Tag Archives: FEDHASA Cape

Banning bloggers not a response to Social Media criticism: an open letter to Michael Pownall, GM of Taj Cape Town!

Taj logoDear Michael

I laughed when I received your letter of 28 February in the post this weekend, to advise that I have been banned from your five star establishment, a member of Leading Hotels of the World!

You wrote: ‘This letter serves to inform you of our shock and disappointment at the manner in which you have dealt with our establishment in the social media.  As a fellow colleague in the hospitality industry I have been (sic) amazed that you have failed to address our perceived shortcomings and your concerns, (sic) directly with me, the general manager. We are fully supportive of social media, however, one should have details 100% correct before publicly. (sic) Slandering (sic) one of my team and our establishment, it is so unnecessary and unprofessional.  To this end, we wish to advise you that you are no longer welcome nor permitted to enter or be in the Taj Cape Town hotel without my personal permission. Should you enter the premises, you will be apprehended by our Security Department and asked to leave’.

You do not state which 0f the references by us to the Taj in ‘Social Media‘ you refer to:

*   was it the Tweet about the rude service from your barman during the interval of a concert at the St George’s Cathedral a few weeks ago, which I reported to your Duty Manager?

*   was it the poor accommodation at your hotel after the poor Gastronauts gourmet dinner at Mint more than 3 years ago, so bad that I chose to go home in the middle of the night?

*   was it the Tweet four months ago about the poor non-caring attitude of your Banqueting Manager Eugene Myburgh, when he showed no regard for my complaint about slipping on your dangerous highly polished wooden floor in your Banqueting section, once again reported to your Duty Manager, with no response?

*   was it the mention a month ago about your new Conference facility you are opening in The Reserve this month, mentioning my doubt that your Manager Myburgh will be capable in running it if he cannot even run the tiny Banqueting section in your hotel? Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 13 March

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   Cape Town will be jazzing it up on the last weekend of the month, with not only the sold-out Cape Town International Jazz Festival taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 28 – 30 March, but the inaugural Sounds Fringe Festival will offer 60 performances between 27 – 30 March.  The list of performers includes  The Rudimentals, Spencer Mbadu, Dan Shout, Gerald Clark, Beatenberg, Sterling EQ, Saudiq Khan, Blackie Tempi, and Touchwood. Norwegian trumpeter Arne Hiorth will perform with a choir of 100 singers.  Venues are concentrated around Wale Street, at Mandela Rhodes Place, The Twankey Bar, The Reserve at The Taj, Motherland Coffee Company, The Crypt Jazz Restaurant, the Iziko Slave Lodge, and Inn on the Square. The goal of Festival founder Frank Gormley is to position Cape Town as a city of musical note.

*   Anna Trapido has been appointed as Editor of Rossouw’s Restaurants, the guide started by JP Rossouw but which he cannot continue with due to his duties as recently appointed Publisher of Platter’s wine guide, and will also handle this role for Rossouw’s Restaurants.  Diners Club bought both the Platter’s and Rossouw’s Restaurants guides last year. Trapido is a former Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge, and wrote ‘Hunger for Freedom’ about the food which the late Nelson Mandela liked to eat.  (received via media release from Africa Sky)

*   Cape Town restaurant prices are not increasing because there are more tourists in town, but because food prices Continue reading →

Streetsmart smart move for restaurants and beneficiaries!

StreetSmart Banner Whale Cottage PortfolioI have not been a great fan of the forced R5 addition to one’s restaurant bill without permission in Streetsmart restaurants, but after attending the presentation of monies to support the good community work for street children it is funding, and hearing what a difference the money makes to the less fortunate at a function held at The Salesian Institute on Thursday evening, my perception about Streetsmart has changed completely.

Established in 2005 by tour operator Margi Biggs as a means of helping street children, and now chaired by committee junkie Nils Heckscher (he has been or currently serves on the board of FEDHASA Cape, Cape Town StreetSmart Nils Heckscher Whale Cottage PortfolioTourism, the former Cape Town Routes Unlimited, and Tourism Marketing of South Africa), Streetsmart generated just over R900000 in the past year, and a total of R7 million since its establishment.  R5 is added to the restaurant bill per table, irrespective of the number of patrons seated at the table.  This money is transferred to Streetsmart once a month.  Streetsmart is also collected in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and in India.

Heckscher suffers badly from being in the shadow of his very well-known Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 15 August

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The Michelangelo International Wine Awards has introduced a new Platinum medal tier, and two Trophies, for best MCC, and for best ‘mocha style’ Pinotage!

*   Depressing reading is the report about University of Stellenbosch Professor Trevor Britz’s study about the quality (or lack of) our country’s rivers, including the Eerste and Plankenbrug Rivers in Stellenbosch, which can significantly affect their use for agricultural irrigation.

*   Spar is partnering with Shell in setting up Spar Express retail stores at selected petrol stations on a trial basis, in Gauteng, following in the footsteps of BP/Pick ‘n Pay, Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 6/7 July

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   M-Net’s channel location will change on 5 August, as Cape TV will be broadcasting from it. Multichoice is paying for installers to visit each affected Cape Town subscriber for the decoder to be adjusted, at its expense.

*   If membership of FEDHASA Cape is an indicator, then the hospitality business is going through tough times, their membership numbers declining due to businesses closing down or changing ownership, reports Travel News Weekly?

*   South Africa loves its Scotch, having imported R1,7 billion of whisky, reports the Financial Mail.

*   Are Celebrity wines worth their endorsement?  James Molesworth rates the wines of Ernie Els, Brangelina, Sting, and other celebs on THV. Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 2 July

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines 

*   A South African wine blend is to be made for Tesco in the UK via Social Media, with suggestions called for from consumers, reports The Daily Meal!

*   Read a  fun segmentation of airline passengers ‘from hell’, via eTurboNews.

*   Wines of South Africa (WOSA) is launching a Sommelier World Cup, reports the Academy of Food and Wine Service.

*   Susan Atkins recommends a South African Shiraz to be enjoyed with a barbeque in The Drinks Business.

*   Our tourism industry can benefit from a Sparkling Wine Route, reports Farmer’s Weekly. Continue reading →

FEDHASA Cape understates severity of Cape Restaurant closures!

Rey Franco, FEDHASA Cape chairman of the Restaurant and Catering Industry segment, seems to be out of touch with the segment which he represents, in claiming in Cape Business News that 27 new restaurants opened and only three closed down in the Cape in the past year!  The situation is much worse in terms of restaurant closures, despite far more new restaurant openings.

Our ongoing tracking of restaurant openings shows that new restaurant openings were greater in number than the FEDHASA Cape figure, at 80 openings in the past twelve months, and included Cousins, Thai Café in Stellenbosch and Sea Point, De Oude Meul Bakkerij, Frères Bistro, The Urban Garden, Goloso Deli & Restaurant, Goloso Pizzaria, Bar1, Tamboerswinkel, I ♥ my Laundry, Millhouse KItchen at Lourensford, Reserve Brasserie, The Rotisserie at Leopard’s Leap, Café Blanc de Noir at Brenaissance,  Moyo at the V&A Waterfront, Mischu, Cattle Baron in Paarl, Latitude33, Baked Bistro, Richard’s Supper Stage & Bistro, Deluxe Urban Café, The Eatery at Diemersdal, De Grendel Restaurant, Camphor’s at Vergelegen, Antipasto Bar at Antonij Rupert Wines, Kloof Street House, Orphanage, Peter’s House, Le Venue at JC le Roux, Mitico, Slug & Lettuce on Kloof Street and in Stellenbosch, Ali Baba Kebab in Camps Bay, 5Rooms, La Belle Café & Deli, Big Route Top Gourmet Pizza, Stables at Vergelegen, Vovo Telo, Glashuis at Babylonstoren, Hussar Grill at Steenberg, Dorpstraat Deli, The Boat House, Orinoco, Cassis Paris Salon de Thé, Dog’s Bollocks, Jackal & Hide, Saints on 84 Kloof Street, Sushibox, Mama Cucina in Riebeek Kasteel, Salzburger Grill, The Stall, Shimmy’s Beach Club, The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg, EuroHaus, Merchant’s Café, Truth on Buitenkant Street, Deluxe Coffeeworks, No 6 Restaurant at Welbedacht, Simply Asia in Paarl, La Pentola in Hermanus, Lizette’s Kitchen in Hermanus, Vino’s in Wellington, Sacred Ground Bakery & Deli in Franschhoek, Col’Cacchio In Hermanus and Westlake, Christina’s at Van Loveren, four Vida e Caffè, Gourmetboerie, Kushi Indian Restaurant, Moksh Authentic Indian Cuisine, Alfama, Paulina’s Restaurant at Rickety Bridge, Wakaberry in Rondebosch and Kloof Street, Okamai at Glenwood, Café Dijon in Green Point, and Deli @ The Square in Paarl.

Restaurant closures were more severe in the past year than reflected (maybe Franco wanted to project a perfect picture of the Cape restaurant industry, or he is that out of touch?), with at least 29 closures as per our count, which included Vanilla, two Café Dijon in Stellenbosch, Sabarosa in Bakoven, Toro Aperitif Bar, Caveau on Bree Street, Gourmet Burger, Limoncello, Casa Nostra, Wicked Treats in Franschhoek, Bistro on Rose, Paparazzi,  Rhapsody’s, Cape Town Fish Market in Somerset West, Josephine’s Cookhouse, Wale Rose Lifestyle, Mason, Café Sofia in Camps Bay (all outlets may have closed down), Gesellig, Beads in Stellenbosch, French Toast Wine Bar & Tapas, ACT Restaurant, The Kove, Planet Green Salad Bar, Freedom Hill, Sapphire, Grilleri in Hermanus, Franschhoek Deli, and Illyria in Stellenbosch.

The article emphasises how tough the restaurant industry is, with rising cost of food, electricity and gas, rental, and staff a major challenge, as is the tightening budgets of restaurant patrons.  The restaurant industry is highly overtraded and fragmented, and Franco says that ‘keeping a restaurant above water (sic) has always been a tough challenge’.  He adds that only a few have a winning ‘recipe of setting, food, social placement and value proposition’.

He noted a trend of restaurants opening at the start of summer, with restaurant closures visible at the start of winter. His statistic of two restaurants opening for every restaurant closure knocks his own restaurant opening and closure statistics mentioned above.  He also has seen an increased demand of catering for children, and a focus on healthy and organic food.  Loyalty programmes work, and refurbishments keep a restaurant interior fresh, he advises.

The larger franchised restaurants have done well in the past year, the Spur Corporation’s sales having increased by 17,5% in the last six months of 2012, whilst the Famous Brands franchises of Steers, Debonairs, Wimpy, Mugg & Bean, and Fishaways jointly increased turnover by 13% last year.  It is the smaller independents that may face another bleak winter to come, starting early this year due to the early Easter, which is synonymous with the end of the summer season.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Cape Tourism under the weather, 2011 was ‘worst year’!

Winchester Mansions General Manager and Cape Town Tourism Director Nils Heckscher has told Southern African Tourism Update that ‘2011 was the worst year for many in the industry‘, and that tourism performance is a long way away from the good performance levels last seen five years ago.

Given Mr Heckscher’s roles as FEDHASA Cape Chairman until 2010, and as a Director of Cape Town Tourism currently, as well as his position in running a 4-star hotel in Sea Point, he should have been able to make a difference to the fortunes of the tourism industry in encouraging the management of Cape Town Tourism in particular to come up with more creative marketing campaigns to address the downward slide in tourist performance in the Cape.  Sadly, this has not been seen to date.

The tourism newsletter’s survey about the state of the tourism nation reflected that 57% of tourism players said that they are experiencing a ‘quiet winter’, 29% said it was ‘average’, and only 14% said they were ‘busy’, leading the writer of the article to conclude that ‘recovery is still a long way off‘.

Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk’s regular positive spin on tourism numbers is regularly questioned by the tourism industry, in not reflecting its day-to-day experience.  Heckscher calls for better interrogation of tourism statistics, and cautions against putting all one’s eggs into the Europe basket, recommending diversification into the African continent. Seeing an increase in bookings relative to 2011, not difficult due to it having been a tough tourism year, he is uncertain whether the trend will continue: “Nobody knows and the landscape has changed for the long term. Nothing is like it was and forecasting has become increasingly difficult.”

Large tour operator Tourvest has seen an improvement in tourism from ‘Germanic Europe’, but describes tourism from the UK, the Netherlands, and the southern Mediterranean countries as continuing to be ‘under pressure’.  The poor summer in Europe and the UK makes the company optimistic about the prospect of better bookings for the summer lying ahead.

Cape Town and its environs have suffered a very wet winter, which has not encouraged Gautengers to come to Cape Town with forecasts of snow and wild storms, nor have Capetonians left their warm homes to stay in towns and villages outside of Cape Town, many cancelling their bookings because of the weather.  The usual Italian tourism influx is barely visible, with few Italians travelling in their holiday month this year.

With no visible marketing of the Western Cape by Wesgro since it took over Cape Town Routes Unlimited, questionable marketing by Cape Town Tourism of Cape Town, high airline ticket prices, and no end to the Eurozone crisis and the recession in the UK, the prospects for the tourism summer ahead look bleak. The tourism industry will be largely reliant on local tourists coming to Cape Town, yet there is little sign of domestic marketing by both Cape Town Tourism and Wesgro.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Wesgro’s marketing of Western Cape: around the world in 80 days already!

After having met Wesgro CEO Nils Flaatten two months ago, a week after he had taken over the responsibility for marketing the Western Cape from Cape Town Routes Unlimited, which organisation was incorporated into the trade and investment promotion agency on 2 April this year, we requested feedback about the progress made in marketing the region. Mr Flaatten had asked the industry to give him a month to get the organisational integration completed. An e-mail request for feedback on the marketing progress earlier this month led to an invitation by Mr Flaatten to meet with him on Tuesday.

The most exciting news for the local tourism industry, and Mr Flaatten’s first major challenge, is the 5 July meeting called with SAA’s General Manager Theuns Potgieter by Wesgro with 15 players in the Western Cape, including local and city government, an Eastern Cape tourism marketing body representative, and larger tourism companies, to discuss SAA’s decision to cut its Cape Town-London route as of 15 August. The airline will be asked to motivate its decision in culling the route.  Joint destination marketing between the Western Cape and SAA in bringing in tourists from destinations such as Beijing, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Melbourne, various African destinations, and Buenos Aires will be discussed too.   Subsequent meetings will be held with the airlines which will continue to serve the Cape Town-London route, including BA, Virgin, and Emirates, to discuss bringing in more flights to Cape Town.

The parking organisation was perfect, and Mr Flaatten chose for us to go to Doppio Zero on St George’s Mall for the meeting.  He had copies of the slides which he used for his recent presentation at FEDHASA Cape’s AGM, which I had requested via his secretary, but the wait was worthwhile, as Mr Flaatten was able to explain his points in greater detail.  Mr Flaatten is a very precise person, and he referred repeatedly and proudly to the progress that he and his new team have made in the ‘two months and 19 days’ since their integration. In the past 80 days Wesgro has undertaken the following Marketing activities:

*   Mr Flaatten and Solly Fourie, Head of the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, accompanied an (unnamed) Chairman of a JSE-listed hotel company to Buenos Aires, to meet six outbound tour operators. Mr Flaatten praised their product knowledge of the Western Cape. He said that the withdrawal of the Cape Town-Buenos Aires Air Malaysia route is a serious blow to tourism from Argentina. His journey from Cape Town to Buenos Aires via Johannesburg took 24 hours, previously a direct flight of 7 hours flying west.

*   Bjorn Hufkie from Wesgro’s Conventions Bureau accompanied the (unnamed) Managing Director of a JSE-listed hotel company to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

*    Participated in exhibitions: Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, IMEX 2012 in Frankfurt (incentive travel, meetings and events); and Indaba in Durban. Mr Flaatten said that all six the RTOs were represented on the Western Cape stand, and that they will ‘raise the bar’ for 2013.

*   Debbie Damant has been part of SA Tourism’s marketing mission to China and Japan

*   Met with Cape Town Tourism, the largest RTO (regional tourism organisation) of the six in the Western Cape, asking some ‘tough questions’ of them

*   Met with Eden RTO, and some of its LTO’s (local tourism bureaus)

*   Met with SAA at Indaba (prior to SAA’s bombshell announcement about the Cape Town-London route)

*   The Western Cape Tourism Barometer for the fourth quarter of 2011 was released.

*   The Wesgro website has been updated, incorporating its new additional Destination Marketing role, clicking through to the tourism information previously on the Cape Town Routes Unlimited website

*  One of the greatest achievements is the detailed listing of over 100 events in the province in the next six months, with detailed information about each event

*   Organisationally, the activities and marketing focus of the six RTOs (Cape Town, West Coast, Eden, Cape Winelands, Central Karoo, and Overberg), and its tourism bureaus within the municipalities within the RTOs have been captured, within a Customer Relationship Management program.  An intensive Facebook campaign to interlink and like the LTOs and RTOs is underway.

Looking ahead for the next 10 months the focus will be to deliver on the Annual Performance Plan in respect of destination marketing; create operational efficiency, effectiveness and cost savings, which savings will go into the Events budget, Mr Flaatten said; fill staff vacancies; strengthening relationships with the RTO’s and LTO’s, international airlines operating from Cape Town International, tourism trade bodies, SA Tourism, and other national tourism bodies; ‘impactful marketing and advertising of the destination’, website integration and marketing strikes in respect of tour operators, to keep up the ‘share of mind’; aggressively market the Conventions Bureau, pushing conferences into the provincial towns and villages too; stimulate Events and fund smaller events; and SMME development.   Wesgro is pitching to host SIAL Cape Town, which would become a fantastic new food event creating a ‘Global Food Marketplace’, already held in Paris and China, and is planned to be hosted in our winter months, to address Seasonality.  The Western Cape Tourism Marketing Plan is expected to be ready by September.  Inter-provincial travel within the Western Cape will be an important focus.  Mr Flaatten was requested to provide feedback on what Wesgro is doing for the tourism industry as frequently as possible, all media communication to ourselves having been terminated since Wesgro took over.  We fed back that the Tourism Bureaus are not passing on Wesgro’s information to its members, which seemed to surprise him.

Mr Flaatten provided a copy of the latest Tourism Barometer, surprisingly signed off by Calvyn Gilfellan, former CEO of the ex-Cape Town Routes Unlimited. In the last quarter of last year 216000 international tourists arrived in Cape Town, a welcome increase of 15% over the same period a year before.  Domestic arrival growth was far lower in the same period, at 4%, with just under 1 million visitors.  A large part of the report contains statistics of visitor numbers to the province’s key tourism attractions, and to the RTO’s local tourism bureaus, a very unreliable tourism barometer, given that fewer visitors require the information or booking services of tourism bureaus, doing most of their bookings at home via the internet before their departure.

Organisationally, the integration between the ex-Cape Town Routes Unlimited staff is complete, section 197 of the Labour Relations Act having been followed, in that all staff (also the Wesgro staff) were offered staff benefits at the higher level of those offered by Wesgro and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, so that all Wesgro staff now receive the same benefits.  A Memorandum of Understanding, a Memorandum of Agreement, and a budget have been signed by the Joint Working Committee guiding the integration. The Annual Performance Plan of Cape Town Routes Unlimited has been transferred to Wesgro.   For the financial year April 2012/March 2013, Wesgro now has a total budget of just more than R51 million, 45% being for Cape Town Routes Unlimited funding.  All ex-Cape Town Routes Unlimited staff now have Wesgro contracts, e-mail addresses, and business cards.  Staff have been grouped by functionality and accommodated on the 7th and 12th floors of the Waldorf building.  Provincial Tourism Minister Alan Winde’s department is working on repealing the Tourism Act of 2004, which will close down the Board of the ex-Cape Town Routes Unlimited, which currently has to remain operative as long as the current Act is in place.

Wesgro needs to start from the beginning in gaining the confidence of its Western Cape tourism constituency, which had little faith in its predecessor Cape Town Routes Unlimited. The outcome of the 5 July SAA meeting will be a crucial test of its negotiating skills. In addition, it will be judged on its ability to communicate with the tourism industry on a regular basis, via traditional media channels as well as Social Media marketing.

Wesgro, Waldorf Arcade, 80 St George’s Mall, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 487-8600. www.wesgro.co.za Twitter: @Wesgro

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage

SAA crashes Cape tourism in cancelling direct Cape Town-London route!

The SAA announcement by its General Manager Theunis Potgieter on Tuesday that it plans to cancel the direct flights between Cape Town and London as of 16 August has been greeted with shock by the Cape tourism industry, and could not have come at a worse time, the industry suffering what could be another tourism crisis this winter. It appears that the tourism authorities did not receive any prior warning about SAA’s plan to cancel a route it introduced 20 years ago. At the SAA breakfast at Indaba last month the airline already announced that it ‘was hurting in the current global recession’, and that it had requested a R6 billion ‘government injection’!  The psychological damage of SAA’s decision probably is worse than its actual effect, in signalling that the country’s airline does not take Cape Town seriously as the country’s leading tourism destination.

Tourists and businesspersons travelling between Cape Town and London from 16 August will have to do so via Johannesburg, at no extra cost. Tickets already booked will be refunded, if required.  The change will allow SAA to expand its flights to and from Perth, Mumbai, Accra, and Abidjan, probably all flying to Johannesburg only. SAA has assured the industry that it will continue marketing Cape Town as a destination. The motivation for the cancellation of the service was said to be the reduced size by 24% of the demand for flights between South Africa and the UK in the past three years, largely caused by the increased airport departure tax and the £52 UK visa fee, reports Travelmole.  News24 added that air traffic control fees have also doubled. Of concern is SAA’s feedback that ‘South Africa is among the top five fastest declining visitor markets to the UK’, according to Visit Britain statistics.  SAA’s justification appears South African demand driven, and does not reflect the radical decline in the demand for the route from UK tourists, which has been evident in the past summer season.

Only British Airways operates direct flights between the two cities all year round. Virgin services the route between October and March. Emirates has good value flights to Dubai, which has become a hub connecting travelers to other hubs such as Heathrow. SAA is planning to increase its capacity by 13% through the use of larger aircraft on its reduced twice-daily (from three times a day) London-Johannesburg route, and has justified its decision on its ‘long-term growth and business optimisation strategy’, reports News24.

Reacting to the news, Cape Town Tourism issued a joint statement yesterday. Its CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold’s waffled and garbled response was disappointing and was not aggressive in challenging SAA on a decision it has made on a purely financial basis, without recognising that Cape Town is the most important drawcard for tourists in South Africa, something which Mrs Helmbold should be countering on behalf of its Cape Town tourism constituency: “This is disappointing news for Cape Town’s tourism industry and we fear it could affect tourism arrivals from the UK and the rest of Europe negatively… Whilst SAA’s growth strategy’s emphasis on expansion of routes into Africa and new markets like South America and Australasia is encouraging, the issue of direct air access to Cape Town is again highlighted. Airlines must make economic sense. When a flight is cancelled this is the reason. Decreased business travel, as a result of troubled economies, continues to plague key source markets. The business traveler is a major contributor to covering flight expenses, which points to a need to work hard on forging stronger business ties in addition to the leisure market.”  ACSA’s Cape Town Manager of Service Standards Ian Bartes is the Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, and one could expect that Cape Town International will lobby SAA to consider reversing its decision.

Surprisingly, the media release also contained a statement by Wesgro CEO Nils Flaatten, now responsible for tourism in the Western Cape, in having taking over the operation of the ex-Cape Town Routes Unlimited.  His comment was far more practical and business-orientated, and one hopes that it will lead to action, especially given that ACSA’s Cape Town International GM Deon Cloete now is Chairman of the still-existent Board of Cape Town Routes Unlimited: “Our research has indicated that the London-Cape Town route still holds strong economic value for the Western Cape and neighbouring Eastern Cape. International airlines identified this and are increasing their capacity during peak season. Many business and leisure travelers from the United States are using London as a connecting flight into Cape Town and we are at risk of losing these visitors, as the traveling time has been extended even further. A national debate on airlift strategy is urgently required to discuss direct flights into Cape Town International Airport as well as the other regional airports. Poor economic conditions in the global north and escalating fuel prices were making it difficult for many international airlines to remain competitive. These market conditions would also have an impact on the pricing of domestic flights and the ability to move tourists throughout South Africa.”

Once again City of Cape Town Councillor Grant Pascoe, Mayoral Committee member for Tourism, Events and Marketing, has demonstrated how out of touch he is with the tourism industry, which has just experienced one of its worst May months since 2007 and thereby proving that Seasonality is getting worse, in his reaction to the SAA announcement in Cape Town Tourism’s media release: “In order to sustain tourism in Cape Town, we need to counter seasonality with year-round inbound tourism. It is vital that flights to Cape Town remain consistent throughout the year. The only way we can secure more direct flights to Cape Town is by stimulating both business and leisure tourism demand for Cape Town. This will translate in more visitors and ultimately more jobs for the sector, year round.  Perception does not shift overnight – and it needs proof – the industry must stand together to tackle our tourism weaknesses and grow a more complex offering of product to multiple markets. Leisure and business visitors need to see that Cape Town is a 365 destination for a thousand good and different reasons.”

Provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde also expressed his concern to Southern African Tourism Update about SAA’s decision, and probably is the only tourism player able to come up with a viable solution to this tourism dilemma, affecting not only Cape Town but the whole Western Cape, describing it as sad and disappointing for the whole of the province’s economy, saying direct airlift was important for business, tourism and airfreight. ‘I have no doubt it will have a negative impact,’ he said. ‘We will push forward with our airlift strategy to encourage other airlines to fly here.’ He said the Cape must review its long-haul competitiveness and create the right economic conditions for airlines to fly there”.

One has seen in the past that Cape Town Tourism does not have the clout to address something as substantial as this tourism issue, despite its Board Chairman’s job at ACSA, and we have no confidence that this tourism body will do anything about turning around SAA’s decision, or in devising a campaign to ensure that Cape Town does not lose any more precious UK visitors, which already are in short supply.

POSTSCRIPT 7/6SAA agreed yesterday to pay a R18,8 million penalty to the Competitions Commission for fixing fuel rates and other surcharges for cargo, reports Southern African Tourism Update today! This probably is what they need the cost-cutting Cape Town-London saving for!

POSTSCRIPT 8/6: Columnist Tony Weaver wrote in the Cape Times today that it is clear that the tourism industry was not consulted by SAA in cancelling the Cape Town – London route as of 15 August. He wonders if it is a ‘punishment’ of the Western Cape to be DA-party led, seeking a reason greater than just cost-cutting for this drastic action by SAA.  A writer to the Letters page today highlighted that SAA’s decision is ‘bottom-line’ based, and not considerate of the ‘bottoms’ of its customers, many of whom have already migrated to other airlines serving the route, which may be the reason for the decline in demand on this route! The newspaper also provides response from some tourism players to the news:

*  Wesgro CEO Nils Flaatten told the FEDHASA Cape AGM yesterday that they have “secured a ’round-table’ discussion with South African Airways..”, given that their ‘research indicated that the London-Cape Town route still holds ‘strong economic value for the Western Cape and its neighbouring Eastern Cape'”. The increased travelling time for long-haul flights in having to travel via Johannesburg could adversely affect tourism to Cape Town, he said.

*   Surprising to read is that City of Cape Town Councillor Grant Pascoe has written to SAA Chairman Cheryl Carolus and CEO Siza Mzimela, expressing his ‘concern and disappointment‘ on behalf of the tourism and conference industries, importers and exporters, and investors, given that the tourism industry adds R14,6 billion to the GDP of the city annually, and employs 300000 staff.

*   Provincial Tourism Minister Alan Winde sounded more upbeat, saying that other airlines servicing this route ‘will pick up the slack‘.

*   Mossel Bay Tourism said that the ‘province seems to be under-supplied with direct flights’, and that the quickest way in which foreign tourism arrivals can increase is to ‘land larger numbers at Cape Town International‘.  The ‘hinterland‘ has suffered greatly since the soccer World Cup, with an over-supply of accommodation in Cape Town, and related offers,  making it attractive to stay in the city for longer, and to do day trips into other parts of the Western Cape, instead of staying over in towns and villages in the province, it added.

POSTSCRIPT 8/6:  On Twitter negative Tweets about SAA’s decision met with strong resistance from @JamesStyan, a journalist for Beeld and Die Burger today.  We met for coffee this afternoon.  He had met with SAA on Wednesday afternoon, after their announcement of the cancellation of the Cape Town-London route, and was told verbally, not documented in their media statement, that should the economics improve, that the route could be reinstated.  He is adamant that this decision is based on economic considerations and SAA’s hub strategy, making Johannesburg its hub from/to which all its flights connect.  He also reminded me that other airlines have cut their Cape Town routes since the World Cup too.

POSTSCRIPT 13/6: The band Roxette performed in venues around the country last week, and flew out of OR Thambo airport to their next destination. On their Facebook page they wrote: ‘Just spent 90 minutes at one of the world’s worst airports, Johannesburg. Could actually be the no.1 on that scary list.. how about some organisation with customs’, reported The Times on Monday.

POSTSCRIPT 14/6:  The MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index 2012 shows, according to Southern African Tourism Update that ‘the majority of international visitors to Cape Town are from London, with 185000 visitors expected to spend US$361 million throughout the year. This is followed by 127500 travellers from Dubai spending US$118 million, and 76000 visitors from Amsterdam spending US$68 million’. Once again this survey makes a mockery of the SAA decision to axe its Cape Town-London route!

POSTSCRIPT 14/6: The irony grows – the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that it will hold its AGM and World Air Transport Summit in Cape Town from 2 – 4 June 2013, reports Southern African Tourism Update!  SAA is the host airline for the event!

POSTSCRIPT 4/7: Reuters reported today that Lufthansa will no longer service Cape Town from Frankfurt, due to the night flying ban over this airport.  All Cape Town flights will be serviced from Munich five times a week from 28 October.

POSTSCRIPT 6/7: The meeting with SAA and the Cape tourism industry representatives, hosted by Wesgro yesterday, has not made any impact nor reversed SAA’s decision to cancel the Cape Town – London route from next month. Instead it was agreed that greater demand needs to be built in attracting visitors to the Cape, so that SAA can then meet the demand and reinstate the route. Other airlines must be attracted to service the city with direct flights, it was agreed.

POSTSCRIPT 17/7: News24 has reported today that SAA has sold one of its three slots, being its Cape Town – London route, at Heathrow for an estimated R300 million!  The cancelling of the route therefore appears more cash driven than motivated by the low demand!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage