Tag Archives: hotel

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

Champagne breakfasts in Cape Town become legal again!

The City of Cape Town yesterday approved the amended Liquor by-law, which originally came into effect in January 2011.  The most silly of the previous clauses, namely that Champagne Breakfasts were not allowed to be served before 11h00 due to alcohol not being allowed to be sold before 11h00, has been relaxed to allow the sale of sparkling wine from 8h00! Winetastings are also allowed, having been prohibited previously.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said that she had to carefully balance ‘many social pressures, business concerns, individual rights and governmental responsibilities’, reports the Cape Times.   The by-law is clear that the sale of alcohol after 2h00 is prohibited, but the consumption of alcohol after this deadline is not prohibited.  The by-law amendment appears to allow nightclubs and other establishments to apply to sell alcohol after 2h00, reports the Cape Argus, especially if the sale is not related to disruptions.

It would appear that the City’s law enforcement’s officials will act when alcohol consumption comes with noise and other disruptions.  A call has been made by City Councillor Anwar Adams for Long Street to be more strictly controlled, given its many clubs and bars, intermixed with mosques and churches. Councillor Ganief Hendricks said the amendments would make Cape Town the ‘drunk capital’, and foresees an increase in the number of alcohol-induced accidents as well as crime.

The tourism claim that Cape Town is a ’24 hour’ city weighed heavily in the amendments made.

The Cape Argus has reported that the number of South Africans driving after drinking is decreasing, according to market research conducted to measure the impact of responsible drinking and driving advertising campaigns, encouraging ‘Drive Dry’.  The newspaper has assisted in the campaign for responsible drinking, by publishing the names of motorists who have been sentenced in Cape courts for drinking and driving.

POSTSCRIPT 3/3: Other welcome amendment to the Liquor by-law is that hotel room mini-bars and Guest House/B&B Honesty Bars may be stocked for 24 hours per day.  Hotels may also serve drinks until 2h00 instead of the previous 23h00, and all night in the room via room service.  Wine estates may trade and do winetastings on Sundays.

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

Cape Town Tourism: should it defend ‘apartheid’ Cape Town?

I am not politically-inclined, do not belong to a political party, nor do I vote.  I am concerned however when I see the word ‘apartheid’ dragged into tourism communication, either to Cape Town’s ‘benefit’ (e.g. the bid for Cape Town as World Design Capital 2014) or detriment.  I was surprised to see an article on Cape Town Tourism’s website, defending a particularly nasty article in The Observer (a Sunday UK paper with about 1,2 million readers), with a photograph taken from The Promenade in Camps Bay, about Desmond Tutu’s birthday (Desmond Tutu’s dreams for Cape Town fade as informal apartheid grips the city’).

The Observer writer David Smith focused on Archbishop Tutu’s birthday last Friday, celebrated in St George’s Cathedral, the ‘fortress of resistance to racial apartheid‘, as his opening shot!  The article is a lengthy tome of attack against Cape Town, for being the ‘cancer of injustice, racial segregation and bitter division’, for its contrast of ‘opera houses’ (sic), ‘literary festivals’ (sic), ‘internet entrepreneurs’, ‘luxury mansions’, and ‘prosperous California-style wine estates’. It states that ‘millions (sic) of tourists’ arriving in the city will see the ‘other’ Cape Town, with shacks, violence, poverty, and ‘non-white’, resulting in a Cape Town that ‘remains an apartheid city in all but name’, contrary to what Tutu stands for, speaks the article on his behalf. The rest of the article justifies this statement, going back to Jan van Riebeeck as the real architect of segregation.  President Zuma is quoted as having said earlier this year that Cape Town is a “‘racist’ place with an ‘extremely apartheid system (sic)’.  The DA is labelled as ‘a front for the wealthy white elite’.  Andrew Boraine of the Cape Town Partnership has the closing word, quoting Tutu: ‘winning freedom is one thing – using it is twice as hard’. Heavy stuff indeed, and not for the faint-hearted to defend, especially not appropriate for the city’s tourism body to climb into the boxing ring for in our opinion, given only four incidental references to tourism:

*   Staff make up beds in 5-star hotel beds, and then come home to sleep on the floor

*   Staff cook the best meals for guests, and then live off a slice of bread

* ‘ Cape Town is largely for the benefit and entertainment of tourists’

*   Cape Town is the world’s top tourist destination

Had I been the guardian of the city of Cape Town, I would have:

*  Got Archbishop Tutu to speak for himself, and respond, in the unique and direct way only he can (he is not interviewed, and no quotes from him are mentioned, and neither is the Dalai Lama’s cancelled visit

*  Got our feisty Premier Helen Zille and Mayor Patricia de Lille to write the response, the latter’s appointment being an excellent counter to the article in itself.

*   pointed out that the hospitality industry has a Minimum Wage, currently R 2323 per month

*   countered that Cape Town has a population of 4 – 5 million residents that love living here, irrespective of their skin colour

*   corrected the information, in that there is only one opera house, and that one literary festival has taken place for the first time last month

*   highlighted that it is the tourists who have visited Cape Town and seen the reality of the haves and have-nots in our city, as one would see in every city in the world, even in London, and who have voted to give Cape Town the top tourism accolades.

*   highlighted the hospitality sector GM’s, sommeliers, restaurant managers, and other management staff, who have reached their professional positions, despite their past.

*  corrected the tourism arrival figure quoted

Instead, Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, mistakenly referring to the article being in The Guardian, wrote awkwardly about ‘the juxtaposition between Cape Town’s poor and wealthy communities’,and that the legacy of apartheid ‘is a disjointed physical landscape and economic society..‘, digging a terrible hole for herself and our city as she goes on to write that for many of Cape Town’s residents it is ‘not yet a great place to live’!  None of this has anything to do with tourism at all, and she is the wrong person to challenge a leading UK newspaper, and very clearly out of her depth in defending a past political system.   She writes that Cape Town will be ‘reimaging’ as a ‘more livable space for all‘.  She quotes the city’s World Design Capital 2014 bid, in ‘shedding light on sustainable design’. Mrs Helmbold does get to tourism in her reply, highlighting the size of the industry and its employment of 300000 staff (no source supplied). She writes that the City of Cape Town, with the tourism industry, has embraced ‘Responsible Tourism’, in that tourism ‘creates better places for people to live in, and better places to visit’.  She concludes that ‘tourism is the lifeline to livelihood”.

I wrote to Mrs Helmbold yesterday, asking her why she had responded, and if she had sent her reply to the newspaper. This was her response:“Cape Town Tourism, as industry association and destination marketing agency for Cape Town, will respond from time to time as appropriate on issues that could affect our industry and/or destination brand. It is important to illustrate the positive role and contribution of tourism to Cape Town’s economy and the commitment from tourism to contribute to making Cape Town a more livable city through embracing responsible tourism principles and practices. We have submitted our response directly to the Guardian (sic) and posted a copy on our industry website where we can direct industry queries about the article. The Guardian has not yet published our response”.

One hopes that Cape Town Tourism’s response is not published in The Observer, and that the tourism body will invite the journalist to Cape Town, to personally showcase the great opportunities in tourism being afforded to all its citizens.

POSTSCRIPT 15/10: We have received the following feedback from Lisa Harlow from the UK: Well I am a Times / Sunday Times reader and still agree with Nick! I wouldn’t worry too much about this report – quite typical of the Guardian and Observer. But more importantly was the fairly recent good coverage of South Africa in the Saturday Telegraph. However, recession still goes on in the UK, and this is more of a hurdle to overcome for tourism. Lets see how successful BA are with their extra Cape Town flights for the summer season…”

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

Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club spoilt at Steenberg and Bistro Sixteen82 in September

The members of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club have been very fortunate to have been wined and dined in the past eighteen months of the Club’s existence.  This month is no different, and our visist to Steenberg Vineyards, and to their Bistro Sixteen82, is likely to be a very popular event.   The meeting will feature two speakers, being Anetha Homan, Sales and Marketing Manager of Steenberg Vineyards, and Chef Brad Ball of Bistro Sixteen82.

Anetha Homan has been the Sales and Marketing Manager of Steenberg Vineyards for the past four years, and worked at Constantia Uitsig for eight years prior to that. She graduated with a BA Communications at the University of Stellenbosch.  Steenberg’s winemaker is JD Pretorius.  Steenberg is committed to Social Media, having the Totally Stoned Steenberg Blog, which includes wine news and news about its restaurant Bistro Sixteen82.  Anetha says that Social Media allows Steenberg to communicate with its customers in an informal way, and it allows the wine estate to receive feedback from their customers too.

Chef Brad Ball is destined for great things, and deserves to be in the Eat Out Top 20 restaurant list, and is a strong contender for the newly created Bistro category.  Chef Brad comes from a foodie family, in that his mom managed a catering company.   It was a heavenly Tuna Nicoise that inspired him to apply for his first position as chef, and he was appointed at Simon’s Table in Simonstown 14 years ago.  Two years later he went to London, where he worked with Chef Patron Rowley Leigh, known as the father of modern British cuisine, at Kensington Place. It is here that his love for Bistro-style food was born.  On his return to Cape Town he worked as Head Chef at Olympia Café and Deli, followed by the Post House Hotel & Restaurant in Greyton, Pastis Brasserie in Constantia, and at The River Café.  He started his own catering consultancy before he joined Steenberg Vineyards to open the new restaurant Bistro Sixteen82.  Chef Brad believes in ‘simple is better’, and ‘local is lekker’.   He is inspired by Japanese cuisine and Provencal food. He puts his heart and soul into whatever he does, delivering passion and pizzaz in the food that he serves.  Bistro Sixteen82 is probably best known for its Friday Steenburger, and Beef Tataki.

The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club was formed to reflect the tremendous growth in and power of food and wine blogs in forming opinion about food, restaurants and wines.  Most bloggers do not have any formal training in blogging, and learnt from others.   The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club aims to foster this informal training, and to serve as a social media networking opportunity.

Anetha and Chef Brad will talk for about half an hour each about the Steenberg Blog, and what they have learnt about blogging.  The Club will give fledgling as well as experienced bloggers the opportunity to learn from each other and to share their knowledge with others.  Attendees can ask questions, and get to know fellow bloggers.  The Club meetings are informal and fun. Anetha Homan will lead bloggers through a tasting of the Steenberg wines, while snacks will be prepared by Chef Brad.

Future Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings have been organised as follows:

*   19 October:   Roger and Dawn Jorgensen of Jorgensen’s Distillery, and Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk of Honest Chocolate, with a chocolate and potstill brandy tasting, at Haas Coffee on Rose Street.

*   12 November: Visit to new Leopard’s Leap tasting room and cookery school in Franschhoek

Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club, Wednesday 21 September, 6 – 8 pm: Steenberg Vineyards, Steenberg, Cape Town. Bookings can be made by e-mailing Chris at whalecot@iafrica.com. The cost of attendance is R100.  Twitter: @FoodWineBlogClu  Facebook: click here.

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

Restaurant Tip Tax: SARS declares tips tax free

Last week, taxing tips of waiters and other employees, who receive gratuities from customers for good service, was a hot topic on Twitter and other social media platforms, following the publishing of a clarification of the payment of tax on tips by SARS.  Legal views confirm that employers cannot deduct PAYE, the Skills Development Levy (SDL), and UIF from employee income generated from tips, but it also means that the tip income of employees cannot be used as a basis for pension and medical aid benefits.

Business Report wrote that “Waitrons can keep their hard earned tips for themselves and don’t have to worry about the tax man…  According to the last week’s ruling, the transfer of tips handed over to an employer by an employee for ‘safekeeping’ did not constitute a payment of remuneration”.  This view is based on the Group Tips Policy, by which staff pass on their tips to their employers for safe-keeping whilst they are working.  Legal firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr is quoted as saying that the Group Tips Policy sees tips “…as gratuitous payments to which the employees have no entitlement or an expectation of receipt as part of the performance of their duties”, and therefore should not be taxed.

Far more complex is an article by lawyer Stephan Spamer at ENS and candidate attorney Jonathan Sacks, writing on Moneyweb.co.za.    They write that the increased usage of credit cards by customers for safety reasons has led to a large percentage of tips being added to credit card payments, going to the employer instead of the employee.  The employer then has to transfer the tips to the employees.  According to the Fourth Schedule to the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962, ‘gross income’ includes ‘any amount received or accrued in respect of services rendered or to be rendered, including a voluntary award, as well as any amount received or accrued in respect of or by virtue of any employment’.  The lawyers argue that a ‘causal relationship’between payment received and the service provided must exist for that income to be defined as ‘gross income’.  On the basis of this relationship, the writers argue that the tip payment is part of gross income, and is therefore taxable, especially if the expectation at the time of appointment of the employee was to receive tips.  The article becomes confusing when the writers argue that the definition of ‘remuneration’, including ‘all payments and amounts payable, in cash or otherwise, whether or not for services rendered and includes salary and wages, leave pay, bonuses, gratuities, commissions, over time pay and other amounts paid for services rendered as well as allowances and advances’, is similar to that of ‘gross income, but that it does not mean that the employer must deduct the valid taxes and deductions.  They argue that it is not the employer paying the tip – in essence it is the customer paying it via the employer, who just holds the tip on the employees’ behalf, and therefore as this cannot be viewed as remuneration, no taxes and fees have to be deducted from the monies paid to employees.  Employees can, however, request in writing that the employer deduct PAYE to reduced their tax liability.  Given their conclusion that no tax is payable on tips by employees, the writers argue that no SDL and UIF is deductible either. 

Given the complexity and legality of this SARS Tip Tax ruling, we quote an extract of an article on Moneyweb, written by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Employment Law Director Gillian Lumb and associate Pranisha Maharaj: :“The Binding Class Ruling: BCR 027 recently issued by Sars, declared that the transfer of tips (that were handed over to the employer by the employees for safekeeping in terms of the employer’s proposed Group Tips Policy) from the employer’s bank accounts into the employees’ bank accounts does not constitute a payment of remuneration by the employer as contemplated in paragraph 2(1) of the Fourth Schedule of the Income Tax Act. Essentially, this paragraph of the Act provides that an employer who pays or becomes liable to pay any remuneration to any employee must deduct or withhold employee’s tax from such payment. Binding Class Rulings are intended to promote clarity on the interpretation and application of the tax laws to a class of persons who apply for a ruling in respect of a proposed transaction to which it is a party. Accordingly, tips will not form part of the calculation of any benefit calculations for the employees’ remuneration packages, for example pension or medical aid.  The ruling is in line with the Sectoral Determination 14: Hospitality Sector, South Africa  which defines “remuneration” as ‘any payment in money or in kind, or both in money and in kind excluding any gratuity or gift received from a customer for service rendered”.

The new Tip Tax directive by SARS has been back-dated to August 2010, and covers the five year period from that date.  This raises the following questions:

*   Can employees that had PAYE, SDL and UIF deducted between August 2010 and July 2011 receive their tax and other deductions back, from the employer and/or SARS?

*   Can employers deduct the tip income that went through their credit card machines, and was therefore deposited into the business bank account, from their taxable income for the calculation of VAT and income tax?

Interestingly, yet not surprising, the hotel association FEDHASA has not officially published a guideline about this Tip Tax amendment for their hotel and restaurant members!   On Twitter, the FEDHASA Cape Director for the Restaurant sector, Rey Franco, wrote that tips received via credit card are taxable, and that only cash tips received by waiters directly are not taxable.  We believe that, in the light of the above, he is incorrect.

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

New owners of V&A Waterfront clock in with R500 million upgrade

The R 9,7 billion V&A Waterfront sale, the largest property transaction in South Africa, by Dubai World to its new local owners Growthpoint and the Public Investment Corportration, has been signed and sealed, and work has already commenced on a R500 million construction project at the Clock Tower, reports the Cape Times.

The Clocktower area of the Waterfront does not attract as many visitors as other sections, as it is further away from the shopping malls, and is not immediately visible to tourists.  Users of the Robben Island ferry and workers in office developments close by are the main users of the shops in this section.  In a four-year project, the new owners of the Waterfront are converting some of the retail space into office space, to create a ‘professional business district’, paying attention to the heritage value of the Clocktower.

A new head office for Allan Gray is also being developed in the Clocktower precinct.  Further developments include the silo building adjacent to the Clocktower precinct, and the collier jetty alongside the Clock Tower retail centre, reports the Cape Argus.  A further R4 billion is to be spent in the next ten years to develop a further 220000 square meters of Waterfront land. No announcement has been made about any further hotel developments for the immediate future, which is good news, given the current over-supply of accommodation in Cape Town.

The V&A Waterfront has become a benchmark waterfront development for many similar projects around the world.  However, one hopes that the new owners will spare a few Rand for the improvement of visible security, and fixing its parking pay machines, which are constantly out of order!

POSTSCRIPT 27/6: The V&A Waterfront will also focus on how it can better be integrated with the city of Cape Town.  “One of the concerns of many Capetonians is that the Waterfront has disjointed itself from the rest of Cape Town.  Many locals see it as an island, where only the foreign tourists go” said Wayne van der Vent, PIC’s property MD.  The company has not revealed its plans in this regard, but it does want to make the link between the Waterfront and the city more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, reports The Times

POSTSCRIPT 7/7: Southern African Tourism Update reports that yet another hotel is to be built in the Waterfront, in the section undergoing renovation, in the Shosholoza Basin, which links the Cape Grace Hotel and the Clock Tower precinct.   Construction for the whole Clock Tower precinct is estimated to be completed by 2013.

POSTSCRIPT 20/7: The Weekend Argus has reported that 5000 Nedbank/BOE and Allan Gray employees will be accommodated in the Clocktower precinct once the construction work has been completed.  The retail outlets in that area of the Waterfront will be adapetd to suit the needs of the staff working there.

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

Cape Town tourism recovery only in 2014, says Cape Town Tourism!

It was depressing to read the article”The Business Case for Tourism and a strong brand for Cape Town” by Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, and published on the Cape Town Tourism Blog.  Oddly it has not been sent to its members.  The most disturbing prediction it contains is that the R14 billion Cape Town tourism industry, which employs just short of 300000 staff, will only recover in 2014, in getting back to the 2007 level, the last good year for tourism in Cape Town.  What is disappointing is that Mrs Helmbold does not provide any guidelines to her Cape Town Tourism members as to how businesses should survive the next three years of poor business, nor does she spell out what she and her organisation are doing to market Cape Town more visibly!

To set the scene, Mrs Helmbold writes that international arrivals to Cape Town as well as domestic arrivals have stagnated due to the ‘Global Financial Crisis’, as she calls it, and she estimates a total loss of R 1,5 billion for the Cape Town tourism industry between 2008 – 2014, with zero job creation as a result.  Unlike other provinces, Cape Town and the Western Cape has little Africa-business, with more than 80 % of its business coming from Europe (including the UK, one assumes) and the USA.  Cape Town is a small fish in a massive global tourism pond, with our city’s market share being 0,2 % of world tourism.  She blames SA Tourism by implication for doing too much marketing of wildlife, and too little of the cities in our country :”…many national campaigns are of a tactical nature, which do not necessarily build knowledge and esteem values of our cities”.  The marketing of Cape Town, which is the responsibility of Cape Town Tourism, does “not allow for Cape Town to be compellingly and relevantly portrayed to potential visitors”.  This sounds odd, as Mrs Helmbold is pointing at her own organisation, but she does not explain what constraints there are to marketing the city. She also states that Cape Town’s attributes of being “iconic, complex and multi-faceted” are not evident to tourists.

The rest of the five page document becomes a long and theoretical ramble about how Cape Town should be positioned and at whom it should be aimed: in summary, the marketing of Cape Town no longer should be focused on leisure tourism alone, by highlighting the beauty of Cape Town, but it should incorporate business, investment, academia, and the creative sectors too. All of this appears to have been written to justify to its funders, the City of Cape Town, that unnamed ‘partnerships’ (probably the writers of the document, given its theoretical nature and unusual style for Mrs Helmbold’s writing) are “waiting in the wings for public sector endorsement of Cape Town Tourism’s new 2011/2012 marketing strategy and for the brand execution plan”. 

Sydney is used as an example, in how the 2000 Olympic Games caused a five-year tourism slump to that city, mainly because they stopped marketing themselves, thinking that they had world exposure.  The key learning points for Cape Town Tourism are that cities do not market themselves, they need to be marketed; investment in infrastructure and hosting events create growth and ‘livability’, but may not be relevant to tourists: “lack of marketing induces invisibility and irrelevance, which in itself reduces demand”.

The conclusion of the article seems far too obvious, and one must question why Cape Town Tourism, custodians of brand Cape Town, have not been able to identify the poor tourism and resultant poor industry performance trends, and have not acted proactively to address these problems.  Mrs Helmbold concludes: “If we do not act decisively now our industry and the economic well being of our city and people are at great risk.  If we don’t proactively engage in a new marketing and branding strategy we run the risk of being positioned nonetheless by our competitors, our critics and the media, and most likely to our disadvantage”. The last sentence does not make sense in its wording, nor can one understand why Cape Town Tourism has not changed its marketing strategy to date, having been responsible for the city’s marketing for the past three years already.

As we have pointed out on this Blog, the recent TripAdvisor accolade of Cape Town being ranked in first place as its Travellers’ Choice Top Destination, has seen no tourism benefit at all, and this is echoed by Ms Helmbold: “Although we are considered as one of the new cities to watch for 2020 and continue to rake in travel accolades, it is no guarantee for success or economic growth”.

One must question whether Cape Town Tourism is capable of driving such an important campaign, influencing the revenue of almost all the city’s businesses, all directly or indirectly influenced by tourism, and of its population, dependent on jobs.  Cape Town Tourism’s Marketing Manager until recently was Lianne Burton, a journalist, and not a marketer.  Her departure from the organisation has been kept low-key.  Ms Burton has not been replaced to date.  Mrs Helmbold and her PR Manager Skye Grove are very active on Twitter, but this is rarely about tourism, and far more about their social life. We must question why their time during working hours is not focused on their work and the marketing challenges of our city !  A further concern is the information that we have received that the highly respected PR company that Cape Town Tourism had appointed in Germany, KPRN, no longer does the PR for Cape Town.  There appears to be no visible benefit to tourism in Cape Town of the appointment by Cape Town Tourism of PR agencies in Holland, Germany and the UK.

We wrote to Mrs Helmbold, and asked her some questionsaboutthemarketing of Cape Town.  The first question related to the replacement of Ms Burton.  It appears that Ms Burton left some time ago, but is assisting Cape Town Tourism in a “consultative role” until the end of this month.  A new Executive Manager: Marketing should start on 1 July, she wrote.  Of concern is that Cape Town Tourism also does not appear to have an eMarketing Manager, with a job advertisement posted on Careers24 yesterday, and requiring the person to start on 1 July, not giving anyone time to work out their notice!   We asked about the international PR companies that had been appointed, but Mrs Helmbold was only detailed in respect of the non-renewal of the contract with Kleber Public Relations Network, which has worked with SA Tourism for years.  The company has been replaced by Akomasa Creative Connection in Germany.  Mrs Helmbold did not provide information about the success of the PR campaigns overseas, other than to say that information about it has been presented at workshops, which not all Cape Town Tourism members can attend.  One hopes that Cape Town Tourism can justify its international spend by sending members a detailed report of their international activities to obtain exposure for Cape Town. 

In reply to our question:”What is Cape Town Tourism doing to prevent a bloodbath of restaurant, hotel and other accommodation closures due to poor forward bookings?”, Mrs Helmbold was generalist and vague, and she does not appear to understand that a solution must be found NOW, and not in months to come! This was her disappointing response:

“As I explained in the Paper done on the Business Case for Tourism, the global financial crisis and the subsequent consumer behavioural change has had a significant adverse effect on the tourism industry; demand has diminished, visitor spends have steadied and costs have increased. Our over-reliance on traditional source markets, worse hit by the GFC, places us at further risk. There is not a quick-fix for this problem and no one could anticipate the extend (sic) of the impact of the GFC, of which we are really only now experiencing the magnitude of the impact. This is of course exaggerated by seasonality and as I said before our over-reliance on international leisure visitors from mainly Europe and the US.  

Investing in a strong, multi-dimensional brand is critical. We are pursuing private partners for a few significant brand platforms like international TV productions (BBC, National Geographic), events and campaigns, focusing on our unique strengths as a destination i.e. food and wine. We are focusing our efforts and resources on the “dream” and “conversion” part of the customer journey – assuming that the choice to come to Cape Town is not an obvious one and expensive to get here. We have to reinforce the awareness created during the World Cup, but move to conversion with good value for money offers. From an eMarketing perspective we are adding bookabilitytoourweb-platforms by July this year, starting with accommodation and then introducing it for tours and activities as soon as the new module is built. Through the new marketing alliance with Joburg and Durban we should be able to leverage some of SAT’s marketing spend, this will be a key focus for us in the next 4 months.

Whilst we continue our investment and reinforce our presence in traditional international leisure markets, we are investing in domestic tourism, using mainly some key events as draw-cards and working with the business sector to start changing negative perceptions around our business brand. Both the domestic and business markets are complex issues and will take a long-term approach to turn the tide against seasonality.

We are hosting a series of product workshops within the next few months on value, price, packaging and marketing alignment aimed to assist the industry to become more competitive and mitigate some of the risks faced within these tough economic times.

We will all have to work very hard together, under a powerful and united destination brand, to change the current trends and grow tourism into a more sustainable, year-round industry with a more healthy balance between international leisure, business and domestic tourism.

We are making a few significant changes to our marketing strategy and as soon as the plan is finalised and partners confirmed we will share it with the industry.”

We call for a heavyweight Marketing professional to be appointed, to drive Cape Town Tourism’s marketing of Cape Town. Ms Helmboldhasbeen running “Brand Cape Town” workshops for the past three years, and she is still asking workshops what Cape Town stands for.  Surely by now she and her team should have decided on a unique positioning for Cape Town that would be universally applicable in communication with all the sectors it wishes to attract to Cape Town.  Ms Helmbold’s article sounds like a city marketing organisation that is overwhelmed by the problems its tourism industry is facing, and that does not know the way forward – a very scary situation indeed!

POSTSCRIPT 10/6:  The only response from Cape Town Tourism is this sarcastic Tweet from its PR Manager Skye Grove:  @MariettedTHons le, sit, loop, rol rond op twitter.. tsk tsk.. mar (sic) ek belowe ek sal more bietjie werk.. @SoniaCabano1

POSTSCRIPT 10/6:  Yesterday Cape Town Routes Unlimited CEO Calvyn Gilfellan was reported on Eye Witness News to have urged ‘hotels and industry suppliers to reduce their rates to make travel more affordable for locals’.  He said “I think the industry must really wake up and make themselves more affordable if they want to remain competitive in a very cut-throat industry”. 

POSTSCRIPT 12/6: A business tourism event with a difference was the hosting of the global Playboy editors’ conference, which took place at the Mount Nelson Hotel earlier this week, reports the Weekend Argus .  The group of fifty met for three days.

POSTSCRIPT 13/6: The Bureau of Economic Research sent its results for the confidence in the Services industry today.  Of the service sectors surveyed, Accommodation has by far the lowest Business Confidence Index at only 25% (the next lowest is Real Estate at 41%).  Accommodation bookings are expected to decrease by 56% in the second quarter of 2011, relative to 2010, which was out of the ordinary for bookings due to the World Cup.  For the third quarter of this year, bookings are expected to be down by 23 %.  Trend information supplied showed that the last period of growth for the Accommodation industry was the fourth quarter of 2007.

POSTSCRIPT 13/6:  The provincial Minister of Tourism, Alan Winde, has announced that his plans to consolidate a number of marketing agencies for Western Cape businesses into an Economic Development Agency are back on track, and the Agency is expected to be launched in November, reports the Cape Argus today.  Perhaps this is the agency that can do the business marketing of Cape Town.  However, Cape Town Tourism is no longer on the Minister’s list of agencies which he wants to consolidate, his plans to do so originally causing a huge outcry.  The agencies to be consolidated include Wesgro, Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the Cape Craft and Design Institute, the Cape Film Commission, Calling the Cape, the Cape Town Boatbuilding and Technology Initiative, the Cape Music Industry Commission, the Cape Town Fashion Council, and ten others.    

POSTSCRIPT 14/6:  One company that is benefiting from the tourism slump is the Protea Hospitality Group, which is leasing and buying hotels that have ‘over-extended themselves and are now struggling to survive due to the current slump in the local hotel industry’, reports Southern African Tourism Update.  Protea’s CEO Arthur Gillis predicts that ‘many of South Africa’s 80 hotel brands will disappear’.  Gillissaid that he doubted whether there will be a tourism boom ‘unless it gets more bums on airline seats’. He suggests that SAA should fly routes in the interest of tourism, whether profitable or not.

POSTSCRIPT 14/6: Gillian Saunders of tourism consultancy Grant Thornton said about the tourism industry recently: “It’s really tough out there”.  She blamed this on the recession, the strong Rand, increased costs such as electricity and labour, and an oversupply of accommodation, reported the Cape Times.  City Lodge Hotels CEO Clifford Ross said: “It’s probably the worst I have known for 32 years”.  He added that no one “expected the drop-off after the World Cup to be so severe. There will be casualties in the market. Quite a few (hotels) are teetering on the brink”. 

POSTSCRIPT 17/6: Southern African Tourism Update  reports that the Minister is to have also said at the FEDHASA Cape AGM that local tourism authorities should not market internationally, as SA Tourism is doing so already, and that they should focus on local marketing instead.  He quoted the example of KZN Tourism, which has a marketing office in Gauteng.  Was he addressing Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited? 

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

Restaurant Review:Cape Grace Afternoon Tea sweet, lacks love and care!

We have written about a number of Afternoon/High Tea offerings in Cape Town and the Winelands, including those at the One&Only Cape Town, the Mount Nelson Hotel, Grande Roche, and Grande Provence.  While I have previously been to pop in at the Cape Grace Library lounge, I tried their ‘Traditional Tea’ for the first time on Thursday.   I  found it disappointing relative to the other Afternoon Teas I have experienced.

The Cape Grace hotel introduced a Sugar Buffet about a year ago, and I always enjoyed it, being a beautiful selection of sweet treats, including sweets such as Jelly Tots and Smarties, and each item cost R8.  Now each item costs R12, and the number of treats has reduced dramatically.  Waitress Laeticia told me that it was because hotel guests would help themselves to the sweets, and apparently did not understand that they had to pay for them. 

Compared to the displays of the Afternoon Tea at the One&Only Cape Town and the Mount Nelson, the Afternoon Tea at the Cape Grace looks like a poor cousin, mainly because they do not display all their ‘Traditional Tea’ items – one chooses two of the Sugar Buffet items displayed on the table as part of the Traditional Tea, and the hotel adds three finger sandwiches (one each with cucumber and spring onion cream cheese, egg and aioli and watercress, and smoked salmon, rocket and avocado), specified on the menu, as well as a miniature sultana and orange blossom honey scone and a traditional scone, served with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream.  The cost of R75 includes a cup of tea.  The Sugar Buffet table contains Pecan Nut tarts, Lemmingtons, Chocolate chip cookies, Blueberry and almond cookies, Oat cookies, Shortbread cookies, Ginger cookies, Koeksisters, Macaroons, Raspberry cupcakes, and three types of fudge – vanilla and nuts, white chocolate and cranberries, and dark Chocolate.  I asked waitress Nqobile to tell me what all the items on the Sugar Buffet display were, and she rushed through them, and was not very clear about what the items were – e.g. the fudge plate, on which the items looked like small slices of cake.  She looked very annoyed when I asked her to call her superior!  

The seven items are put together on a cake stand, brought to one’s table. A sideplate and material serviette with a Hepp Exclusive (the same cutlery brand is used at Azure restaurant  at the Twelve Apostles Hotel) knife was brought to the table.  It was cold in the lounge, with the airconditioning set too cold and a door to the terrace was left open.  No fire was lit.  It took more than half an hour before the stand was served.  The cappuccino itself took some time, and the charge for this was a problem, as it was at the One&Only Cape Town on my first visit to their Afternoon Tea, in that the ‘Traditional Tea’ only includes tea, despite the trend to more coffee drinking.  I was charged in full for the cappuccino, and not just for the difference between the cost of a cup of tea and the cappuccino.  A manager kindly had the cappuccino cost removed.

The Lounge menu also offers other options for the Afternoon Tea: ‘Sugar & Bubbles’ costs R110, and is an unlimited supply of items from the Sugar Buffet table with a glass of Graham Beck Rosé.  Alternatively, for the same price, the ‘Sugar & Spice’ option allows one to eat an unlimited number of items from the Sugar Buffet table, as well as receive hot Malay-spiced sandwich snacks.  I found the service in the lounge disappointing for a hotel that wins accolades as one of Cape Town’s best, and there appeared to be little managerial supervision in the time that I spent at the hotel.   The Cape Grace cannot compete at all with the Afternoon Teas presented by its competitors One&Only Cape Town and the Mount Nelson, with a very small offering, most of which is not displayed in the lounge.  For the few guests in the lounge, and no one else having the Traditional Tea, the half an hour wait to make the three sandwich fingers, and organise the scones and whipped cream, was unacceptable.  There was no attempt to make the display look particularly attractive, as at the One&Only Cape Town, and it makes one think that the Cape Grace is not serious about its Afternoon Tea service.  Even though it only costs about half of that of its competitors, one does not feel that one gets value, as one is only allowed a specified number of items.  The starting time at 11h00 is much earlier than any of the other Afternoon Teas I have tried.

Cape Grace Hotel, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 410-7100.  www.capegrace.com (The website has a page for the Afternoon Tea, but the main photograph of the Sugar Buffet is no reflection of what I saw on Thursday – it looked like the display of the Sugar Buffet that I saw a few months ago, when there were more sweet treats as well as the sweets on display, and the bell jars had attractive ribbons on them.  The Image Gallery has no photographs of the Afternoon Tea at all).    Daily.  11h00 – 18h00.

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

Hotel guests of future want automated service with personal attention!

Contradictory needs of the hotel guest of the future could make it difficult for accommodation establishments to offer their guests the best possible satisfaction, in their almost contradictory need for greater automation, yet they increasingly require personal service.   This is one of the trends identified in the ‘Hospitality Trends and Opportunities 2011″ report prepared by Market Metrix.

In focusing on ‘Key trends that will impact hospitality” in its report, the following four trends are identified for the hospitality industry:

1.  The Generation Y, now 17 – 34 years old, are seen to be the largest consumer group in the USA – this age group is least loyal, most emotional, and least satisfied as guests of hospitality establishments.  They are the most “fickle, unpredictable, picky, fussy guests of all!”.  The report says that due to their young age, this group will be around for some time to come, and therefore one needs to win them over for long term success.   Despite their focus on all things technical, such as electronic check-in, concierge, and room service, this group also wants personal attention and customised service.  This is in contrast to hotels such as Comfort Xpress, which has automated the entire guest stay, to such an extent that the guests do not have to speak to a staff member throughout their stay!  The report recommends segmenting this group into specific target markets, such as sport lovers and music lovers.  Loyalty programs are of interest to this group, but should be customised and personalised, and not be bureaucratic in their administration.

2.   Guests look for experiences  to enrich their travel, and are no longer just seeing a hotel as a place to sleep.  Guest are interested in staying fit and connecting with nature, by going to parks, by hiking, and by doing adventure activities.   Green tourism is an important trend, in that guests want to stay in environmentally-friendly hotels, walk, cycle and use public transport.  Hotels should make bicycle hire a service to offer, and even rent hybrid cars.   It could even extend to arranging for guests to volunteer for a community project.  The history of a region, cultural growth, visits to the theatre, and educational activities are of increasing interest to tourists.  Guest loyalty will result more from emotional connections made than from ‘rational, incentive-based initiatives’. 

3.   Travellers hard hit by the recession are seeking value.  This is the frugal traveller personified, one who looks for deals ‘like a competitive sport’, and therefore the brand loyalty is low.  There is great resistance to rate increases. The key is to offer guests value, which means that expectations are met or exceeded relative to the price paid.   Online searches reflect that guests look for promotions, and discounts on or free parking and airport shuttle services.  A swimming pool is an important feature to offer.

Value is created through five elements, says the report:

    *   The room and what it offers – cleanliness, its size, the comfort offered, the entertainment it has, and the equipment in the room

    *   The physical property – its exterior and public space, including landscaping, cleanliness, architecture and size

    *  Personal Service –   the friendliness of staff, and their attentiveness, professionalism, and personal recognition

    *   Functional Service – speed of service, efficiency, and the check-in and check-out efficiency

    *   Food and Beverage – quality, room service, variety, good prices

Exceptional service is highly regarded by guests, and can represent up to 65 % of the guest’s value perception.  The report recommends spending more time on improving service rather than adding more product features.   The accommodation establishment should try to turn the focus of the guest away from low prices and more on value.

4.   Guests are staying connected more, and technology  can be used to communicate with guests before they arrive as well as during their stay.  For example, the guest receives an e-mail as well as sms confirmation of the booking.  A link to the hotel mobile website is sent to the guests, enabling them to check out the facilities, sport matches to be shown, etc.  Details about shopping, recommended places to visit, events taking place in the area during the guests’ stay, prices one could expect to pay for a taxi, etc are provided.  The cellphone is swiped over a sensor on arrival, and then serves as the room key.  On opening the room door, the curtains open, the lights turn on, and the TV displays a personalised message.   On checking out, guests receive an sms, thanking them for their stay, and requesting feedback.   Later an sms is sent, with another thank you, and a promotional offer for another stay.  “You can’t wait for your next trip!”.

The report states that hotels are slow to adapt to the technology which makes the above possible, and encourages establishments to gather more information about, and to connect with, their guests more quickly.

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

Hotel Review: Rijk’s Country House is country kitsch, tries too hard!

I am very fond of Rijk’s Shiraz, having drunk it for the first time just after maze at the One&Only Cape Town  opened two years ago.  When I saw the name of Rijk’s Country House as the only five-star accommodation option for a wedding weekend in Tulbagh, I booked, given my positive association with the wine.  But I should have known that a five-star “Boutique Hotel”, charging R 3000 per room per night in Tulbagh, was too good to be true, even though I was offered a hospitality industry rate reduction of 50%.   The Hotel is not five star, in my evaluation, and tries too hard to please, and thereby fails.  It has a very kitsch taste in some aspects.

The reservation ran relatively smoothly with Rijk’s directly, but I did not receive a confirmation of my booking after transferring the 50 % deposit, and no response to my e-mail request for the confirmation.  I therefore called Rijk’s, but only saw the number of a central reservations line, being that of African Pride Hotels, the luxury arm of Protea Hotels, who do the marketing of and bookings for Rijk’s.  The African Pride Hotels link to Rijk’s gave me confidence in its calibre.  I was put through to the sales department, and spoke to an unfriendly ‘machine’, who was speaking too fast, and he must have got annoyed when I told him that I could not understand him, and requested that he slow down.  He responded by putting down the phone. I then found the Tulbagh number of Rijk’s lower down on the website, and called them directly.  Here too the telephonic communication was a struggle, until I was put through to Andretti, who did confirm telephonically that all was in order, and he did so by e-mail as well.

Louisa Colquhoun, the General Manager of the 15-bedroom Rijk’s Country House, called a few days before our arrival, and apologised for the problems with the interaction with African Pride Hotels, and requested more details about the person I had spoken to there.  She told me that she had been sent a link to this blog by her boss, and that her boss is a regular reader. 

Our journey was beset with delays, and we only arrived at 8.30 pm on Friday.  We had to call en route, to find the best way to drive to Tulbagh from Franschhoek, not having been sent any directions.  Here too we had communication problems, in getting clear guidelines as to how to drive to Tulbagh from Wellington.  There is no signage in Tulbagh to direct one to the town centre, or to Rijk’s  from there, so we had to call again.  When we arrived, Louisa came out to the car, to greet us, and walked us inside. Two staff members almost ‘sang’ a welcome to ‘Chris and Alex’, even before we were introduced to them, and we were ‘Chris and Alexed’ by all staff throughout our stay, a little too familiar, I felt, quite a contrast to the ‘Ms von Ulmenstein’ treatment experienced at the 5-star Taj Hotel recently.  One of the staff had a tray of welcome Rijk’s Shiraz 2004 for us, very generous in its pouring.  The other tray had towel cloths for us to use, but we did not have enough hands to take the glass and the cloth plus what we were holding already, so we could not partake of this service.  Louisa showed us the lounge, the Polo Wine Bar, where they do winetastings too, and the Que Sera dining room, where they serve breakfasts and dinner, and we stayed to have dinner immediately, without first seeing the room.  Louisa gave me the Guest Registration Form to complete, and most of its clauses would not pass the new Consumer Protection Act  with its ‘legalese’, and the waivers and indemnities.

Dinner at the 32-seater Que Sera was a hit and miss affair, mainly because we were left with a junior waitress Chantel, who was generally unknowledgeable.  We were the only guests dining.  I asked Chantel who the chef was, and she said her name is Joan.  She knew nothing more about her, other than that she had worked at Rijk’s for 21 years.  I did not realise that it had been open for so long.  She said the owners of the Rijk’s Country House are Stuart and Mason Cranswick, who lease the buildings from Neville Dorrington, the owner of the Rijk’s wine farm and Private Cellar. The staff wear a turquoise shirt and black pants and black apron. Chantel said that she has been at Rijk’s for three years already, and worked at Paddagang restaurant previously.  The lighting was very low, until we asked for it to be turned up a little.  The room walls are bare, except for two pictures over the fireplace, but did not seem to be original works of art.  The white table cloth had a runner over it, and the beige chairs were comfortable.  A vase with a carnation and a candle were on the table.  Eetrite cutlery was modern in design and functional.  A wooden board arrived with a tasty seed-topped mini-bread, olive tapenade, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  When my son asked if the tapenade contains anchovies, the waitress confirmed this, so she found us some anchovy-less tapenade.  The menu is in a brown plastic cover, and refers to “Rijk’s Boutique Hotel”, showing some confusion as to its identity and positioning.  Each page of the menu is dominated by the blown-up Rijk’s  Country House logo, over which the menu items are printed, making it hard to read them all, especially in the low light.  My heart sank when I saw that three of the starters were served with sweet chilli sauce. 

We were warned that the Beef Wellington (served with a choice of starches, my mash topped with fresh coriander) would take 20 minutes to make, which we said was fine, given that I had ordered a nicely presented Avocado Ritz starter.  I enjoyed both dishes, except that the Beef Wellington (R120) only contained mushrooms and no chicken liver paté.  The fillet was perfectly cooked medium rare, as requested. My son was not happy with the Wild Mushroom and Thyme Risotto (R80), being completely overcooked, too salty, not containing any identifiable thyme, and tasting of a spice which made it inedible.  We sent it back, but were still charged for it, until I asked Chantel to take it off the bill, which she did.  Starter options range from R37 for calamari steak strips. Tempura prawns, peri peri chicken livers, gazpacho and a soup of the day are some other starter options. Main course prices start at R80 for the risotto, and Pan-fried Citrus Salmon Trout costs R155, expensive for Tulbagh, I felt.  Steak is served three ways, and costs R100 – R140, and one can order a 150g or 200g portion.    The menu states that one can order a salad or seasonal vegetables as part of the main course, but this option was not presented to us, and I did not see it on the menu when we were ordering.  We did not order any desserts, costing about R30, but could have had desserts from a trolley, a cheese platter (R66), fruit salad or sorbet. When I ordered a cappuccino, it took a good half an hour to get one.   The very noisy industrial-looking coffee machine is in the dining room, so we could observe the process.  It took three attempts to get a cappuccino served in a cup, and not a latte in a glass, despite our clear request to Chantel.   We were told that the coffee comes from ‘Beans for Africa’ and was called ‘Peru Organic’.  Just after the starter was served, Louisa came to check on us, and we did not see her again during the dinner, and she did not ask us later for feedback about the dinner.

The wine list also has a brown plastic cover, and no vintages are indicated.  House wines by the glass cost R28 for an unspecified white and R31 for a red wine.   Organic white and Rosé wine by the glass can be ordered at R22, but the origin of it is not identified.  Moet et Chandon costs R750, Billecart Brut R690, and Billecart Salmon Rosé R1088. Cap “Classic” sparkling wines include Krone Borealis Brut, at R120, and the Nicolas Charles Krone Marque 1 is the most expensive at R420. The winelist offers a Rijk’s wine in each variety, and is not always the cheapest one offered – in fact it was the most expensive option in most cases.  There is a heavy 50 % mark-up on the Rijk’s’ wines relative to the next-door cellar prices, the Shiraz costing R205.  A page in the winelist provided prices of wines one could buy from the Rijk’s Gift Shop, at R128 for the Rijk’s Shiraz, and even the three champagnes on the winelist can be bought at about 50 % less!

The welcome letter from Louisa introduced Tulbagh, described Rijk’s Country House as “country living at its best”, and stated that “the hotel makes use of the farms water supply and is being treated”, which I did not read on arrival, and the bottled water drinking recommendation was not explained to us verbally.  I was impressed that the letter was personalised, in referring to the wedding we were attending.  Surprising too was the invitation to enjoy a winetasting in the Rijk’s Polo Wine Bar in the Rijk’s Country House, rather than in the Rijk’s Private Cellar  tasting room.

The rooms are actually cottages away from the core reception building, so we had to drive to the cottage that we were allocated.  It is an open plan lounge and bedroom, with a large bathroom, and a separate loo.   My heart sank as soon as I saw the rug, a cheap floor decoration, and not a Persian carpet, which would have been befitting of a five star room.  Also, the windows have cheap plastic blinds with a net curtain, shouting ‘cheap and nasty’.  The end result of such ‘curtaining’ is that it let in the light at 6h00, not exactly what one wants on a precious weekend away.  The beds were requested to be twin, but the beds had been separated, so each of us had to sleep on a  precarious single bed, something I have not done in more than 30 years (in our guest houses we keep the beds together, but use single bed linen to make up the beds).  There was a nice selection of magazines, but I was surprised to find a ‘Franschhoek Style’ amongst them, marketing Franschhoek, competition to Tulbagh, especially when it comes to weddings!  Worst of all about the cottage was a sickly sweet smell in the room, probably coming from a heavy dose of Charlotte Rhys room spray that had been sprayed at turn-down, prior to our arrival!  I had to open all the windows to get the smell out of the room, and almost froze to death, not being able to sleep as a result. Spread out on the bed was a dressing gown, which may be the highlight of other visitors’ stay, but certainly is not a requirement, in my book.  On top of this was presented the turn-down ‘treat’, the most bizarre and kitschy I have ever experienced – a pink wrapped mini ‘Christmas cracker’, with silver ribbon, containing … a pink and a white marshmallow!  There is a Belgian chocolatier (Moniki) in Tulbagh, and it would have been more fitting to use their products.  I got up to write when I could not sleep for most of the night, and heard the loud staff arrival just after 6h00.   The crowning glory was that there was no water coming out of the taps the next morning, something Louisa had mentioned the night before could be a possibility.  Whilst we had bottled water for brushing our teeth, we could not have a shower or bath in the musty smelling bathroom – to open its window one has to step into the bath to get to the latch!  Water clearly is a problem at Rijk’s, as a letter from Louisa, which must have been in the room, but which I only read on our return, explained about “water shortages and other difficulties”, urging us to use the bottled water supplied for drinking and in the kettle.

When we came for breakfast, Louisa came to apologise for the water situation.  She also said that she felt that Rijk’s could not meet our requirements, and offered to refund our deposit payment. I told her that we had already booked alternative accommodation for the second night.  Whilst the water situation was inconvenient, but out of her control, I suggested to Louisa that she waive the restaurant bill of the night before as a make-good, which she accepted.  However, she wrote the following day: I spoke with my Shareholders on your departure and relayed the details of your stay.  I explained that you had declined a full refund but requested the dinner be complimentary.  They requested I get in touch with you and request your bank details as they would like to ensure the return of your deposit.  I would be grateful if you would allow us to facilitate this.  Once again we apologise that your stay did not meet your expectations and look forward to hearing from you.” 

The Breakfast was served outside on the vine-covered Iceberg Terrace, with a lovely view onto iceberg roses, the vineyards, and the Wintershoek mountains.  The colour scheme for the table runners and outdoor chair cushions is grass green and turquoise, quite ‘loud’.  The vase of fresh roses on each table was a nice touch. No breakfast buffet was laid out, but a collection of breakfast items was brought on a tray and put onto a stand next to our table, consisting of two yoghurt flavours, two cereals, a cold meat and cheese platter, fresh fruit served on a chipped plate, and a basket of muffins, scones and croissants.  I was served a perfectly made cappuccino, but was initially told that it was not possible to make one due to the water problem.  I suggested to Chantel that she use some bottled water.  As we were the only guests having breakfast, it was surprising that the service was so slow.  Chantel waited until we had finished our cereals before she asked for the egg order, and this took a good 20 minutes to be brought to the table, the eggs arriving quite some time before the toast, which I had to remind Chantel about.  The orange juice was not freshly squeezed, and came out of a bottle.   The estate handyman came to our table to also apologise for the burst water pipe, and explained that they were working on it.  The music at Rijk’s made one very nostalgic, and included ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and a ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’.   As happened  at dinner, Louisa was barely present at breakfast, and did not check on how we enjoyed it, and if there were any problems.  Understandably, she was stressed about the water situation. Her deputy did not come to our table during our breakfast.

So what can I praise: the free easy wireless (but slow) internet connection, even reaching to the cottage.  The lovely roses.  The generosity of the welcome drink.  Louisa’s apologies for things going wrong.  The good breakfast scones.  The setting and the view.  However, so many other aspects appeared amateurish and the staff poorly managed, that they spoilt the enjoyment of our stay.

Rijk’s Country House, Tulbagh.  Tel (023) 230-1006. www.rijkscountryhouse.co.za (The website refers to ‘Fine Dining’, but there is no menu nor winelist.  The Image Gallery does not contain a single food photograph.  The breakfast description includes reference to a daily newspaper, but we did not see one).

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