The tourism industry in Hermanus is delighted that the stormy reign of tourism on the Cape Whale Coast has finally come to an end, with the Mayor of the Overstrand Municipality, Mrs Nicolette Botha-Guthrie, cancelling the Service Level Agreement between her municipality and the Cape Whale Coast Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) two days ago.

The demise of the DMO brings to an end the controversial attempts by the Lerm family to control tourism in Hermanus and the Overstrand area, and to benefit from it for their own businesses.  Clinton Lerm was the Chairman of the DMO and of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, and stepped down to become Vice Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau when allegations of conflict of interest were first raised.  His mother Maxie Lerm also served on the executive of both tourism bodies, and many tourism-related meetings were held at the Lerm’s Misty Waves Hotel, felt by many to be inappropriate.  Many fingers were pointed at Clinton Lerm’s management, or lack of, of the DMO, and the politicking that took place.  In the end it was the DMO’s attempt to make a Tourism Bureau of the DMO, in competition with the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, that was the beginning of the end of the DMO.  Lerm promised to call a Special General Meeting, at which he would consolidate the membership of the DMO and the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, but after a year he had not managed to call such a meeting.

The Lerm family have had a nightmare week, both mother and son having been members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau committee that resigned, to prevent being voted out in a ‘No Confidence’ motion at the Special General Meeting called by its members last Monday.  Now both Lerms have lost their powerful DMO positions, especially given that Maxie Lerm was handling PR and publicity for the DMO, allowing the family the advantage of media contacts for their own business interests, it is alleged!  Maxie Lerm is now a DA member of the Overstrand Municipality, and fortunately has not been given the Tourism portfolio, given that the family has overplayed its hand in dominating all tourism bodies in the region.

Ironically, Clinton Lerm a month ago called an Annual General Meeting of the DMO for next week, at which he wished to table two constitutional changes:

   *   a change in the definition of a ‘member’, it being proposed that it become ‘any citizen registered in the voting districts of the Overstrand and/or a tax contributor not in arrears on any municipal services’ – this would have meant that every resident of Hermanus, including occasional users of their holiday homes in the region, would become a voting member of the region’s most powerful tourism body, without necessarily having an interest in tourism!  It was never the intention that the DMO have members – Cape Town Routes Unlimited is also a DMO, but does not have any members!

   *   a confusing ‘additional constitutional point’ concerned voting procedures and rules, the DMO wanting the current constitutional requirement of only allowing members of 60 days or longer standing to vote at the meeting to be overturned, but no resolution was defined for this for the meeting.

The Chairman also announced that the AGM would not include an election, normally an agenda item of an AGM, stating that an election date would be set a month after the AGM, in consultation with the Overstrand municipality. Now the AGM will no longer be held, and instead the DMO ‘as a seperate legal entity (still) has to be wound up’.

In a media release issued by the Overstrand Municipality yesterday, it uses the Municipal Finance Management Act as the reason for disbanding the DMO, in writing that ‘a greater degree of direct control by the Municipality over the distribution and use of the funds allocated, is required’.  Interesting is the sentence which politely points a finger at the upheaval caused by Clinton Lerm and his Board in running the DMO: ‘The envisaged new system will facilitate such control whilst at the same time ensuring that there is a greater degree of cohesion and synergy within the whole Municipality as a tourist destination.’ 

The Municipality also announced that a ‘dedicated tourism officer’ is needed, reporting to its Directorate of Economic Development, and co-ordinating the ‘activities of the various Tourism Bureaux and to establish a single tourism marketing strategy for the whole of the Overstrand.‘  When the DMO was established, its Constitution stated that a Marketing Manager be appointed, but this never happened in the four year existence of the DMO!  The Municipality intends to form an ‘advisory committee from the community to advise the Municipality on all tourism related matters’.  The committee would consist of Cape Whale Coast tourism bureaux representatives, and tourism players, to allow the ‘voice of all role players and stakeholders will be best heard and effect given to the advice received’.  The Municipality intends to implement its new tourism dispensation from 1 September, the start of the summer season in the area, and leading up to the Whale Festival at the end of September.

While it is fantastic news that the Cape Whale Coast DMO is no more, and that a brand new Hermanus Tourism Bureau committee was elected last week, it will take time to appoint the municipal Marketing Manager, at a time when the region desperately needs to attract tourists after a terrible winter and a poor summer lying ahead.  One hopes that the municipal Marketing Manager will not be bogged down by municipal red tape, and will be strong enough to focus on doing what is best for the Cape Whale Coast, and not for personal interests – it will make a refreshing change.  With the stormy politics now at an end, the Cape Whale Coast can now focus on marketing its wonderful assets!  

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