Today we celebrate the opening in Hermanus of the first Whale Cottage 14 years ago. Having an all-women team of staff, it is even more special that our anniversary co-incides with Women’s Day today – I salute my ladies, and thank them for all they do for our guests. Whale Cottage Hermanus has been heavily booked for the long weekend, and all Whale Cottage guests have been served sparkling wine with their breakfast this weekend, to celebrate our milestone.
Filled with nostalgia, I look back at the early days of running our Whale Cottage Hermanus, then located on Main Road – a great location initially in terms of visibility (we had a blue-and-white striped roof in those days, similar to our Whale Cottage Franschhoek). Our inspiration for the name came from the Victorian cottage in which we set up our first Whale Cottage in 1996, and in honour of the Southern Right whales that became so popular, and put Hermanus on the map, in offering the best land-based whale watching in the world.
There was no internet in our world of guest housing in those days, and we all only advertised in Portfolio’s Bed & Breakfast Collection, which cost us around R 12000 for a third of a page in those days. We all hated Portfolio, largely due to its dictatorial and unapproachable owner Liz Westby-Nunn. Their power was tremendous, as they introduced the first attempt at “grading” our establishments, giving them a yellow, purple or red shield, implying different levels of luxury. The annual visits for their inspections filled us with fear, and we were not allowed to question their instructions as to what had to be changed. One dared not speak against the company (even though we were paying advertisers) nor argue their directives, and we parted ways with Portfolio when their greed extended to charging commission for bookings on their website, in addition to the ever-increasing cost of their advertisements.
The internet opened up to us at the same time, and it was a huge relief to see how well we did advertising on the accommodation websites SA Venues and Cape Stay, and the former still holds. Networking with fellow guest house owners became an important source of business, especially in Camps Bay, where we run the Camps Bay Accommodation Association, and we pass all overflow enquiries to our 24 members. We also share industry information with each other.
After we opened the seafacing Whale Cottage Camps Bay in 1998, we received feedback from our guests that they were missing a seaview in Hermanus, so we set upon the search for a new property to be set up as a guest house, with a seaview. We found such a property on Westcliff Drive, on the way to the new Harbour, with a magnificent view of Walker Bay, and opened it in 2002, selling the Main Road property. Barry Lewis was our long-standing manager, and we are delighted that we have his sister Carole Cessano working with us now, with the faithful Juliette at her side.
From June – December the whales attract visitors to Hermanus, who have not found a place in the world where they can see whales as they can do from the well-developed cliff path, running from the new Harbour to beyond Voelklip, all along the ocean. But Hermanus has wonderful beaches too, that are warmer than those on the Atlantic Ocean of Cape Town, and also has outstanding wine farms in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley area, including Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Hermanuspietersfontein, and more.
Whale Cottage Franschhoek opened five years ago, and Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay two and a half years ago. With Whale Cottage Hermanus and Whale Cottage Camps Bay, they make up the unique Whale Cottage Portfolio, welcoming our guests to “a whale of a stay!”. One of its unique features is the Whale Cottage Loyalty Card, which was introduced from the start in 1996, offering our Whale Cottage guests one night free for every 10 nights that they stay at a Whale Cottage, and this has become a very popular incentive to return to our Whale Cottages. Nine years ago we introduced our WhaleTales newsletter, which is sent to our Address Book of 25000 every 6 weeks or so, and is written as a tourism newsletter, described by many as the only newsletter which summarises what is happening in the tourism and hospitality industry. We have never been afraid of being controversial, and of writing the truth. This policy of independent tourism reporting is also the foundation of this WhaleTales Blog.
We thank our Whale Cottage guests, suppliers, colleagues and friends for their loyal support of our guest houses, and of our WhaleTales newsletters and Blog.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com