On 3 September the City of Cape Town stepped up its water restrictions to the next level, announcing further severe water saving measures. Compared to the previous Level 4 B restrictions, the new Level 5 restrictions retain the daily water usage target per person at 87 liters, and step up restrictions on the commercial usage of water. Tourists to Cape Town and the province will not be turned away as a result of the drought!
Despite a warning e-mail sent to members of Cape Town Tourism the day before its AGM held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre last night, it appears that the news that the City of Cape Town has established a new Directorate of Tourism, Events and Marketing, and will be taking over ‘Destination Marketing’ from Cape Town Tourism, accompanied by a Budget cut, was confusing to most attending the AGM. The new City of Cape Town T (Tourism) E (Events) A (Arts and Culture) M (Marketing) directorate, under the management of Executive Director Anton Groenewald, will take over the marketing of Cape Town, and therefore reduces the Budget of Cape Town Tourism, which will now focus on Visitor Information Services and ‘Tourism Marketing’!
This was not the only shock of the evening, which was preceded by the election of three new Board members, which according to the Cape Town Tourism constitution all had to be ‘Black’ (defined as Black African, Coloured and Indian) it was explained by the election auditor Achmat Toefy. Nine nominations had been received for the three Board seats, and whilst the female quota of two has already been met by the incumbent Directors, there were no existing ‘Black’ Directors, and therefore members had to vote for 3 out of the 6 ‘Black’ nominees, despite excellent candidates such as ‘white’ Guy Lundy, now at Future Insight Consulting. One wonders how many members refused to vote, or spoilt their ballot! Ian Bartes, the diplomatic Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, has not made himself available for another term, probably realising how tough the year ahead will be, in negotiating a role for Cape Town Tourism and sufficient Budget to continue its work. The interesting question is who of the ‘German Troika’ will be elected as the new Chairman: Sabine Lehmann, CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company has been the Deputy Chairman, and could be a tough Chairman for the City to negotiate with, although she may need to stay on the right side of the City for her business. Nils Heckscher, GM of the Winchester Mansions, and ex-Chairman of FEDHASA, is a known Yes-man, and would be an ideal push-over for the City. Susanne Faussner-Ringer, owner of Greenways, would be a very tough negotiator too but is disliked. Existing Board members Pierre du Plessis, a ‘Friend’ of Cape Town Tourism and not from the tourism industry, and Sarah Struys of Kirstenbosch, as well as the three newly elected Board members marketing consultant Craig Kensley, Enver Mally of African Eagle Daytours, and Jonathan Jacobs of Tourism Enterprise Partnership would be less likely to be elected Chairman.
Then there was the oddity of a number of changes to be made to the Constitution, no copies of the resolutions being sent to members prior to the AGM. Slide after slide of the resolutions, not readable to most the audience in the 1000 seater hall, were rushed through by Toefy. He seemed to indicate that the resolutions only related to some typing errors in the Constitution, the re-appointment of the auditors, and the 14% increase in the Directors’ emolument from R350 to R400 (period not specified), all contained in one resolution, and not separated. No one voted against the adoption of the resolution, most not knowing what was going on.
In his Chairman’s address, Ian Bartes spelt out the impact of the City’s decision on Cape Town Tourism, reminding the audience of the member resolution in 2008, giving Cape Town Tourism the mandate to add Destination Marketing to its portfolio, responsible for the full tourism destination management and marketing service, due to the City’s unhappiness with the marketing role of the then Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the City placing its 50% contribution into Cape Town Tourism, at around R40 million. Anton Groenewald was appointed to head up the directorate of Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events, and Marketing Grant Pascoe late last year. He informed Cape Town Tourism in August that its role would change, and its Budget would reduce, the figures only supplied last month, a decrease in the budget to R 36 million, from R42 million the year before. The Budget reduction means a loss of R2,1 million, due to commitments which had already been made with suppliers. To prevent a qualified audit and any instability in the operation of Cape Town Tourism, Chairman Bartes had been mandated to sign the City’s Service Level Agreement ‘in good faith’ , he said (we read this as meaning ‘under duress’). When asked, Bartes did not deny that the implication could be job losses at Cape Town Tourism. He also ominously wished the new Board ‘good luck’ for the new journey with the City of Cape Town! He did not present Financials, a fundamental part of an AGM! A sign of the tough times was the very thin ‘goody bag’, only containing the list of Board nominees, and a packet of Europcar mints!
The CEO speech by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold was a short and sweet presentation without many gimmicks, only a few slides representing their broad categories of work, very understated compared to the normal glitz and glamour, and mainly focusing on their new ‘MyCapeTownHoliday.com’ Facebook competition. She spoke in her usual ‘Digital Nomad’ speak, using the same concepts of previous talks, praising her organisation’s Facebook fan statistics and R45 million media coverage value, trying very hard to sound confident and unaffected by the City’s devastating news to her organisation. She praised her staff, but did not call them up to the stage as she did in the past, only acknowledging the soon-to-depart Cathy Alberts, who has been at Cape Town Tourism for years and is leaving to head up St Helena Tourism (her role will be taken over by controversial Communications Manager Skye Grove, a first sign of money-saving). She said that they have an ‘innovative marketing strategy, but uncertainty about the funding’. The National Geographic campaign will be funded from their own income, she said. She could not talk about any future plans for the year ahead, which the AGM has been a platform for in the past, because she and her team have no idea where the City will be taking them. She did confidently state that Cape Town Tourism is ‘the best agency to deliver Tourism Marketing and Visitor Services’.
Mrs Helmbold was followed by Mr Groenewald, and he explained his new TEAM concept, having taken a top executive (Rory Viljoen) with international marketing experience at Distell and Coca Cola on board to market Cape Town. They will retain the focus on ‘established markets’ USA, the ‘European Union’, Scandinavia, the UK, and some African countries. Almost a third of their spend will be on new markets, mainly BRICS countries. There will be an increased focus on Arts & Culture, with a Cape Town Carnival planned for 16 March, and to be held on the Fan Mile. There will be greater co-operation with the private sector to gain greater revenue out of the City’s assets (the Cape Town Stadium, City Hall, and Grand Parade). His justification of the Turkey trip did not really go down, calling Istanbul the ‘gateway to an untapped market of 40 million’, and making it sound as if their trip had led to an increased number of Turkish Airlines direct flights per week between Istanbul and Cape Town. Sport brand collaboration will increase, as per Manchester United’s visit, and information about the economic impact thereof will be released soon, and the soccer team is set to return. The City wants to make money out of such events. An Arts Festival is to be established. We have heard it so often, but it was said again: more events will be focused in the May – October period. Talks are underway with Western Province Rugby about Newlands Stadium/Cape Town Stadium. Revenue sharing in the acts coming to Cape Town (Lady Gaga, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Linkin Park), and sports events like Kaizer Chiefs, the J&B Met, Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour, ABSA Cape Epic, and more will be the focus in using the Cape Town Stadium and in generating income for the City. The naming rights for the Cape Town Stadium cost R20 – R40 million. ‘Pouring rights’ per event will cost R1 – R1,5 million. Advertising space will be sold to generate income.
When asked what the difference between Destination and Tourism marketing is, Mr Groenewald did not really clarify, only saying that Cape Town Tourism would still represent Cape Town at tourism exhibitions such as ITB and WTM, and that his organisation would be negotiating with soccer teams! The McGrath Collection GM Tony Romer-Lee quite rightly asked why this decision had been made mid-year. Mr Groenewald said that the City had given Cape Town Tourism the marketing role four years ago, due to the poor execution by Cape Town Routes Unlimited. As Wesgro has taken over this duty now at a provincial level, the City has decided to take back the marketing role, in using its assets to promote Cape Town. Whereas the City and Cape Town had one year Service Level Agreements renewed annually, the City plans to make it a three year one ahead, allowing both parties ‘to work collaboratively’.
The new heads of the City of Cape Town TEAM directorate are Rory Viljoen (Marketing), Events (Teral Cullen), Zaid Minty (Arts and Culture), Lesley de Reuck (Cape Town Stadium), and Freddie Prins (Strategic Assets), while the Research and Strategy position is still vacant.
The City’s shock moves were not discussed, as promised by Mrs Helmbold in the e-mail she sent to her members the day before the AGM, even though ten questions were allowed:
Poor marketing of Cape Town by Cape Town Tourism, which we have criticised over the past two years, will soon be something of the past, the City clearly agreeing that it has not been good enough, and that Tweeting and ‘100 Women 100 Wines’ competitions alone will not bring tourists to Cape Town. We have experienced Anton Groenewald in a ‘previous life’, as a Board member of the previous section 21 Cape Town Tourism, which was bled dry financially at the end of 2003, when we as a Board resisted the call to amalgamate into a united Cape Town Tourism consisting of all Visitor Information Centres in the Cape Town metropole, thus forced to do what the City demanded. This may be the case again if Cape Town Tourism were to resist.
The tourism industry should be concerned about this turn of events. For seven months we have been waiting to see action from Wesgro, the new provincial Tourism marketing body, without a Tourism head and not having done anything for tourism other than a provincial stand at Indaba in May! Of greater concern is that it was stated that it will take the next six months for the City and Cape Town Tourism to thrash out the detail of who does what in terms of their new split roles of Destination Marketing and Tourism Marketing, respectively. Surprising was how poor the understanding was amongst Cape Town Tourism members at the AGM, those that I spoke to referring to Wesgro as the new body doing the marketing for Cape Town. Mr Groenewald did not appear to be impressed with his provincial colleagues’ performance to date either!
Speaking to Mr Groenewald after the AGM, one senses an energy and a determination, and a charming and welcome honesty in acknowledging that there is a lot to fix at Cape Town Tourism. He welcomes critical feedback from the industry, because that helps to reinforce his observations (he supported our criticism of the Blogger Tweet-Up impression count, proudly PR-ed by Cape Town Tourism). He wants to move Cape Town Tourism back into its predominant role of Visitor Information Services, and specifically to make money for itself from commissions on bookings, seeing a role for the organisation of being the official accommodation supplier for all major events in Cape Town, and even to official City of Cape Town accommodation requirements, but then at a reduced commission. He blatantly shared: ‘The more they make (from accommodation booking commissions), the more we can take from them’!
The months ahead will be most interesting as we observe this development, and we will report back what we see and know. There will be follow-up blogposts about the AGM, as we are awaiting further information, and we will meet with Mr Groenewald, and Rory Viljoen, the new Director of ‘Place Marketing’ in the new City of Cape Town TEAM, shortly.’
POSTSCRIPT 20/10: News24 has a similar take on the events at the AGM last night, its implication for the marketing of Cape Town, and in its interpretation of it being a vote of no confidence in Cape Town Tourism!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The world’s leading winelovers, wine experts, wine traders, sommeliers, and wine journalists have started arriving in Cape Town for the three day Cape Wine 2012, being held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from tomorrow until Thursday, and Vindaba running alongside it.
More than 5000 wines from 300 wine estates are on show at CapeWine 2012, and more than 30 international wine journalists are expected to attend, having a tourism benefit for Cape Town and the Western Cape. Delegates are attending from Europe, the UK, the USA, other African countries, South America, China, and Japan. For the first time SA Tourism, in conjunction with WOSA (Wines of South Africa), have organised Vindaba, an exhibition of wine tourism products in the Western Cape.
CapeWine 2012 is held every two years, but was not held in 2010 due to the soccer World Cup, and is one of the largest marketing events organised by WOSA. For the first time WOSA has gone green to reflect ‘the South African wine industry’s environmental consciousness’. This includes booking guests into hotels within walking distance of the convention centre; only recycled paper will be used for printing, if printing is required at all; the stands are made from recycled boards; most stands will not use electricity, but rather LED lighting; all bottles, corks, and screw caps will be recycled; no bottled water will be available; cork supplier Amorim will create a lounge made from recycled cork; media information will be made available in bamboo memory sticks; VIP bags have been made from recycled advertising banners; lanyards have been made from ‘sunbaked paper’; all fish served at the Green Tie event will be SASSI certified, and all eats will be made from local produce; the ‘green ties’ which allow entry to the event have been made from discarded plastic; solar lighting will be used for the Green Tie event; furniture for the Green Tie party has been made from recycled wooden pallets, and will be donated to a crèche afterwards; the plates at the Green Tie party are those from CapeWine 2008, and the cutlery is made from bamboo.
CapeWine 2012 will reflect the development of our local wine industry in wine growing, wine making, and wine marketing since South African wines were opened to international trade almost 20 years ago. Tastings, seminars, workshops, and a Producer’s Soapbox will focus on changes in wine styles, reaction to climate change, the management of scarce natural resources, and the protection of old vines.
Su Birch, CEO of WOSA, said that interest in CapeWine 2012 was growing, as ‘South Africa has distinguished itself both in terms of quality and pioneering programmes to promote eco-sustainability. This has earned global recognition for the country on both fronts, from the market and environmentalists, particularly in recent years’. Mrs Birch added that CapeWIne has a solid reputation as a trade exhibition.
The organisation of the first ever Vindaba has been driven by SA Tourism, having sponsored the exhibition, and is project managed by Susannah Holz. SA Tourism has identified that wine tourism is ‘one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative sectors of the global tourism market‘, says Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism. Wine tourism can make an important contribution to the country’s economy, the Minister said. International as well as local media focusing on wine, travel and lifestyle are expected to attend. The objective is to increase the income of wine tourism, only $41 per capita in our Winelands, compared to $188 in Napa Valley in the USA. Seminars at Vindaba will focus on gastro-tourism, and tailor-made wine tours to the 17 wine routes in the Western Cape will expose the international visitors to the diversity and quality of their offerings. The eco-friendly green focus of the Vindaba exhibition reflects that of CapeWine 2012. The Vindaba exhibition organisation has not been without controversy, SA Tourism having been blamed for not being proactive enough in spreading international media across the different wine routes, having instead allowed them to choose where they want to visit, meaning that the majority have opted for Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Lesser-known wine routes, such as those in Paarl and Wellington, will therefore remain exactly that!
Tonight WOSA is hosting a ‘Green Tie Event‘ for the opening of CapeWine 2012, and even this function is going green, in that invitees have been asked to park at the Cullinan Hotel, and will be bused in collectively or will be guided by a ‘Green Guide’ in walking to the function venue in the V&A Waterfront. The evening promises a ‘sampling of our finest wines, paired with the freshest and most delicious local cuisine, and accompanied by a showcase of local music, song and dance‘. The wine week will be concluded with the prestigious Nederburg Auction, which takes place on the Paarl wine estate on Saturday.
CapeWine 2012: 25 – 27 September, 10h00 – 17h00, Cape Town International Convention Centre. www.capewine2012.co.za
Vindaba: 24 – 27 September, 10h00 – 17h00, Cape Town International Convention Centre. www.vindaba.com
POSTSCRIPT 24/9: This evening about 720 guests, of which about 50% were international wine writers, sommeliers, wine buyers, and wine trade, attended the ‘Green Tie Event’ for the opening of CapeWine 2012. Initially one heard more ‘American’ than local English spoken! The Who’s Who of the wine industry attended. Met German wine writers Mario Scheuermann (a Facebook friend) and Eckhard Supp, and Mike Veseth, the guest speaker at the Nederburg Auction on Saturday. Neil Pendock, who received a late invitation from WOSA to attend the event, was the most spruced up we have seen in years, having had a hair cut today in honour of the event, it would seem! The green theme of CapeWine 2012 was carried through in the event, with lighting made from recycled milk cartons. Excellent wines were served. Even the food was ‘green’ and locally sourced. The salmon cream on cucumber canapes were excellent. The calibre and quantity of international wine visitors in Cape Town and the Winelands is an exceptional wine tourism marketing opportunity for our country.
POSTSCRIPT 26/9: Yesterday I visited CapeWine 2012, and was impressed with the best looking exhibition in the Cape Town International Convention Centre. More than 300 wine estates have pulled out all the stops to package and present their wines to the top level local and international attendees. The highlight was tasting a preview of the new Delaire Graff Laurence Graff Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, not yet labelled, an icon wine made in honour of the owner of the wine estate, its GM Johann Laubser said. It will be the first South African wine to sell at $200 a bottle.
The Botanica Wines’ label design, reflecting the brand name, impressed once again, and the Chenin Blanc is likely to do well at Platter this year, its owner-winemaker Ginny Povall hinted. The label designs come from botanical drawings by Mary Delany, seen by Ginny at the Yale Centre for British Art. One of the largest stands was that for Fairview, which focused attention on its Fairview, La Capra, Goats do Roam, and Spice Route labels, as well as on its Fairtrade connection.
POSTSCRIPT 26/9: Vindaba, the first wine tourism showcase, is very disappointing, not having any of the design quality or professional look of CapeWine 2012, with few visitors. Its location in an open space at which the banqueting is normally done is not ideal. The Wine Routes are not collectively branded, and it is not clear as to where they start and end. Some of the Wine Routes had individual products alongside them too. All are manned by very friendly staff, and include Wellington Tourism, the KWV Sensorium (a first in pairing art works with wines), Franschhoek Tourism, Spier, Elegantly Elgin, Mellesat (in Paarl, now famous due to the write up by Neil Pendock in the Sunday Times on Sunday), Neil Grant representing the South African Sommeliers Association and manning a stand of white blends, the Cape Whale Coast sharing with Hermanus Wines, Grande Roche, Durbanville Wine Valley, Cape Town Tourism, Solms-Delta, Laborie, and more. Creation was running the Cape Whale Coast/Hermanus Wines stand, but this is rotated over the three day exhibition. By yesterday afternoon the Cape Town Tourism brochure bags had already run out, and no attempt had been made to supplement them.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The hospitality industry was shocked to hear last year that the Alphen Hotel had closed down, after the Three Cities Group had relinquished its contract in operating the hotel. Unknown to most was that Paul Kovensky, owner of Camps Bay restaurants such as The Kove, Zenzero, Pepenero, Bungalow, and Paranga had taken a 30 year lease on the hotel, and was furiously renovating and transforming the then 3-star hotel into a five-star boutique hotel six months later, creating an interior that according to its room book is a ‘little eccentric, somewhat bohemian, rather eclectic and causally elegant and definitely sensual’. The Alphen opened in December last year, and has already been named one of only two South African Hip 100 Conde Nast hotels in the world!
The Alphen once was part of Groot Constantia, converted from a farm to an estate over the years, the first building having been established in 1773. It was taken over by the Cloete family 150 years ago, and declared a national monument in 1973. Wine was made and sent to the kings in England and France, The Alphen being the first wine producer, its sweet wine being particularly well-known. Over the years the estate hosted a number of names from the history books, including Mark Twain, Captain Cook, Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Charles Somerset, George Bernhard Shaw, Jan Smuts, Dr James Barry, royalty, and ambassadors, most of the visitors having been captured in portraits. I was taken around the estate by The Alphen GM Robert van Gent (ex Cullinan Hotel consultant, ex-Hollow Hotel, ex-Euro Disney), and he shared the passion for ‘his’ hotel. He said that Lord Charles Somerset was said to have pistol duels on the garden alongside the hotel. Dr Barry was the first medical doctor to conduct a Caesarean section, and was discovered to be a woman on ‘his’ death, women not being allowed to practice as medical practitioners at that time. In 1962 Sandy Bairnsfather-Cloete inherited the land, and opened The Alphen hotel. The Alphen has ‘inherited’ 300 paintings of the Cloete family, and these have been rehung and grouped into themes, and ‘married’ with paintings specially commissioned by a British artist, for a more modern touch.
In planning the renovations of the buildings on the estate, the very strict requirements of The Heritage Council had to be considered. Mr Kovensky wanted to create something unusual and unique, and Stefan Antoni was appointed to tackle the refurbishment of the 21 rooms of the hotel, as well as create two restaurants and conference rooms. The designers looked to marry the historial heritage of the building with modernity, in its lighting, furniture, fabrics, paint and fabric colours, textures, and artwork, its room book commenting: ‘not your typical 5-star hotel, a modern and playful twist has been added to the décor and design while preserving traditional and exceptional, age old hospitality’. In their design, they looked at respecting the heritage framework, but also wanted to add ‘provocation, contemporary glamour and surreal fantasy’.
The hotel reception is in a small area, unlike the vast reception areas of many hotels, and here the classic and modern contrast is evident already, with gilded guest chairs and artwork frames, and modern artwork, and leather office chairs for the staff. The porter Green showed me the room, switching on the TV to find the soccer, and explaining that the mini bar was empty, and that one can order drinks from a list. It appears that guests have abused the ‘honesty bar’. Now the mini bar contents can be tailor-made to suit each guest, said Mr van Gent. The room opens onto a little courtyard, with big windows, a king size bed, a white leather couch, a red velvet upholstered chair, a historic writing desk, a modern-to-look-old unit containing the mini bar, a dressing table, a massive dress mirror, a large old wooden wardrobe, and large bedside units, with lots of gilded touches introduced in the feet of the couches, the frames of the artwork and mirror, the structure of the room lamp, and gold curtains. Modern touches are the underfloor heating (which kept the room comfortably warm on a chilly night, without the need for airconditioning, even though it is provided), a LavAzza coffee machine, the flat screen TV, a Samsung DVD player with speakers, and an iPod docking station. A ‘cheeky’ chair, resembling the shape of a women’s figure, is in most rooms, in red or white. The bathrooms are modern, with black wall tiling, white bathroom fittings, silver taps, white floor tiles, silver heated towel rails, and black and white bathroom amenities by Charlotte Rhys, with a massive old-fashioned style gilded mirror to link the bathroom to the bedroom decor. All rooms have his and her basins, and a bath and shower. Some of the larger rooms even have ‘his’ and ‘her’ bathrooms. Mr van Gent explained that they have renamed their room types, in keeping with their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. For the turn down a bath robe and slippers were laid out on the bed, with a massive brightly coloured macaroon from the hotel’s La Belle Café and Bakery.
The estate has different buildings, the original Manor House, now housing the 5Rooms restaurant, Reception, and conference rooms having been the home of the oldest Cloete son. Daughters and young children were housed in The Dower House, and some of the lower doorways reflect this. The Mill House has rooms too. The entry level room type is called ‘Cool Suite’, at the winter room rate of R2000. As the rooms get bigger, and if they open to the garden, their room type names and rates change to ‘Amazing Suite’, ‘Stunning Suite‘, and the honeymoon suite ‘Magic Suite’, which will have a private outside jacuzzi and daybed. Children 4 years and younger stay for free, and 5 – 16 year olds pay R500 per bed brought into the larger rooms.
Breakfast is served at La Belle Café and Bakery, and one can choose to have a health or English breakfast, Eggs Benedict, flapjacks, Churros, fresh fruit, and the Alphen Breakfast, with fruit, pastries and eggs, presented on branded wooden boards. Breakfast ends at 11h45, a treat for hard workers and late sleepers. Coffee is by LavAzza. One can buy delectable pastries, slices of cake, cupcake, and freshly-baked breads at La Belle too, and they are very busy for lunches and early dinners, closing at 21h00. They have become the taste of the Constantia and other Cape Town residents, making booking a necessity. Dinner is also served at 5Rooms restaurant. The hotel also sports the The Rose Bar, a popular meeting place with a gorgeous garden view, and is heat-protected in winter. A spa is being set up and a consultant has been appointed for it. Treatments can also be done in guest rooms. As it will open onto the lawn, they will offer their guests Pilates, Tai Chi, and yoga outside. Wi-Fi is complimentary, room service is 24 hour, and a safe is provided.
The Dovecot is a beautiful building in the far corner of the lawns, and in it is the power house, and the Cloete family ashes. There is a little family chapel behind it. The old Watermill is to be reinstated near the Rose Bar. Weddings are hosted on the lawns, and special marquees are erected. The brides come down the original steps of the Manor House, more than 200 years old, which are not allowed to be fixed and not even the grasses growing in them are allowed to be removed. Close by is the slave bell.
This area smells beautifully of the lavender planted there. The hotel sports its own herb garden, from which the two restaurant chefs pick their daily kitchen requirements. The original cellar is let out as offices, with auctioneer Stephan Welz using one of the buildings for storage. Robert proudly spoke about the ‘Little 15′ they have on the estate, and the squirrels jumping around in the old oak trees are definitely his favourite. At The Alphen one feels that one is far from the city, and cannot hear the motorway not too far away. Music is piped throughout the estate, and is light lounge music, adding a modern contrast to the historical structures on the estate.
Despite being in Cape Town, staying at The Alphen was a lovely break away, as good as a holiday. One does not need to leave the estate at all, there being more than enough to do and eat and drink, and entertain one’s friends.
Disclosure: I was a guest of The Alphen Hotel for one night. Service feedback was provided to the management.
The Alphen, The Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Tel (021) 795-6300 www.alphen.co.za Twitter@TheAlphen. Monday – Sunday. La Belle Cafe and Bakery 7h00 – 21h00. 5Rooms dinners every day and Sunday lunch. The Rose Bar open from 16h00 – 23h00 on weekdays, and 12h00 – 23h00 on weekends.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The highlight of my week two weeks ago was being able to sit down with Chef Benny Masekwameng, one of the three MasterChef SA judges, and Tsogo Sun Executive Chef. He is incredibly nice, and overwhelmed about how his own career and life has changed since participating in MasterChef SA, much like that of the Finalists.
Chef Benny was in Cape Town for the official launch of the Southern Sun rebranding to Tsogo Sun, which was held at The Cullinan hotel. Previously Executive Chef of the MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg, Chef Benny has been promoted to Executive Chef, responsible for promoting all the restaurants at the Tsogo Sun’s 95 hotels and 15 casinos around the country. Tsogo means ‘rising’ in Tswana, Chef Benny told me. Applying his MasterChef SA judging skills, Chef Benny challenged the Cape Town guests to participate in an ingredient test, identifying the 13 ingredients of the curry he had prepared.
I asked Chef Benny about the MasterChef SA prize offered of running the MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino, taking over his previous job. The MasterChef SA winner will receive three month’s training in people and financial support he said, and his/her hand will be held by a mentor as well as by Chef Benny. He said that the MasterChef SA reality TV show builds up the Finalists in what they learn, giving the winner a ‘crash course’ in running a restaurant kitchen, including ingredient pairing, budgeting, and food and wine pairing.
Chef Benny’s role in MasterChef SA was to support the contestants, many having made significant sacrifices to participate in the show. He said that he feels privileged to have been part of their journey, it mirroring his own journey of humble beginnings, and giving up many things to pursue his dream to become a chef. He grew up in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, and was strongly influenced by his mother. She started her own business, after taking a cooking course, selling pap, stew, salad, as well as vetkoek, outside nearby factories. While his dream was to become an Electrical Engineer, it was a visit to Durban to visit his friends that led him to Technikon Natal, and he decided to study a 3-year Catering Management course in a city that gave him some space from home. On graduating he was appointed as a Trainee at the Hilton Hotel in Durban, where he worked for more than six years, promoted over this period. The job took him overseas regularly, to promote local food at events held at South African embassies, and it was these events that taught him ‘showmanship’, in interacting with the guests. He moved to the Elangeni Hotel, his first Southern Sun appointment, and he has stayed with the group since then, moving back to Johannesburg as Executive Sous Chef at the OR Thambo Southern Sun. The promotion to Executive Chef at MondoVino restaurant happened 16 months ago, and since the completion of Season 1 of MasterChef SA he is in charge of promoting all the Tsogo Sun restaurants, being its ‘face of food’.
MondoVino restaurant is Italian-themed, but with an African influence, also serving bobotie, oxtail, pap and wors, chakalaka, and its design is ‘modern, young, and hip’. It is ‘casual dining‘, and offers ‘3 – 4 star service‘, he said. It has shifted in its focus on being family-orientated, with a special menu for the children.
M-Net has a five-year licence for MasterChef SA, and there is talk of a Season 2. Chef Benny said it is a bonus for him that Tsogo Sun is a sponsor. His own kitchen staff is watching MasterChef SA, and it gives them hope that they too can develop as he has done, and they are proud to work with him. For him it has been special to meet all the young aspirant chefs, and to inspire them. He is keeping up to date with many of them, and he is delighted about the encouraging messages he is receiving, and the promotion and growth it has given him personally, much as the MasterChef SA Finalists have grown and succeeded too. Just after MasterChef SA started airing, his first baby daughter Dimakatso was born, named after his mother. We laughed about his ‘TV flirt’ with Lungi Nhlanhla, about whom he says that ‘she knows how to combine her flavours’, and that ‘she can cook’. With fellow Finalists Deena Naidoo and Manisha Naidu, Lungi knows her flavours. Yet, he said, all eighteen the Finalists had the potential of getting to the top.
Fellow judge and Chef Andrew Atkinson is a natural ‘clown‘, he said, always making jokes on set, and these kept the energy flowing. But, jokes aside, he knows his food. Chef Pete Goffe-Wood was full of jokes too, but he was ‘tough on camera, telling it like it is‘. He praised his fellow MasterChef SA judges, who had more cooking experience than he does, but always treated him as an equal and made him feel part of the judging team, even though Chefs Andrew and Pete had worked together at the Beverly Hills hotel many years ago. He was inspired by them, and are two of our country’s best, he added. He can exchange information with them now, and pick up the phone to them, being ‘brothers’ now! He assured me that there were no production influences in the judging of the dishes and elimination of the Finalists, and confirmed that the Finalists eliminated simply were those that made the most mistakes in a particular challenge.
To tie in with its sponsorship of MasterChef SA as a ‘Hospitality Host’, and Chef Benny’s involvement in the show as a judge, Tsogo Sun has launched Wednesday Night Dinners, a ‘themed dish of the week inspired by the show, and you be the judge’! The hotel group is advertising this in the Sunday Times Food Weekly.
Chef Benny has grown as much as his Finalists on MasterChef SA have, and he said that initially it was ‘terrifying’ to be on TV, surrounded by nine cameras, but now he is used to it, and he would love to do more of it, having discovered a new side of himself. Meeting with Chef Benny for about an hour reinforced what a nice person he is, the reason why he is so well-liked by the MasterChef SA TV viewers.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
A year ago we first conducted a survey of top-end hotel rates in Cape Town. We repeated the survey in August 2011, and in November 2011, to track hotel pricing trends. Ellerman House has re-established itself as the most expensive Cape Town hotel, starting at R 4590 per room, and the Peninsula All Suite Hotel remains the least expensive 5-star hotel, at R1200 per room, the same rate as November 2011 and lower than a year ago. The hotels in Cape Town appear more confident about the coming winter season, judging by their pricing policy, only half of them having decreased their rates relative to the past summer.
The survey found that the average rate of the sixteen 5-star Cape Town hotels surveyed is R 2780 per room, just under R1400 per person, an average decrease by 23% relative to the November 2011 rates. Across all 29 hotels surveyed, the average rate per room is R 2297, or just over R 1100 per person, 21% lower on average than in November. The most expensive Presidential Suite is at the One & Only Cape Town, at R58541 per day, a rate which has not changed since November. Interesting is that larger top-end suites seem to have seen rate increases, while the standard rooms are more likely to be discounted.
Once again it was interesting to hear how the calls were handled, most hotel reservation departments asking careful questions, to identify if the caller was a travel agent/tour operator or a corporate caller, the questioning being very specific in this regard. Holders of a Protea Hotel Prokard would have had different rates quoted. Few hotels called had a rate sheet from which to quote immediately, having to access their computer for the ‘best available rate’ information, costing time, one hotel putting the call on hold to piped music while they did their rate calculations. The poor quality of the call handling and quoting by the hotel Reservations departments must be a concern for their bosses, quoting odd rates (i.e. not rounded off) very quickly, making it difficult to understand and record them accurately; interrupting while one was still speaking; inability to understand and hear the request, having to repeat the dates, and the number of persons; the question ‘group or individual’ is asked bluntly, without explanation; not all hotels quote rates with breakfast included, despite being asked for this rate (Protea Hotels quote room only, and seem surprised when asked to add the breakfast rate); The Protea Hotel group quotes day by day rates, and the reservations staff struggle to quote an average rate, making it tedious to obtain quotes from them, as they have to quote the average rate and then add the breakfast rate. The Portswood/Commodore Hotels, Bay Hotel/Village & Life, and Newmark Hotels group have the same switchboard for different hotels, and even if one dials the specific hotel selected, one is asked which hotel one wants to book at! For hoteliers it must be frightening to hear that not one of the 29 hotels called had a call to action, in encouraging one to make a booking, given that Cape Town has the best hotels in Africa.
Half the hotels have decreased their rates since November 2011, now quoting winter rates. However, Steenberg Hotel increased its rate from November 2011, by 4%. Interesting is the 36 % rate increase in the past five months for the African Pride Hotels 15 on Orange and Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa. The Ambassador Hotel has increased its rate by 27 % since November 2011. The Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge has been known for its competitive rates, but has increased them by 24 % for winter, and is no longer the cheapest hotel of those surveyed. The largest rate decreases since November 2011 were by the V&A Hotel (45%), Dock House (37%), and the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel (35%). The rate of the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice increased by a dramatic 107% relative to last winter! The Commodore Hotel (61%) and Portswood Hotel (45%) also increased their winter rates strongly. Interesting is that the Steenberg Hotel, voted the best hotel in Africa by Conde Nast Traveler readers, ranks 4th on price now, having ranked at 10th position a mere five months ago. The Protea Hotel-operated properties generally are at the lower end of the price ranking, being more attractively priced to fill their beds.
The rates were checked telephonically yesterday for today, for the next three days, i.e. 3 – 6 May per room for 2 adults sharing and inclusive of Breakfast per day, so as to compare the rates fairly . We added breakfast to the rates where these were quoted separately. We have ranked the hotel rates from most to least expensive, and reflect the rate change on the lowest priced room relative to our survey for May 2011 in brackets:
Ellerman House, 5 star, R4590 – R14680. (The 3-room villa was offered at R45441 and the 5-room villa at R68000). Tel (021) 430-3200 (8% rate decrease)
Cape Grace Hotel, 5 star, R4555.10 – R15388 for the penthouse, Tel (021) 410-7100 (1% increase)
Mount Nelson Hotel, 5 star, R3730 – R11290. Tel (021) 483-1000 (24% rate increase)
Steenberg Hotel, 5 star, R3580– R14580. Tel (021) 713-2222 (Not included in May 2011)
One & Only Cape Town, 5 star, R3490 – R58541 for the Presidential Suite. The non-South African resident rate starts at R4856 Tel (021) 431-5888 (10% rate decrease)
15 on Orange Hotel, 5 star, R2750 – R5370 for the one-bedroom penthouse, Tel (021) 469-8000 (1 % rate decrease)
Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, 5 star, R2650 – R3750. Tel (021) 525-3888 (25% rate increase)
Commodore Hotel, 4 star, R2580 – R8040. Tel (021) 415-1000 (61% rate increase)
The Westin Cape Town, 5 star, R2410 – R40000 for Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 412-9999 (19 % rate decrease)
Dock House, 5 star, R 2396 – R3115. Tel (021) 421-9334 (37% rate decrease)
Table Bay Hotel, 5 star, R2360 – R4760 for South African residents, R2840 – R6050 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 406-5000 (25% rate decrease)
Twelve Apostles Hotel, 5 star, R2325 – R4565 for Bed & Breakfast, 3-course dinner, movie and popcorn, only for South African residents. Non-South Africans pay R4165 – R8845 per room and breakfast. Tel (021) 437-9000 (19% rate decrease)
Portswood Hotel, 4 star, R 2320 – R 3960. Tel (021) 415-1000 (45% rate increase)
Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 5 star, R2300 – R10000 for the Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 430-0500 (35% rate decrease)
The Taj Hotel, 5 star, R2300 – R40000 for Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 819-2000 (5% rate increase)
Bay Hotel, 5 star, R2000- R2800. Tel (021) 438-4444 (25% rate increase)
Protea Fire & Ice Hotel, 3 star, R1860 – R2110, Tel (021) 488-2555 (107% rate increase!)
Cullinan Hotel, 5 star, R1850 – R5159. Tel (021) 415-4000 (14% rate decrease)
Victoria Junction Hotel, 4 star, R 1850 – R 2150 Tel (021) 418-1234 (10% rate increase)
V & A Hotel, 4 star, R1720 – R2170 . Tel (021) 415-1000 (45% rate decrease)
Ambassador Hotel, 4 star, R1590 – R2020. Tel (021) 439-6176 (17% rate decrease)
Winchester Mansions Hotel, 4 star, R1550 – R3550. Tel (021) 434-2351 (5 % rate increase)
Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, 4 star, R1550 – R3220. Tel (021) 409-4000 (11 % rate decrease).
Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, no star grading, R1445 standard room, R1690 business suite. Tel (021) 406-1911 (12% rate increase).
President Hotel, 4 star, R1306 – R1723. Tel (021) 434-8111 (11% rate decrease)
Peninsula All Suite Hotel, 5 star, R1200 – R3490. Tel (021) 430-7777 (24% rate decrease)
Vineyard Hotel, 4 star, R1165 – R4270. Tel (021) 657-4500. (Not included in May 2011)
Cape Sun Hotel, 4 star, R1160 – R5920 for Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 488-5100 (23% rate decrease).
POSTSCRIPT 4/5: Two Cape Town hotels, the Alphen Boutique Hotel (not yet included in this survey) and the Queen Victoria Hotel, are the only two South African hotels on the Conde Nast Traveler Hot List of Best New Hotels 2012. Frommers.com has selected Steenberg Hotel in its Top 12 ‘Best Vineyards Inns & Hotels around the World’, the only South African hotel on the list.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
MasterChef SA Finalist Samantha Nolan showed her leadership skills in the team competition in episode 5 of MasterChef South Africa last week, with her Red team winning the Harvest Celebration lunch challenge. Her selection of mainly Cape Town Finalists to her team reflected her loyalty to Cape Town and to the team members that she had got to know in the earlier rounds of the reality TV show competition, and who had become friends. She appears to be a strong contender for the title, not having been faulted by the judges in the episodes to date.
Samantha agreed to an interview immediately when I called her, subject to the approval from M-Net’s Senior Publicist Ingrid Engelbrecht, as we had to obtain for our interview with Finalist Guy Clark. I asked Sam to choose a suitable venue, and even offered to drive out to Table View, but she selected Andiamo in the old Cape Quarter.
Samantha brought along her husband Paul, and he comes across as the most wonderful supportive husband one could wish for, the two making a good team. They ‘met’ telephonically fifteen years ago, both working for ESKOM, and he called her in the Medical Aid department with a query. On his next visit to Johannesburg, where she was based, they met, and the rest is history. Both had two children from their previous marriages, and now the family of six lives in Cape Town. Paul left his job at ESKOM, and has become an electronic contractor, with contracts in Kazakhstan, Kenya, and Liberia, the family joining him for the first two contracts. Disaster struck when Samantha had a heart attack last year, while Paul was in Liberia, and a rare genetic defect, being a shortage of chemicals which had never been evident before, was diagnosed. She takes medication for the condition now. She said that the stress of MasterChef has not affected her at all. It did mean however that she could not join Paul in Liberia, because of the poor medical conditions in that country. Paul works six weeks away, and then comes home for two weeks. He finishes the contract next month, and then wants to start a facilities management consultancy, helping companies like ours with all maintenance requirements.
I asked Samantha where the MasterChef interest had come from, and she said that she saw the first Australian programme three years ago, and just knew that she wanted to be part of it when it came to South Africa. She has been Googling it over this period. She dreamt about being a contestant, and having become a Finalist is her dream come true. She is proud to have made Top 15 to date, out of an initial field of 9500 applicants. For her cold audition at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town, when they were reduced down from 4000 to 120 contestants, she prepared hot cross bun ice cream with clotted cream (a challenge to find the unpasteurised milk), making it all herself, which she served with three berry sorbets and a white chocolate ganache. She loves experimenting with and making ice creams, something she developed when they lived in Kenya, as ice cream is very expensive there. For the Hot audition in Johannesburg she prepared ceviche, seeing in the last minute that it had to be a literally hot and cooked dish, having interpreted it figuratively initially. She quickly had to rewrite her recipe, creating a dish called ‘Fish cake journey‘, which represented three types of cultures in South Africa, and it put her into the final 120 finalists, and earned her the MasterChef SA apron:
* the European influence was represented by salmon with dill sour cream
* the South African influence, being smoked snoek with curry and a sweet chilli sauce
* the Asian influence, being a prawn fish cake with a ponzu dressing
Taking part in MasterChef SA was something she absolutely wanted to do, and despite Paul being in Liberia, and the Finalists having to be at Nederburg for up to two months without contact with her family, the family made a plan to make Samantha’s dream come true. Her 14 year old son Ryan seems to be following in his mom’s shoes, and had the cooking duty for his siblings, her daughter Caitlin did the shopping, each child having specific chores. A friend down the road kept an eye on the children, and took them to school. The children Skyped Paul daily, and so any problems were sorted out with Paul, even if he was far away from home, so that Samantha could be focused on what she was doing at MasterChef. The children enjoyed the experience too, learning to be responsible, and independent. Her family organisational skills, with Paul away so often, seem to have benefited Samantha, from what we have seen in MasterChef so far, not easily getting rattled. It appears that the judges did not manage to bring her to tears in the series.
Samantha looked soft and gentle in the interview, with her long blond hair loose, something I hadn’t seen in the show as it always tied back, but it is clear that Samantha is organised, determined, and focused. She is honest and direct, reflecting her European background, with her father being Dutch, and her mother half Dutch and half Austrian. Her dad didn’t cook, being better at woodwork, but her mom cooked European dishes, such as pea soup and ham, ‘kroketten’, ‘potjiepot’ (similar to our potjiekos), poffertjies, and she baked cakes, rusks, and spekulaas with her mom. She described herself as ‘a dutiful daughter’, in helping her mother, who lives in Johannesburg, and owns a B&B there. There is a lovely relationship between Paul and Samantha, and sometimes she looked to him for answers, or he would prompt her about something she had cooked. He proudly said: “I get anything I want culinary-wise”. But Paul did admit that he is a fussy eater, and he has exact requirements for his fried eggs! I got the feeling that Samantha can be independent, but that Team Nolan always comes first.
Samantha has a curious interest in food, and told me how she tried to make mozzarella herself. She found it very difficult to find unpasteurised milk, and said that she won’t be trying this again. She taught herself to make artisanal bread when they bought some from Olympia Café in Kalk Bay at a market out their way. She developed her own recipes, and she bakes a selection of breads, including olive ciabatta, epi breads, baguettes, seed loafs, and paninis, for friends, using Eureka flour. She says she has a standard domestic oven. She describes herself as a ‘home cook’, and says she really got cooking when they used to eat out, and they were rarely happy with what they were served. She would head home and recreate the dish, making it better than they had experienced. She told me how she spoilt the children and their friends in Kenya one day, when she made them self-made ‘McDonalds’ breakfast burgers, with a patty, cheese, and egg on a muffin, which she wrapped in wax paper, and then ‘branded’ with the McDonalds logo. The children loved them, and she still receives ‘orders’ for them! So too she has made them the KFC ‘Famous Bowl’.
I asked her what favourite dish she likes to prepare most, and Paul said it is her spit braai lamb. What makes it so special is her marinade, for which she uses garlic, olive oil, lots of lemon juice and rosemary, pepper, whisking this in her Bamix. Both like to braai, but their techniques differ, Samantha keeping her grid closer to the coals, and therefore cooking her meat more quickly. She is good at making sauces, and makes her own Hollandaise, mayonnaise, and other sauces.
She told me how moving it was to do the braai challenge at the Cradle of Humankind outside Johannesburg, a beautiful, humbling and amazing experience, made all the more special that no one else had ever prepared food in this sacred space before, or probably would not do so in future. In Paarl the group of 18 finalists was divided into three groups, and they took turns to cook for each other at night at the guest house at which they stayed. She says that when they first started, they made fancy dishes for each other, but over the two month period they got to know each other better, and relaxed the level of cuisine over time. Samantha shared a room with Sue-Ann Allen, also from Cape Town. She said that the MasterChef kitchen at Nederburg was ‘amazing’. MasterChef SA was tough, she said, a true test of character. She did reveal that the sending back of her Red team’s pork shoulder in episode 5 by Chef Andrew Atkinson was ‘just TV’, as it had been cooked perfectly! I asked her what the worst part of the show was, and she said there was nothing. The best part was ‘everything’, she said, loving it, ‘a surreal experience’, and a ‘dream come true’. Her end goal in participating is to win the title, but just having been part of it is a huge honour. I asked her about the restaurant prize which goes to the winner, given her four children and husband, and she answered immediately that it is no problem at all, and that she would relocate to Johannesburg to take up the prize as Chef at MondoVino, if she were to win. Her mother is in Johannesburg, and it is a place that she knows, having grown up there. She praised the judges, saying how nice they were, ‘all great guys’. The tears on the show were real, and are important for such a reality show, wanting emotion. She said that it was easy to break the Finalists’ resistance, giving the long days they had on set, so the tears came easily.
I asked Samantha how she decides what to cook for the family, and she told me that she loves reading cookbooks and magazines. She rarely repeats what she has made before. She will wake up, and decide that it is a ‘duck day’, or a ‘lamb day’, for example, and then look for a recipe that will be interesting to make. She loves making an orange chocolate mousse, Paul said. She couldn’t tell me what her personal favourite dish is, but finally said that it is pizza, the family having three favourites at different times of the day : For breakfast it’s the BBB, topped with bacon, banana and chilli; for lunch it’s topped with salmon and avocado after; and for dinner it’s the PPP (peri peri and prawns).
I asked Samantha if she is treated like a ‘celebratory’, and she laughed and said ‘unfortunately not yet’. Her children are very proud of her, and want to boast about their mom, and are a little surprised that she is not recognised everywhere she goes, wanting her to tell others that she is MasterChef Sam. She has just been profiled in the Tygerburger, and more people in their area are recognising her. Samantha couldn’t answer what her favourite restaurant is, first saying Thai Café, which is near Andiamo, where they enjoyed the crispy duck, but she admitted that her home is her favourite! M-Net encouraged the Finalists to sign up on Twitter, and Samantha (@SamanthaLNolan) says she is getting used to it. She is more active on Facebook, where she has a fan page onto which she posts recipes.
Samantha and Paul Nolan are a lovely couple, make a great team, and Paul clearly is proud of his talented wife. He watches the MasterChef SA episodes from Liberia via live streaming. Their dream is to start a pizza restaurant together, but they were not very specific about where they would set it up or when. Hearing how determined Samantha was to get into MasterChef SA, and having made her dream come true, it can just be a matter of time before the Nolan Pizzeria opens.
POSTSCRIPT 24/4: Samantha sent a photograph of her MasterChef logo steak and Guinness pie she baked with her son Ryan just before the start of the MasterChef SA episode tonight.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Three months ago we conducted a survey of top-end hotel rates in Cape Town. Given the tourism crisis in the Cape, I repeated the survey 10 days ago, calling the same hotels as well as two additional ones not included previously, asking them for their November rates. The One & Only Cape Town has overtaken Ellerman House as the most expensive Cape Town hotel by far, starting at R6800 per room, and the Peninsula All Suite Hotel remains the least expensive 5-star hotel, at R1200 per room. The survey found that the average rate of the sixteen 5-star Cape Town hotels surveyed is R 3630 per room, just over R1800 per person, an average increase by 34% relative to the August rates. Across all 29 hotels surveyed, the average rate per room is R2908, or just over R1400 per person, 31% higher on average than in August. The most expensive Presidential Suite is at the Westin Grand, at R40000 per day.
Once again it was interesting to hear how the calls were handled, most hotel reservation departments asking careful questions, to identify if the caller was a travel agent/tour operator or a corporate caller, the questioning being very specific in this regard. Holders of a Protea Hotel Prokard would have had different rates quoted. Few hotels called had a rate sheet from which to quote immediately, having to access their computer for the ‘best available rate’ information, costing time, one hotel putting the call on hold to piped music while they did their rate calculations. I was shocked at the poor quality of the call handling and quoting by the hotel Reservations departments, quoting odd rates (i.e. not rounded off) very quickly, making it difficult to understand and record them accurately; interrupting while one was still speaking; surprising was the inability in many cases of the staff to understand and hear the request, asking me to repeat the dates, and the number of persons; for the first time, the question ‘group or individual’ was asked bluntly, without explanation; not all hotels quote rates with breakfast included, despite being asked for this rate (Protea Hotels quote room only, and seem surprised when asked to add the breakfast rate); and one hotel could not quote a rate as the system was down, and promised to call back … they never did! The Protea Hotel group quotes day by day rates, and the reservations staff had to obtain permission to quote an average rate, making it tedious to obtain quotes from them, as they have to quote the average rate and then add the breakfast rate. For hoteliers it must be frightening to hear that not one of the 29 hotels I called had a call to action, asking if I would like to book, given that Cape Town has the best hotels in Africa!
Most hotels have increased their rates since August, now quoting summer rates. However, 15 on Orange has decreased its rate by 23%, the Peninsula All Suite Hotel rate decreased by 20 %, and there was a small decrease in the Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge rate. Interesting is that the Cape Grace Hotel rate has not changed, probably meaning that they did not drop their rates in winter, due to good demand – in fact they increased rates by 10 % in August. The largest rate increases since August were by the Bay Hotel (119%), One&Only Cape Town (95%), Twelve Apostles Hotel (87%), Winchester Mansions Hotel (80%), Commodore Hotel (79%), the Taj (65%), Table Bay Hotel (63%), and Portswood Hotel (61%). Interesting is that the Steenberg Hotel, just voted the best hotel in Africa by Conde Nast Traveler readers, ranks 10th on price. The Protea Hotel-operated properties generally are at the lower end of the price ranking, being more attractively priced to fill their beds.
The rates were checked for 3 – 6 November per room for 2 adults sharing and inclusive of Breakfast per day, so as to compare the rates fairly (we did not realise that this period coincides with the Volvo Ocean Race, making a number of hotels fully booked. We chose rates for the dates closest to the dates we requested). We added breakfast to the rates where these were quoted separately. We have ranked the hotel rates from most to least expensive, and reflect the rate change on the lowest priced room relative to our survey for August 2011 in brackets:
One&Only Cape Town, 5 star, R6800 – R15300 Tel (021) 431-5888 (95 % rate increase) – only 5 – 10 rooms qualify for the special South African rate of R3299 daily – very detailed description of each room type provided telephonically
Ellerman House, 5 star, R5200 – R16400 (The new villa has 3 rooms offered at R48600 and 5-rooms at R60500), Tel (021) 430-3200 (4% rate increase)
Table Bay Hotel, 5 star, R 5168, Tel (021) 406-5000 (63% rate increase) – very unfriendly, very hard to understand. Fully booked on 3 November.
Cape Grace Hotel, 5 star, R 4980 – R 14 530 for the penthouse, Tel (021) 410-7100 (Zero rate change)
Twelve Apostles Hotel, 5 star, R 4105 – R 6625. Tel (021) 437-9000 (87% rate increase)
Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 5 star, R 4086 – R20000 for the Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 430-0500 (14% rate increase) – fully booked 6 November
Mount Nelson Hotel, 5 star, R 3800 – R 11000. Tel (021) 483-1000 (27 % rate increase)
The Taj Hotel, 5 star, R 3550 – R 34000 for Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 819-2000 (65% rate increase)
Bay Hotel, 5 star, R 3500 (stay for 3 nights, pay for 2). Tel (021) 438-4444 (119% rate increase)
Steenberg Hotel, 5 star, R 3435 – R 14850. Tel (021) 713-2222 (first time inclusion)
Dock House, 5 star, R 3464. Tel (021) 421-9334 (43% rate increase) – drastic price decrease in August, rates now back to May level
Queen Victoria Hotel, not graded yet but seeking 5 stars, R 2996 – R 20000, Tel (021) 418-1466 (27 % rate increase)
Commodore Hotel, 4 star, R 2860 – R 12 720. Tel (021) 415-1000 (79% rate increase). Fully booked 3 November.
Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays, 5 star, R 2730 – R 40000 for Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 412-9999 (26 % rate increase)
Winchester Mansions Hotel, 4 star, R 2640 – R4135. Tel (021) 434-2351 (80 % rate increase)
Portswood Hotel, 4 star, R 2570 – R 3960. Tel (021) 415-1000 (61% rate increase). Fully booked 3 November
V & A Hotel, 4 star, R 2320 – R 3124 . Tel (021) 415-1000 (41% rate increase)
15 on Orange Hotel, 5 star, R 2020 – R 2620, Tel (021) 469-8000 (23 % rate decrease)
Cullinan Hotel, 5 star, R 2095 – R 4451. Tel (021) 415-4000 (38 % rate increase) – this hotel had a computer problem when I called, and promised to call me back, to give me a rate. After waiting for two days, I called again!
Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, 5 star, R 1950 – R 3050. Tel (021) 525-3888 (15% rate increase) – very loud volume of music and voice
Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Hotel, 3 star, R 1940 – R 2040, Tel (021) 488-2555 (31% rate increase!)
Victoria Junction Hotel, 4 star, R 1900 – R2200 Tel (021) 418-1234 (5 % rate increase)
Vineyard Hotel, 4 star, R 1850 – R 3950. Tel (021) 657-4500. First time inclusion. Friendly and efficient.
President Hotel, 4 star, R 1780 – R 2830. Tel (021) 434-8111 (22% rate increase)
Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, 4 star, R 1605 – R 3855. Tel (021) 409-4000 (11 % rate increase). Very poor ability to hear and understand the caller’s requirements.
Cape Sun Hotel, 4 star, R 1380 – R 3810. Tel (021) 488-5100 (6% rate increase)
Ambassador Hotel, 4 star, R 1250 – R 1950. Tel (021) 439-6176 (Zero rate change)
Peninsula All Suite Hotel, 5 star, R 1200 – R 2170. Tel (021) 430-7777 (20% rate decrease)
Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, no star grading, R 1170 standard, R 1595 business rooms. Tel (021) 406-1911 (4% rate decrease). Poor ability to comprehend the caller’s requirements.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Three months ago we conducted a survey of top-end hotel rates in Cape Town. Given the tourism crisis in the Cape, I repeated the survey on Monday, calling the same hotels, asking them for their August rates. Ellerman House remains the most expensive Cape Town hotel by far, starting at R5000 per room, and the Peninsula All Suite Hotel remains the least expensive 5-star hotel, at R1500 per room. The survey found that the average rate of the sixteen 5-star Cape Town hotels is R 2715 per room, just under R1400 per person, an average decrease by 8% relative to the May rates. Across all 27 hotels surveyed, the average rate per room is R2227, or just over R1100 per person, only 8 % lower on average than in May.
Once again it was interesting to hear how the calls were handled, most hotel reservation departments asking careful questions, to identify if the caller was a travel agent/tour operator or a corporate caller, the questioning being very specific in this regard. Holders of a South African ID book or a Protea Hotel Prokard would have had different rates quoted. Few hotels called had a rate sheet from which to quote immediately, having to access their computer for the ‘best available rate’ information, costing time. I was shocked at the poor quality of the call handling and quoting by the hotel Reservations departments, quoting odd rates (i.e. not rounded off) very quickly, making it difficult to understand and record them accurately; interrupting while one was still speaking; having a radio blaring in the background, affecting their ability to understand and hear the request; not all quoting rates with breakfast included, despite being asked for this rate (Protea Hotels quote room only, and refused initially to quote the add-on breakfast rate); an hotel line rang engaged three times; another hotel line was not answered at all; one hotel had a trainee answer the phone, and she did not know that hotel’s telephone number; one staff member sounded in the depth of depression, as if she hated her job; one hotel did not disclose that it is undergoing major renovations, and its rates have not changed due to the renovations; and one hotel switchboard put me through to the kitchen when I asked for reservations, and I had to call again, as they could not transfer me back to the board. Worst of all for the hoteliers whose rooms the staff have to sell is that only one (Victoria Junction Hotel) of the 27 hotels I called had a call to action, asking if I would like to book!
Some hotels have not changed their rates in the past three months, or only by a small percentage. The Protea Hotel Fire & Ice increased its rate by an astounding 64 % to R1480 per room, making this 3-star hotel more expensive than a number of 4-star hotels. Interesting is that a number of 4-star hotels are more expensive than some 5-star hotels. The Queen Victoria Hotel rate has increased by 25 % relative to its opening special rate. However, only eleven of the surveyed 27 hotels dropped their rates, noticeably the Newmark Hotels’ The Ambassador and Dock House (by 35%), and V&A Hotel (by 40%). The Cullinan Hotel has also dropped its rate sharply, by 30%, as have the Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays, the Twelve Apostles, and the Crystal Towers hotels.
The rates were checked for 3 – 6 August per room for 2 adults sharing and inclusive of Breakfast per day, so as to compare the rates fairly. We added breakfast to the rates where these were quoted separately. We have ranked the hotel rates from most to least expensive, and reflect the rate change relative to our survey for May 2011 in brackets:
Ellerman House, 5 star, R5000 – R15700 (the new villa has 2 rooms offered at R48600 and 3-rooms at R60500), Tel (021) 430-3200 (no rate change)
Cape Grace Hotel, 5 star, R 4980 – R 14 530 for the penthouse, Tel (021) 410-7100 (10% rate increase)
Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 5 star, R 3590 – R20816 for the Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 430-0500 (1% rate increase)
One&Only Cape Town, 5 star, R3489 for South Africans – R5590 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 431-5888 (10 % rate decrease)
Table Bay Hotel, 5 star, R3166 Tel (021) 406-5000 (International rate dropped, no rate change)
Mount Nelson Hotel, 5 star, R 3000 – R 9000. Tel (021) 483-1000 (no rate change)
15 on Orange Hotel, 5 star, R 2620 – R 2820, Tel (021) 469-8000 (5 % rate decrease)
Dock House, 5 star, R2430 (but pay for 2 days, stay for 3 days offer). Tel (021) 421-9334 (35% rate decrease)
Queen Victoria Hotel, not graded yet but seeking 5 stars, R 2350 – R 2715, Tel (021) 418-1466 (25 % rate increase from its opening special)
Twelve Apostles, 5 star, R 2190 – R 3940. Tel (021) 437-9000 (24% rate decrease)
Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays, 5 star, R 2160 – R 3640. Tel (021) 412-9999 (27 % rate decrease)
The Taj Hotel, 5 star, R 2150 – R 2650. Tel (021) 819-2000 (2% rate decrease)
Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, 5 star, R 1700 – R3250. Tel (021) 525-3888 (20% rate decrease)
V & A Hotel, 4 star, R 1640 – R1905 (but special pay 2 days stay for 3 days offer), Tel (021) 415-1000 (40% rate decrease)
Commodore Hotel, 4 star, R1600 – R 7780. Tel (021) 415-1000 (no rate change)
Portswood Hotel, 4 star, R 1600 – R 3960. Tel (021) 415-1000 (no rate change)
Bay Hotel, 5 star, R1600 – R2100 for South Africans, R 2600 – R 5500 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 438-4444 (no rate change)
Cullinan Hotel, 5 star, R 1515 – R 3400. Tel (021) 415-4000 (30 % rate decrease)
Peninsula All Suite Hotel, 5 star, R 1500 – R 3240. Tel (021) 430-7777 (4% rate decrease)
Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Hotel, 3 star, R 1 480 – R 2300, Tel (021) 488-2555 (64% rate increase!)
Winchester Mansions Hotel, 4 star, R 1470 – R 3390. Tel (021) 434-2351 (no rate change)
President Hotel, 4 star, R 1460 – R 2550. Tel (021) 434-8111 (no rate change)
Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, 4 star, R1450 – R 3000. Tel (021) 409-4000 (17% rate decrease)
Cape Sun Hotel, 4 star, R1300 – R 5500. Tel (021) 488-5100 (13% rate decrease)
Ambassador Hotel, 4 star, R 1250 – R 1950 (but stay for 3 and pay for 2 nights offer), Tel (021) 439-6176 (35% rate decrease)
Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, no star grading, R 1220 standard, R1465 business rooms. Tel (021) 406-1911 (5% rate decrease)
Victoria Junction Hotel, 4 star, – Tel (021) 418-1234 (Only re-opening in September, with rate of R1990)
On Moneyweb yesterday, the FEDHASA hotel association was quoted as saying that the ‘hotel industry is being hard hit by the economic climate and there is very little light at the end of the tunnel’. FEDHASA CEO Brett Dungan, who tried to sell South African hotels down the MATCH river for the World Cup, is quoted as saying that hotel rates have come down ‘dramatically’ (by about 10%, according to him) in the past three years, and that hotel occupancy has decreased by 10%. The African Sun hotel group, which operated the 5-star The Grace and The Lakes Hotel and Conference Centre in Johannesburg, has not renewed its operating agreement with these two hotels, saying that the 5-star hotel industry in Johannesburg is ‘no longer sustainable’! The Southern Sun on Grayston Drive in Sandton is also expected to close its doors next year. Singing a somewhat different tune, to that of a few weeks ago, Arthur Gillis, CEO of Protea Hotels, expressed his optimism for the industry. Location is the prime asset of a hotel, he said. “I don’t think the industry is in trouble. I think certain individuals and institutions are in trouble”, he said. Many would disagree!
POSTSCRIPT 3/8: Cape Town Tourism has sent the following response to this blogpost: “Cape Town Tourism met with hoteliers recently to review the value proposition of luxury hotels in Cape Town in particular. The outcome of our meeting and position on price, value and demand will be included in our next industry communication and feedback given at the industry sessions scheduled for next week. As alluded to by MEC Winde, business will react to pressures in different ways as they see fit in terms of their own strategies, market demands and business imperatives. It is common knowledge that published rates are not necessarily what are achieved, particularly in the current climate. Whilst we can offer advice, intelligence, guidelines and input in terms of customer feedback and trends, the market will dictate and business will adjust to market demands as they see fit. Our concern must be with the over-all value proposition of the destination i.e. full pallet of accommodation, experiences, restaurants and services rather than too much focus placed on one segment of the industry. Here is an extract from our industry communication to be published: It is clear that the current depressed nature of arrivals has more to do with externalities and the consumer climate than with accommodation pricing. Cape Town boasts an exceptional, quality product offering and if you look at the complete pallet of accommodation and, experiences on offer, excellent value. We don’t want to undermine the strength of our destination brand by devaluing it. Visitors to Cape Town leave the destination overwhelmingly impressed and willing to return. Post World Cup figures found that 92% of foreign visitors said they would recommend South Africa to others and 96% said they would return. This does not suggest a fundamentally flawed product or pricing problem. Cape Town boasts some of the world’s best small hotels, B&B’s and guest houses that are competitively priced and offer excellent value for money. The fact that Cape Town has a luxury hotel offering that compares with, and in many instances exceeds, our competitors in terms of quality and setting is an asset to our destination. It is commonly recognised that destination price perceptions are driven more by travel time and distance (transportation costs) than by in-destination costs. There is no evidence to suggest that Cape Town’s in-destination costs have detracted from its value proposition. If we can address the demand problem we face, then the cost of flights should become more competitive.”
POSTSCRIPT 3/8 : Provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde has responded as follows: “It is always interesting to see how markets and management react to these pressures. I am also very interested in the new season where we have seen new airlift directly to CT. From France, Switzerland, UAE, Zambia and more in negotiation at the moment. I have asked for a report on our market fact into these places. This will only be good news if we see bums in seats. I will keep you posted once I get the report”.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
An article in the Cape Business News, entitled “Fedhasa to monitor Cape hotel pricing”, echoed a promise of such a survey by FEDHASA Cape Chairman Dirk Elzinga at the recent Tourism Destination Conference. Elzinga promised that his association would conduct the survey in response to the accusation by Conference speaker and Cape Town Routes Unlimited Chairman Peter Bacon as well as provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde, that Cape Town’s hotels are expensive, and do not reflect the law of supply and demand, which should bring down rates, given poor demand, thereby giving our city a bad reputation, it was alleged.
Given that FEDHASA Cape still has not conducted the promised survey, I decided to do my own independent survey last week, to get a feel for pricing of the largest and best known Cape Town hotels, asking them for their May rates. Ellerman House is the most expensive Cape Town hotel by far, starting at R5000 per room, and the Peninsula All Suite Hotel is the least expensive 5-star hotel, at R1570 per room. The opening offer of R1875 per room at the Queen Victoria Hotel is exceptional, given what it offers. Interesting too is that a number of 4-star hotels are more expensive than some 5-star hotels. The survey found that the average rate of the sixteen 5-star hotels surveyed is R2939 per room, just under R1500 per person. Across all 27 hotels surveyed, the average rate per room is R2419, or just over R1200 per person, not cheap given that it is winter in May, and that there is poor demand.
It was interesting to hear how the calls were handled, most hotel reservation departments asking careful questions, to identify if the caller was a travel agent/tour operator, single or double, a corporate business client, South African ID book holder, and/or a Protea Hotel Prokard holder, all of which would have affected the rate quoted. Few hotels called had a rate sheet from which to quote immediately, having to access their computer for the information, costing time.
The rates were checked for 3 – 6 May (or the dates nearest these if one or more dates were fully booked already), per room for 2 adults sharing and inclusive of Breakfast per day, so as to compare the rates fairly. We added breakfast to the rates where these were quoted separately. We have ranked the hotel rates from most to least expensive:
Ellerman House, 5 star, R5000 – R15700, Tel (021) 430-3200
Cape Grace Hotel, 5 star, R 4510 – R 5680, Tel (021) 410-7100
One&Only Cape Town, 5 star, R3889 for South Africans – R5990 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 819-2000
Dock House, 5 star, R3790 (but pay for 2 days, stay for 3 days offer). Tel (021) 421-9334
Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 5 star, R3565. Tel (021) 430-0500
Table Bay Hotel, 5 star, R3166 for South Africans, R 6000 for non-South Africans, Tel (021) 406-5000
V & A Hotel, 4 star, R3115 (but special 2 days pay for 3 days stay offer), Tel (021) 415-1000
Mount Nelson Hotel, 5 star, R 3000. Tel (021) 483-1000
Westin Grand Arabella Quays, 5 star, R 2960. Tel (021) 412-9999
Twelve Apostles, 5 star, R2865 – R4480. Tel (021) 437-9000
15 on Orange Hotel, 5 star, R2770 – R2970, Tel (021) 469-8000
The Taj Hotel, 5 star, R2200. Tel (021) 819-2000
Cullinan Hotel, 5 star, R2150. Tel (021) 415-4000
Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, 5 star, R2120 – R3220. Tel (021) 525-3888
Ambassador Hotel, 4 star, R1920 (but stay for 3 and pay for 2 nights offer), Tel (021) 439-6176
Queen Victoria Hotel, not graded yet but seeking 5 stars, R1875 special opening rate until July, Tel (021) 418-1466
Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, 4 star, R1750. Tel (021) 409-4000
Victoria Junction Hotel, 4 star, R 1686. Tel (021) 418-1234
Commodore Hotel, 4 star, R1600. Tel (021) 415-1000
Portswood Hotel, 4 star, R 1600. tel (021) 415-1000
Bay Hotel, 5 star, R1600 – R2100 for South Africans, R 2590 – R3690 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 438-4444
Peninsula All Suite Hotel, 5 star, R 1570. Tel (021) 430-7777
Cape Sun Hotel, 4 star, R1500. Tel (021) 488-5100
Winchester Mansions Hotel, 4 star, R1470 – R1930. Tel (021) 434-2351
President Hotel, 4 star, R1460 – R1660. Tel (021) 434-8111
Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, no star grading, R 1295 standard, R1665 business rooms. Tel (021) 406-1911
Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Hotel, 3 star, R 900, Tel (021) 488-2555
To contrast the rates of hotels in the city, a rate survey was also conducted amongst the 24 members of the Camps Bay Accommodation Association, consisting of mainly 4-star guest houses. The average May rate for the Association members is R766 – R1173 per room, the lowest rate being R500 per room. The most expensive rate is R1600 for the 5-star Atlantic House. Guest houses have dropped their winter rates by up to 50 % for many years already, understanding about demand and supply
What is most disturbing is that some hotels are offering South Africans better rates than they would offer international guests, very short-sighted in our opinion, given that it signals to international guests that they are not as desired, and means that they could be staying away from Cape Town and going on holiday elsewhere. Price discrimination against foreigners is something the provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde should urge FEDHASA Cape to fight against, and to encourage hotels to drop this practice.
POSTSCRIPT 20/4: Rey Franco, Deputy Chairman of FEDHASA Cape, has e-mailed this comment: “Thanks for this, I do need to correct you on one specific comment you have made by saying we have not done the survey. Rema and I are checking the rates daily, on Expedia, booking.com and others. It is important to note that we decided to do the survey over a minimum of 3 months before releasing any information in order to ascertain the actual status of the rates stituation. Something the media forgot to mention. I am sure you would agree that looking at rates for only a few days is certainly not going to show any worthy trend. To show you why this survey must be conducted over a longer period I have attached the rates as displayed this morning under the certain categories for your perusal. You will see how low they are. See what you can get from the Taj! It is also important to note that rates will vary dependant on demand especially where large conferences and events are concerned. Another reason why rates need to be averaged out correctly. I will do the same daily searches on the additional hotels you have tested to ensure a wider trend analysis.”
POSTSCRIPT 24/4: We received the following e-mail from Dirk Elzinga, Chairman of FEDHASA Cape: thank you for your email/copy of your blog that was passed on to me while I am travelling overseas. It made some interesting reading, and I am sure that we are able to make good use of your suggestions. I trust that the response you received from Rey Franco is clear to you, and that you do understand that we as Fedhasa try to get some
realy (sic) reliable information about the relative pricing of our hotels in Cape Town. A once off snap shot comparison obviously does not serve this purpose. We definitely will inform our members and the media about our findings of this ongoing survey as soon as we feel that we have collected sufficient data to express an opinion based on facts. As Rey wrote, this will at least take three months or so.”
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage