The tourism industry in the Western Cape makes up 10 % of the R 450 billion Western Cape economy, says Western Cape Minister of Finance, Economic Development, and Tourism Alan Winde, and thus forms the ‘bread and butter’ of the province. A large part of the industry consists of small businesses, that need to be ‘professionalised’ to run their businesses as businesses. The Minister shared that a massive sporting event with tourism benefit is to take place in May next year.
A spontaneous request to have a coffee with Minister Winde, who is known to not stand on ceremony, is friendly and approachable, allows one to call him by his first name, is good on Twitter and offers his contact details if he can assist in a matter, led to an invitation from his office to meet with him in his provincial office in Wale Street. From the guest list I had to sign, I saw that I was one of three industry operators meeting with the Minister on Monday afternoon, a reflection of his open door policy. The reception room is part office, but felt very homely, like someone’s lounge, and the staff is exceptionally friendly, head of the office Tammy Evans, spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme, and PA Lucille Fester coming to introduce themselves.
The Minister’s office is spacious, with a leather couch, upholstered chairs, and paintings of District Six. It feels friendly and welcoming. Minister Winde explained his approach to his position is as he would run his business, being responsive, approachable, and accessible, not like politicians that are corrupt, hide in their ivory towers, and don’t care about their electorate, he said.
We talked a lot about Wesgro, and it was a relief to hear that a head of tourism will be appointed, and key tourism positions will be filled due to contract positions not having been renewed when Cape Town Routes Unlimited was closed down and merged into Wesgro on 1 April. The Minister is proud of his plan to place the tourism promotion agency inside Wesgro, as he believes that ‘tourism is business’, and used agriculture as an example of also being included in Wesgro’s trade and investment activities.
We discussed seasonality, not only in tourism, but also in business generally in the Western Cape, and how tourism has a ripple effect on all businesses, every Western Cape business being in the tourism business, even though they may not offer accommodation nor are they restaurants. Excellent news is that Premier Helen Zille signed off support for a massive 12 km marathon to be held in the province, attracting 50000 runners next May, and to be organised by Elana Meyer. We shared with the Minister that the Camps Bay Business Forum is looking to attract businesses to the prime beachfront suburb in the winter months, and is planning to host two special events, in May and in September next year.
An interesting concept is that ‘Cape Town is a second city to Johannesburg’, the Minister said, as Melbourne is to Sydney, and Rio de Janeiro is to Sao Paulo in Brazil. It will always be a beach and holiday city predominantly, yet needs businesses to support and grow the local economy. He mentioned the shocking statistic that only 3% of Cape Town’s income is business related, the rest coming from tourism. ‘Cape Town is a great place in which to do business’, he said, and he is encouraging the growth in conventions, attended by businesspersons. He is proud of the growing multinational call centre industry in Cape Town (e.g. Lufthansa), and it is the home of the oil and gas industry. He mentioned with pride that DHL has set up its Africa head office in Cape Town, while Steinhoff International has opened offices in Stellenbosch. If we had more business in the Western Cape, more businesspersons would fly first and business class, and therefore the Cape Town – London route would be more profitable for SAA, and its axing in two weeks time could have been prevented. The Minister has challenged Wesgro CEO Nils Flaatten to come up with a plan to fill the Lufthansa flights between Cape Town and Munich (the change takes place in October due to Lufthansa not being allowed to land late at night at Frankfurt airport due to noise restrictions), to ensure that flights are as full as possible, and that Lufthansa retains the Cape Town – Munich route for more than the year that it has committed to. The Minister would even like to see international tourists use Munich as a hub instead of London, so that they can fly directly into Cape Town, so avoiding having to fly via Johannesburg, even if they are coming from the USA, other European destinations, or Eastern Europe.
Africa is an important continent for business, as it has six of the top ten fastest growing world economies, and hence Wesgro is focusing its energy on the BRICS countries as well as Africa. He dislikes the use of the term ‘Gateway’ to describe Cape Town’s geographic role relative to other African countries, the Minister said, because of its link to ‘gate’, and would rather that the terms ‘platform‘ or ‘springboard’ be used in this context.
The local tourism industry is divided into two extremes, one part being large hotels and tour operators, with organised industry representation, and the other part consisting of many small ‘mom and pop’ tourism business owners, such as B&Bs and tour companies, and not represented at industry level. The latter need to be ‘professionalised’, the Minister said. They need skills training in how to run their businesses, how to do marketing, and how to reinvent their businesses. He mentioned a number of examples, such as the parking area blocking the restaurants from the kite-surfing beach in Saldanha Bay, and the Knysna forest having an old-world feel of 30 years ago with little tourist appeal, no operators having seen the business potential in the forest, such as offering yoga and retreats, picnics, unique weddings, and more. One of the Minister’s favourite examples is the West Coast Fossil Park outside Langebaan, which has world-class historical fossils of whales, walruses, sabre tooth tigers, and more, and is highly sophisticated scientifically, but is not from a visitor and tourism perspective. This is set to change, with the R30 million they have received from the Lotto, and the province is also contributing, to create a tourism route.
The Minister is very excited about the idea which he has for an Events app, which will request information of one’s favourite activities (e.g. winetasting), and will communicate with the user in providing information of all wine-related events to be held over the year, to allow the user to book for such events well in advance. A ‘hackathon’ of tech geeks is to be briefed by the Minister in September, to develop the app within two to three hours.
We ended off our chat about the False Bay Coastal Route, and the allegation levied by the previous Tourism Minister Lynne Brown, of the ANC, of Minister Winde ‘stealing‘ her plans. The Minister has seen no need to respond, given that the plans belong to the Western Cape, and not to a political party. The plan is to develop ‘recreation space’ along the False Bay coastline, to encourage locals and tourists to spend time on the beach, coming for walks, buying something to eat or drink from an informal trader, playing soccer and volleyball, or camping along the beach at new campsites. It will include the Zeekoevlei eco-park, and the upgrade of Monwabisi, including the provision of security, funded by the Ministry with assistance from the City of Cape Town and the National Tourism department as seed money, to act as a catalyst to attract developers to the area.
The Minister impresses with his hands-on approach to promoting tourism, and having run businesses in tourism town Knysna, he has practical experience of what small businesses need from his department. The Western Cape is blessed with its dynamic Premier Helen Zille and its savvy Finance, Economic Development and Tourism Minister Alan Winde.
POSTSCRIPT 5/8: Minister Alan Winde announced on 2 August that in the last three years, the Western Cape has attracted 80 international investment projects, to the value of R30 billion, and creating close to 7000 jobs. The projects have come from the United Kingdom, the USA, France, Germany, and The Netherlands, and include companies such as Amazon, IBM, Harley Davidson, ColorMatrix, and Altech setting up in the Western Cape.
POSTSCRIPT 5/8: The ‘multimillion Rand‘ upgrade of Zeekoeivlei to provide braai areas, eco-friendly toilets, and a massive lawn similar to that at Kirstenbosch, has created 100 jobs, and is aimed at enhancing the area’s attractiveness as a tourist destination, reports the Cape Argus. The national Department of Tourism contributed R25 million, and the Western Cape government R1 million, for the upgrade. The Rondevlei, which borders Zeekoeivlei, has hippos, the only reserve in Cape Town. The park attracts 130000 visitors annually, and this number is set to increase.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage