Last week two senior members of staff left the services of Cape Town Tourism, being its CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, and its PR and Communications Manager Skye Grove. A new era lies ahead for the tourism body, which can hopefully get on with the focused marketing of Cape Town and its tourism industry again.
Given how badly Cape Town has been marketed as a tourism destination in the past few years, it is a fantastic opportunity for new CEO Enver Duminy to show what he can do to deal with the city’s terrible problem of Seasonality with barely any business in the winter months, which is unique to Cape Town, compared to South Africa’s other major cities. Every year Mrs Helmbold has paid lip service to the problem, and promised to tackle the problem, but she never did, and business has become progressively worse every winter.
Shocking was the blatant exploitation in the past ten days by Mrs Helmbold to actively market the services of her new destination marketing consultancy whilst still in the employ of Cape Town Tourism. She announced that she would establish a consultancy in April after her resignation from Cape Town Tourism became public in February. As if Tweets on her own Twitter account were not enough to market the new consultancy whilst still working for Cape Town Tourism, Cape Town Tourism issued a media release ten days ago, before she had left, which wished Mrs Helmbold ‘bon voyage‘, but Mrs Helmbold is not leaving on a trip, she is only moving from Cape Town to Somerset West, reflecting the company’s Communications department’s poor English, i.e. French! Even worse, and obviously written with the approval of Mrs Helmbold, the media release gave her new business a heavy punt, as have Cape Town Tourism Tweets in the past week. The name of her new consultancy ‘Destinate‘ (which means ‘ordained by fate‘ according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary!) is mentioned in the release, and this glowing sales pitch was written about her by her staff: ‘Known for her optimism, warm confidence, mega-watt smile and strong focus on emerging trends, innovative customer-centred marketing and responsible tourism, Mariette, will not be straying far from tourism in the future. Her new venture, Destinate, is a tourism strategy and destination marketing agency that will launch in August 2013‘.
Mrs Helmbold’s Twitter profile contains a link to her own website, once again punting her new business, even while she remains in the employ of Cape Town Tourism until 31 July, having previously had a link to the Cape Town Tourism website. She has been criticised for using the Twitter account for both Cape Town Tourism Tweets as well as for her ‘Mommy‘ and Pringle Bay Tweets in the past three years. She used media platforms before her departure to not only talk about the achievements of Cape Town Tourism, but also to market her new company, Tweeting about these interviews without shame!
At the farewell function for Mrs Helmbold last Wednesday, where she unashamedly handed out business cards for her new business venture, Western Cape Minister of Tourism Alan Winde praised Mrs Helmbold’s role in amalgamating the stand-alone tourism information bureaus around the city under the Cape Town Tourism brand, as well as taking the ‘ship to new heights’, thanking her on behalf of the Western Cape Province. Anton Groenewald, Executive Director of the City of Cape Town’s Tourism, Event and Marketing Directorate, described with laughter the interaction between Mrs Helmbold and himself as that of two strong hard-headed individuals, interacting with tenacity, perseverance, commitment, both being untiring and unrelenting. Ian Bartes, previous Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, praised her too, but said that her energy made it difficult for him at times. Mrs Helmbold cried when she spoke, a speech filled with words which do not always belong together, reflecting her complex way of communicating, which was evident in the Cape Town Tourism media releases, which she must have written herself. She highlighted the successes of Cape Town Tourism during her reign, many of them not specific to or influenced by Cape Town Tourism at all. Her highlights were the awards she said, seeing her team grow and flourish, and handing the baton to her colleague Enver Duminy. Her Destinate consultancy will unlock the full potential of brands and destinations, she said. She added that ‘things will never recover’, referring to the tourism industry, but it can be done better than ten years ago, by doing it differently than before. She will be hands-on in implementing the strategies for her clients, she said, not just being a consultant. No word of farewell was spoken about Ms Grove, and oddly Mr Duminy did not attend.
Mrs Helmbold was the successor to the dynamic marketing-on-a-shoestring previous Cape Town Tourism CEO Sheryl Ozinsky, after she was retrenched by the V&A Waterfront ten years ago when they closed down their tourism bureau. Ms Ozinsky laid the foundation for Cape Town’s popularity and growing awareness as a tourism destination with a minute marketing budget, and she is still mentioned as the last good marketer of our city. In the Cape Town Tourism media release Mrs Helmbold is credited for a number of achievements in her nine years at the tourism body helm (pardon the pun), including the Cannes Gold Lion award (Ogilvy & Mather misled the judges with statistics about the impact of the Facebook campaign), a SMITTY Award (Social Media in Travel + Tourism Awards – in the category Best Overall Use of Social Media, CVB, Global), was recognized by the UN World Tourism Organisation in 2012 as a ‘world best practice tourism organisational model’, one of the World’s Top 20 and Africa’s most influential tourist boards and DMOs online (rated by influencersintravel.com) in 2011, and was included in the World Travel Market White Paper for Best Practice in Digital Marketing in 2012. She even takes the credit for Table Mountain having been named as one of the ‘New7Wonders of the World’ (sic), getting the name of the accolade wrong, and a campaign which was driven by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company!
The concluding paragraph in the media release is another opportunity for Mrs Helmbold to plug her business, even though it is issued by her as CEO of Cape Town Tourism: ‘It feels bittersweet leaving Cape Town Tourism. It’s so much a part of me after all of this time, but the time is right to create something new that will address the gap in destination and tourism marketing and allow me the opportunity to make an impact beyond Cape Town. I am going to miss my team terribly; they are extraordinary, passionate, committed people and I know that under the steady, open leadership style of Enver Duminy, the new CEO, they are going to continue to grow and shine. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to our board members past and present as well as to the City leadership and those tireless champions of the tourism industry who put in so many hours and so much energy to ensure Cape Town remains a destination of a lifetime‘.
One can almost feel sorry for Ms Grove, whose departure did not receive a word of mention in the media release, but whose office issued the media release, and she is not even mentioned administratively in the media release, as the issuer of the release in her capacity of PR and Communications Manager, as has always been the case in the past. No media release about Ms Grove’s departure has been issued, one only picking up the move in her own Tweets. Ms Grove has been an exceptionally poor writer, similarly to Mrs Helmbold, and the organisation’s media releases have been riddled with grammatical, content, and spelling errors. Even worse was her personal politics, blocking tourism industry players she did not like on Twitter, sending unauthorised lawyer’s letters at the expense of her employer, reTweeting defamatory Tweets about ourselves even when we were still a member of Cape Town Tourism, attempting to close down our blog, sharing information with WhaleSpotter, and enhancing her own profile on Twitter (with 6772 followers) by Tweeting content on her personal account, and then reTweeting it on Cape Town Tourism’s account (27234 followers), with her Twitter handle visible. Given the volume of Tweets mentioning ‘Cape Town’ it was a surprise that others’ Tweets were rarely reTweeted by her for Cape Town Tourism, being a free source of raves about the city in the majority of Tweets. Most tourism-relevant Tweets by tourism players were ignored, especially by those which Ms Grove did not like, not what one would have expected from the company’s PR person, who would be expected to be diplomatic at all times!
One wonders why Ms Grove is leaving an employer she Tweeted she loved working for in the past four years, and one can only surmise that Mrs Helmbold’s departure would no longer offer Ms Grove protection in the organisation. Ms Grove has been very discreet in sharing on Twitter that she is moving to the Cape Town Partnership, which organisation she got to know well when she was part of a delegation which traveled to Taipei to attend the International Design Alliance Congress and at which Cape Town pitched its successful bid to become World Design Capital 2014, which had been steered by the Cape Town Partnership. No replacement for her position has been announced by Cape Town Tourism, the job description and job title changing to that of Communications and Content Manager. Sought was a person who could deliver on the mandate and objectives of Cape Town Tourism, being ‘a passionate, highly energetic, dynamic and competent individual to fulfil (sic) the following key management position‘, who will drive strategy and ensure the continuity messaging for both the Cape Town Tourism brand as well as ‘the tourism face of the Cape Town brand‘, managing and implementing corporate and destination communications, overseeing and managing content across all Cape Town Tourism platforms, managing a team, maintaining effective external PR, as well as guest relations for domestic and international media, trade and VIPs. Twice the advertisement stressed that excellent writing and oral skills are required, which can only be an improvement on what we have observed in the past two years since receiving the media releases. Whilst applications for the post closed on 24 June, the incumbent was expected to commence employment on 1 August, which does not appear to have been achieved!
We had an excellent relationship with Cape Town Tourism and Mrs Helmbold in the past, and I have been passionate about the tourism body when I served on its Board as Deputy Chairman. The Board of Directors resigned as did Ms Ozinsky when the City of Cape Town (via Mr Groenewald) forced the body to its knees financially, and created a new Section 21 company with the same name, even though the old one has not yet been closed down ten years later! We gave Mrs Helmbold moral support and praise in early years, but saw a change when Ms Grove joined the organisation and started playing political games, which Mrs Helmbold was unable to control or address. The effectiveness of Cape Town Tourism and our relationship ran a parallel downward course from that time onwards, and became worse when Mrs Helmbold had her children, and Cape Town was almost exclusively marketed by means of Social Media, to the detriment of traditional above-the-line media, which reaches an older well-heeled traveler not yet Social Media savvy. This led to Mrs Helmbold’s defiantly proud ‘Mommy Tweets‘ on her Twitter account,which is followed by many for gaining tourism news! Unsuccessful attempts by her to remove us as a member of Cape Town Tourism and to sue us for alleged defamation due to our criticism of Cape Town Tourism and her role in running it on this blog led to an end of the good relationship we once had. We are interested to see where fate will take Mrs Helmbold’s Destinate!
We are excited about the new direction which Mr Duminy will take with Cape Town Tourism. It can only be better than the lack of marketing action we have seen in the past four years, as we predicted in February. There has been little improvement since the appointment of Marketing Manager Velma Corcoran almost two years ago, who is expecting her first child, which could lead to another dip in marketing Cape Town!
POSTSCRIPT 6/8: Interesting is seeing the advertisement for the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Cape Town Tourism, with a closing date of 15 August and a starting date of 1 September. The current incumbent is Elana Theunissen, a relative of Mrs Helmbold! At times Ms Theunissen was left to run the company when Mrs Helmbold was on her second maternity leave!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage