DMO causes a whale of a tourism splash in Hermanus

The tourism industry in Hermanus and related towns is up in arms about the new Cape Whale Coast Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO), a body which was formed more than a year ago to market the whale coast from Rooi Els to Gansbaai.  

Whilst the mandate of the DMO is to market the Whale Coast, with monies supplied from the Overstrand municipality, generated from rates/taxes/levies on tourism businesses, according to its constitution, the DMO now is opening up an information kiosk in Hermanus, from which they will be taking bookings.  To receive such bookings, members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, and other bureaux along the coast, must become members of the DMO as well, at an additional R 600 annual membership fee.

The irony is that the Hermanus Tourism Bureau had to send out the e-mail to its members, inviting membership of the DMO, offering such benefits as a discounted cost to distribute members’ marketing material at trade shows and for marketing and advertising projects, free listing on the Whale Coast website, and free brochure and collage display at the new Market Square Info kiosk, in competition to itself.   These should be standard benefits to members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau.

The criteria for membership state that one must pay the DMO a commission of 12 % (this is an unusually high rate, as 10 % is the norm. Cape Town Tourism charges 11 %) ; that one must be a member of a tourism bureau in the Cape Whale Coast area; and that one’s property must have a departure or zoning.

This means that all existing tourism bureau members, paying a membership fee to the Hermanus Tourism Bureau of R 520 for a medium-sized guesthouse/B&B must now pay another R 600 to the DMO to receive bookings from the new kiosk, in competition to the Tourism Bureau’s offices in Mitchell Street!   The Overstrand tourism bureaux receive a small grant from the DMO, out of its annual budget of R 2,5 million, and they are therefore reliant on making up the rest of their funding from the commission they receive for bookings made.  This is a serious threat to their funding, in Hermanus in particular, as the tourism bureau is not close to the whale watching spots.

According to the Constitution of the Cape Whale Coast DMO, all business owners paying rates and taxes are automatically members:  “Member” means a registered owner of an erf on which assessment rates are payable due to business which may, or is being conducted on that erf and such rates have been paid to the Municipality for the previous municipal financial year (or current financial year for 2007/8), and/or a person who is paying rental on that erf”.  This means that all ratepayers are members automatically, and cannot therefore be double-charged!

The DMO Constitution lists 21 objectives that the DMO must meet, and one of them says: “to maintain effective tourism bureaus in the region”.  It does not have an objective to create its own tourism bureaus, or to be booking agent, according to its Constitution.  Its role is a Marketing one predominantly. 

If the Cape Whale Coast DMO is modelled on Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the provincial marketing body, which is also a destination marketing organisation, then it is making a mistake!  Cape Town Routes Unlimited does not have members, and does not take bookings – it leaves this to Cape Town Tourism and all other tourism bureaux in the province.   It is a marketing body and focuses on marketing the Western Cape province.  This is what the Cape Whale Coast DMO should be doing too.

A further gripe is that the Whale Coast DMO spends too much of its budget on publications and advertising, and too little on web-driven marketing.    One of the DMO’s stated objectives is to “develop and maintain a world-class website” – this objective has not been met, as the website can not be called world class.

Of even greater concern is that Clinton Lerm, of the Misty Waves Hotel in Hermanus, is the Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, and of the Cape Whale Coast DMO, which means that any concerns that members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau have about this or any other arrangement relating to the DMO cannot be fairly dealt with, due to the conflict of interests.  Lerm and his mother Maxie put up a strong fight to be elected to the board of the DMO, which raised many hackles at the time.  Maxie Lerm is in charge of the Public Relations of the DMO, which should not be handled by Board members.  The promise that a full-time CEO would manage the DMO, as per the Constitution, within a year of establishment of the DMO, has not been met.

The Cape Whale Coast website www.whalecoast.info shows another conflict of interest, in that the Lerm’s Misty Waves Hotel is featured in an ad on the Hermanus page, and is listed on the right hand side of the page as well.   Further ads for Misty Waves Hotel appear on the Home page, the Resources page, the News page and the About page.   At no stage since its inception has the DMO offered members of the Tourism Bureaux the opportunity to place ads on the website.  All other accommodation properties are listed by name over 4 pages, with a street address and telephone number, if one clicks onto a general Accommodation page. 

The Cape Whale Coast proudly lists Fernkloof Nature Reserve as the first of its “Resources” – the nature reserve has seen four bad attacks on hikers in the past few months, and the one on a Canadian couple, who are ex-South Africans, earlier this week has been communicated around the world, not being to the PR benefit of Hermanus at all!

A further oddity is that the Hermanus Tourism Bureau does not have one conglomerate website, but has various websites for accommodation, restaurants, activities, and arts, e.g. www.hermanusaccommodation.com, www.hermanusrestaurants.com.   The Bureau says it is working on building one website for all its separate parts, which would give it far greater search engine optimisation.

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

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