Cape Town tourism industry confused about Festive Season tourism prospects!

Yesterday the Cape Argus and Cape Town Tourism released their forecasts about the Festive Season and the November – January period.  The Cape Argus prediction of a ‘flood of tourists’ over the Festive Season and Cape Town Tourism’s description of the November – January period seeing ‘positive seasonal growth’ are exaggerated, and not reflective of what the tourism industry is experiencing.  Both information sources do not acknowledge something we have called ‘Summer Seasonality’, which is becoming more pronounced!

Cape Town Tourism astounds with its poorly written media releases, and it is clear that their PR and Communications Manager Skye Grove struggles in expressing herself coherently, sounding out of depth in writing about accommodation occupancy, rates, and RevPAR (Revenue per Available Room), clearly terms which are foreign to her, as is market research in general.   While her headline refers to ‘positive seasonal growth’ being seen by ‘Cape Town’s Tourism Sector’, she contradicts herself in her introductory paragraph, clumsily writing that there are ‘slight growth trends across occupancy and average room rates indicators for the months November 2012 – January 2013‘.  She forecasts Occupancy over the three months at 71% and an average room rate of R 1136, without providing details of how the information was arrived at.  She then compares the results from two different surveys conducted a year apart, and concludes that Occupancy will be higher this summer compared to last, a nonsense deduction.

Even worse is the poorly written paragraph attributed to Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, in which she contradicts herself in predicting that ‘we are not expecting a record season of arrivals and bookings’, yet states in two sentences further that ‘..the City Bowl, The V&A Waterfront and the Atlantic Seaboard will be a hive of activity’, clearly not knowing what is happening in the tourism industry! She does admit that the Festive Season only covers the period of the third week of December (i.e. from 21 December onwards) to ‘early January‘.  Mrs Helmbold admonishes the tourism industry for not coming up with ‘new and interesting experiences‘, something our tourists are ‘hungry for’, she writes!

A statement by poor Nils Flaatten, the CEO of Wesgro, is also incorporated in the media release (aren’t they in competition with each other in marketing Cape Town, one would ask), and justifies the hard work they are doing with Cape Town Tourism to ‘ensure improved dispersal of visitors across the greater Cape Town region and beyond’, his mandate being to market the Western Cape and to minimise the duplication of marketing Cape Town. Flaatten refers to international tourists visiting the V&A Waterfront to shop, and to visit Robben Island and Table Mountain.  Domestic tourists, he says, ‘are experiencing a greater appetite (sic) for festivals and events across the province’, and then refers to the 600 festivals which took place in the province in the past six months!  Ironically there are no festivals and events taking place over the Festive Season!  We have seen no marketing activity or communication from Wesgro and Cape Town Tourism to ‘disperse’ the Cape Town-based tourists into other parts of the province, the tourists doing their own research about where else to stay. Fact is that the Atlantic Seaboard is the most desired location for Festive Season visitors to Cape Town, and it would only be the non-availability of accommodation in this area that would make them stay further away from the city.

The Cape Argus article, written by journalist Daneel Knoetze, was based on two interviews, with Mrs Helmbold and her Board member Susanne Faussner, the headline shouting that a ‘Flood of tourists expected in Mother City’, and misleadingly stating that our industry is ‘expecting one of the most successful festive seasons to date’! The only justification for this misleading claim is a quote attributed to Mrs Faussner about an increase in Occupancy relative to last year, but as the Festive Season has not even begun, no accurate Occupancy figures are available! She added that the poor European winter and the favourable exchange rates are in our industry’s favour, but we have not seen the effect of this. Immediately after the exaggerated positive claim, the journalist lists dreadful crime-related accusations against Cape Town, and states that the positive publicity generated by Cape Town performing well in international tourism lists will outweigh the negative shock crime information relating to Cape Town! Mrs Helmbold places all her bets on an increase in tourism numbers on Table Mountain’s new ‘New7Wonders of Nature’ status, which was confirmed at the beginning of this month.  Ironically Cape Town Tourism Chairman and CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, Sabine Lehmann, deplored the very windy beginning of December, and the number of days that the Cableway had to be closed due to adverse weather conditions in the Cape Town Tourism release.  Funny was seeing the Christmas Lights on Adderley Street, supplied by the City of Cape Town, which includes an illustration of Table Mountain and the incorrect title ‘New7Wonder of Nature’!  One would have thought that Mrs Lehmann or Cape Town Tourism would have advised the City of Cape Town of its faux pas!

Summer Seasonality is becoming increasingly apparent, and adds to the woes of the Tourism industry, which experienced extreme Winter Seasonality in the past two years, worse than ever before, largely due to the extremely wet winter, which kept Johannesburgers from Cape Town, and Capetonians from the rest of the Western Cape.  Even more frustrating is the increased Summer Seasonality, which gives the industry two very good weeks and two very slow weeks each in November, December, and January, resulting in an average Occupancy of 50% for each of these months, an unsustainable performance.  February is the best booked month, the only one with Occupancy close to 90%.

Cape Town Tourism likes to brag about its performance, and clearly is under pressure from the City of Cape Town to justify the R35 million it receives from the City. It is irresponsible to mislead the Tourism industry with platitudes, contradictory information, and the false presentation and interpretation of statistics!  We would like to request the City of Cape Town to act against this unprofessional communication by Cape Town Tourism, and to appoint a professional Communications company that can assist Cape Town Tourism in issuing more credible and professional media statements, for the benefit of our City’s image and reputation!  The PR company it uses currently appears to only distribute the media releases.

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

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