult procedure for owners/managers to respond to these, I was particularly interested in the Restaurant top 10 listing for Cape Town, as judged by TripAdvisor reviewers:

1.   La Colombe – on the 2010 Eat Out Top 20 shortlist

2.  The Opal Lounge 

3.   Caffe Hausbrandt – this is where it gets to be odd – this is a coffee shop on Green Market Square that I have never heard of

4.   Miller’s Thumb in Gardens

5.   Constantia Uitsig

6.   Savoy Cabbage

7.   Fork

8.   Willoughby’s

9.   Brio

10.  Carne

Only La Colombe made the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist, but did not make its Top 10 list in 2010, as its chef Luke Dale-Roberts left and opened his own restaurant The Test Kitchen.

The Top 10 Hotels list for Cape Town, as rated by TripAdvisor users, is as follows, ranked from 1st onwards: 2Inn1 Kensington, Derwent House Boutique Hotel (which was rated by an astounding 598 reviewers), Blackheath Lodge, Four Rosmead, An African Villa, Steenberg Hotel, dysART, Kensington Place, Villa Zest Boutique Hotel, and Table Bay Hotel.  Only two hotels are on this list, the rest being guest houses or small boutique hotels. 

The Top 10 things to do in Cape Town is an odd collection, and appears to include companies who offer tourism services: Table Mountain Walks with a guide, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Hiking and Cycling Tours, Langa Township (a strange inclusion), Lion’s Head, Boulder’s Beach, Cape of Good Hope, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, and Abseil Africa from Table Mountain.

Time will tell whether the TripAdisor 2011 Travelers’ Choice Destination Award for Cape Town will make itself felt in terms of the benefit of ‘millions’ of TripAdvisor reviewers visiting our country and our city, something every accommodation establishment and restaurant sorely needs and hopes for for the bleak winter lying ahead.  There has been no sign of any increase in enquiries since the TripAdvisor 2011 Travelers’ Choice Awards were announced last week.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:   Twitter: @WhaleCottage