Whale Coast tourism DMO refuses to make minutes a-whale-able!

For the past six weeks all attempts at obtaining minutes of two Special General meetings called to change the Constitution of the Cape Whale Coast Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) have failed, with an e-mail from its Vice-Chairman, Daniel Acker, refusing access to the minutes both in my capacity as a member of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau and as a writer of this blog, without approval at the next Board meeting!  We question what the Cape Whale Coast DMO is trying to hide by not making the minutes of the two meetings available.  Maybe the Cape Whale Coast payoff line ‘wonders never cease’ is apt, given that the DMO is working with municipal funding generated from Overstrand ratepayers, and therefore transparency should rule!

More than two years ago the Cape Whale Coast DMO was established by the Overstrand Municipality, which is responsible for the municipal services of the area stretching from Rooi Els in the west to Gansbaai in the east.  The DMO is based in Hermanus, and half of the Board members are from Hermanus, under the Chairmanship of Misty Waves Hotel Manager Clinton Lerm.

When the Cape Whale Coast DMO was established, its constitution automatically made all business owners along the Overstrand members of the DMO, if they were paying rates and taxes.  No membership fee was payable.  The DMO’s main task, as per its name, was to market the Overstrand towns as a joint tourism destination and to manage the tourism bureaus in each of these towns .  The same constitution contained a directive that a CEO would be appointed, to manage the DMO.  This appointment still has not happened.   This means that a Board of 14 Directors manages a Section 21 company with only one staff member, and therefore the directors of the Board have taken over management positions for the DMO.  For example, Lerm’s mother Maxie handles Marketing and Public Relations for the DMO, and Clinton Lerm and Daniel Acker (of People Management Solutions Group, a labour practitioner in Hermanus, with no tourism business interests) represented the DMO in May at the ITB tourism trade show in Berlin, and another in Russia (an insignificant tourism market for Hermanus!).

Earlier this year the DMO changed its Constitution of 28 November 2007, at a second Special General meeting held on 8 March at the Lerm’s Misty Waves Hotel, with a resolution seconded by Chairman Clinton Lerm’s father and Director Maxie Lerm’s husband Henry (after a first Special General Meeting on 1 March had failed due to not attracting a required quorum of 100 attendees – only 14 members attended).  The change to the constitution was motivated to the DMO members on the basis of the changes made to the ‘Municipal Finances & Companies Act’ (no such Act exists – it is called the Municipal Financial Management Act, and it does not appear to contain any clauses that would have necessitated the constitutional changes made), the minutes of the meeting of 1 March stated!   The major change was that Overstrand ratepayers no longer were automatically members of the DMO, and allowed the DMO to set up membership of its tourism body in competition to the tourism bureaus in the Overstrand area.   The minutes of the 8 March meeting are very brief, and do not state who attended the meeting – bizarrely the Constitution allows a second Special General Meeting to be held a week after the first one if it fails to attract a quorum, and can conduct its business as long as at least one member is present!

What attracted attention to and the first criticism of the DMO was that the DMO has set up a kiosk near the key whale-watching area in Hermanus, from which it was taking accommodation bookings only for its members, and not for all members of the Overstrand tourism bureaus.  These members are now asked to pay a double membership, to belong to both bodies, yet each tourism bureau reports to the DMO, an unheard of model of tourism marketing, if Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the provincial marketing body, is the role model for the DMO.  Even more curiously, the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, which has an unfortunate location at the old railway station building, had to vacate its offices due to construction work close by, and was not given the kiosk, so that it can be easily found by tourists requiring accommodation and other tourism information.

Even more odd is that as a result of two competing tourism bodies in Hermanus, the town now has two whalecriers!   The original whalecrier of Hermanus, who was an appointee of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, had his appointment terminated due to an offence, just as the DMO was heading for Berlin.  Desperate to have a whalecrier on show, the DMO appointed the whalecrier, and took him to Berlin at short notice.  He has been appointed by the DMO to man its kiosk, and the Hermanus Tourism Bureau has appointed its own whalecrier!

Late last year we questioned these actions of the DMO,coupled with the conflict of interest in Clinton Lerm being both the Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau and of the DMO.  This resulted in a letter from the DMO’s lawyers, threatening legal action.  Nothing came of this threat, probably as the DMO management realised that a number of dissatisfied Overstrand tourism bureau members feel as I do.

In July the DMO held its AGM, and on the basis of its constitutional amendment, disallowed any Overstrand tourism bureau members from attending the meeting if they did not hold DMO membership, and were also not allowed to be nominated or elected to the Board of the DMO.  This is when I started asking questions, requesting a copy of the DMO Constitution (previously this was freely available on the Overstrand website www.overstrand.gov.za), and the minutes of the meetings approving the constitutional changes.  It took four weeks to receive the e-mailed copy of the Constitution, and two days ago the following officious and somewhat threatening e-mail was received from Daniel Acker (all correspondence had been addressed to Clinton Lerm!):

“This response is done without prejudice of the rights of the author, Cape Whale Coast Destination Marketing Organisation (herein after referred to as ‘CWC DMO’), or the Overstrand Municipality. All rights of these personae therefore remain reserved herein.

Your email herebelow (sic) has been read, and the tone & content thereof has been noted. We place on record herewith that we shall not respond thereto in full, at this time, and reserve the right to do so at a later stage and in the appropriate forum.

Regarding your request, related to the minutes ‘minutes that approved the change of the Whalecoast DMO’ . We assume that you refer  herein to the minutes related to changes to the Constitution that were presented to, and approved by, the Counsellors (sic) of the Overstrand Municipality. These minutes are available to members of the CWC DMO, and our records show that neither you, nor your establishment, are members of the CWC DMO. Your request in this regard shall therefore have to be tabled at the next full board meeting, for consideration.”

 

What the members of the tourism bureaus in the Overstrand want is to be part of the DMO by virtue of their membership of the tourism bureaus which report to the DMO, and that bookings will be taken at the kiosk for all members of tourism bureaus in the Overstrand at no charge of membership, but on payment of a standard 10 % commission of the booking value (the DMO charges 12% commission in addition to its membership fee).    Neither the old nor the amended constitution of the Cape Whale Coast gives the DMO the duty to run a tourism bureau in opposition to those already operating in the Overstrand.

Furthermore, the Constitution does not prescribe that nominees for the Board must be members of the DMO (for example, a representative of the Overstrand Municipality is specified as having to be a director), nor does it prescribe that only DMO members can vote for the election of its Board of Directors, or on any other matter – it was confirmed that Hermanus Tourism Bureau members were not allowed to be nominated as Directors, nor voted for at the recent DMO AGM, according to an e-mail sent to me by Daniel Acker.   Members furthermore question why the Misty Waves Hotel features so prominently as the venue of the DMO meetings, and how two co-owners of the hotel can serve on the DMO Board, one of them handling the PR and Marketing for the DMO.  Whilst the Constitution defines the role of the Chairman of the DMO to be to lead the Board, to induct the directors, to plan meetings, and to ‘support the CEO’, it is questioned why Chairman Clinton Lerm, and not his mother Maxie, went to Berlin and Russia to represent the DMO, and why Daniel Acker had to go as well.  The duplication in tourism offices and in whale criers is also questioned, all being wasteful expenses.

It would appear that pressure on Chairman Clinton Lerm may be leading to some changes, and it is rumoured that he has resigned as Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, due to the conflict of interests in heading both bodies, something we pointed out in our blog post of 28 December already. However, he has not yet formally announced his resignation, nor confirmed it when we requested this of him by e-mail.

POSTSCRIPT 2/9:  The Comments section for this blog post makes for interesting reading, in setting out two points of view – two guest house owners’ perspectives, who argue along the lines of this post, and that of a Director of the Cape Whale Coast DMO, who protects the interests of the DMO.

Furthermore, the Hermanus Tourism Bureau has e-mailed its members an article which appears in the Hermanus Times today, written by Clinton Lerm.  It justifies what has happened constitutionally, and announces that members of the Overstrand tourism bureaus will automatically become members of the DMO, once this constitutional change has been approved at a Special General meeting of the DMO.  Taking bookings at the Market Square kiosk for all Overstrand tourism bureau members is also receiving the DMO’s consideration – we applaud the DMO for listening to their “customers”, and wonder why this was not dealt with correctly from the word go!

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

11 replies on “Whale Coast tourism DMO refuses to make minutes a-whale-able!”

  1. Anon says:

    I think a Mr. Nose may be interested in just such an article

  2. Dear Anon

    Noseweek has been approached for stories in the past, but have not followed up, except for an expose they did of Portfolio’s dealings with guest house clients many moons ago (under the title “Bed & Bondage”).

    Noseweek appears to have an Hermanus connection, and often feature Hermanus stories. I do hope that they pick up on this one. In fact, Daniel Acker’s reply came the day after another request from me to Clinton Lerm was copied to Noseweek.

  3. Hi, Chris

    The sad thing is that your constant negative reporting is doing more damage than good to our beautiful area, the Cape Whale Coast – and specifically Hermanus.

    So many of the points you raised are not justified or neither have you ensured that you have the “full story”.

    Surely, a more positive and supportive approach will ensure that these issues are addressed, and changed if needed!, in a more professional and amicable way.

    It is time to stop “shooting from the sideline” and jumping in to make a “positive difference” to ensure that the Cape Whale Coast comes out TOPS!!

    Thanks :
    JOAN-ANNE HARRIS

  4. Dear Joan-Anne

    In the interest of transparency you have not identified that you are a Board member of the Cape Whale Coast DMO.

    I am surprised at your comment, as I know that we have jointly discussed how bad things have been at the DMO. I do have the fullest confidence that your presence on the Board can help to make things better.

    I am reasonably up to date with what many accommodation members feel about what is happening in Hermanus. These are unacceptable self-interest politics, which must stop.

    I have not written about Hermanus in 8 months, so I am not sure what “damage” I can be causing, and how I can be viewed to be “unprofessional” by telling the truth!?

    I have written about how difficult it is to get information and any responses from Clinton Lerm as DMO Chairman. Why don’t you let me have the “full story”, and correct what may be wrong, given that you are in the inner DMO circle now?

    I think we should meet for a cup of coffee. I’ll contact you when next I am in Hermanus.

  5. Hi, Chris

    I did have several questions about the DMO and I sat down with Clinton Lerm who addressed every single one. Some issues are still being addressed but my queries were “heard”. I truly wish you would do the same.

    Let us know when you are in Hermanus again and we will set up a meeting to discuss the DMO.

    See you then!

  6. You are lucky to have had a response from Clinton – I have received next to none, other than legal threats. Surely that is not the way to deal with members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, given that he is the Chairman of it?

  7. anon says:

    I am a guest house owner who just does not want to be involved is such a negative subject and the personal attacks that go with it. I agree that this negativity is damaging and harmful to Hermanus.
    At the same time watching the DMO get hijacked is a little concerning. I would like the questions asked answered – what is the problem. Has anyone benefited from the over R4 mil spent on marketing the Overstrand? My opinion is that only a select few have benefited and we funded it. To have an organization allocated these funds every year where clearly it represented very few in the industry ( only 50 or so members ) is questionable. How can we now be automatically members of the DMO but somehow the board has already been elected. This is just too convenient. It would appear that this is a smokescreen where the DMO can now legitimately claim to represent the tourism industry for another 2 years. Under these circumstances the board should resign an put themselves up for re-election. I have nothing against the Lerm family and believe that they have at least done something while everybody else fiddled , however, the funds are public money and we should be aware of exactly how each penny is spent.
    Am I correct in assuming that if a meeting is called and attended by 1 member that decisions can be made as to how to spend our DMO money ?
    Taking Dan Acker to the trade shows is more than questionable as he is not qualified in any way to represent the Overstand and the close relationship with the Lerm’s just cannot be ignored. If I am wrong please enlighten me.
    The no comment policy just cannot be allowed to continue. Unfortunately I have real concerns as to whether the Mayor actually understands what is going on as it does not appear to be the case.

  8. Dear “Anon”

    I salute your bravery in supporting our views.

    As far as the Special General Meetings go, the DMO constitution prescribes that a meeting may only be held if there is a quorum of 30 members. If the quorum is not met, then the meeting must be rescheduled a week later at the same venue, and only one person needs to attend to make it legitimate, and any resolutions can then be passed, which is what appeared to happen with the second Special General Meeting – they did not even minute who was present!

  9. seafront says:

    As another concerned Guesthouse owner in Hermanus, Chris, I would like to applaud you for your efforts and offer the following:

    I believe that a lot of the frustration currently playing out is because of a lack of communication. Whether this is meant to be underhanded or merely an oversight is the question, I suppose. Normally, any marketing and PR function would distinguish between an internal and external communication strategy (i.e. Internal – Hermanus tourism and business stakeholders and External – Tourists visiting the region) both being equally important. I feel that by not setting up a proper communication strategy, by not taking proper minutes and by not reporting back simply and effectively on financials and other matters causes many of us to become suspicious. I too have struggled to get answers and information. When the constitution was removed from the website and I asked for a copy, and copy of the ‘Articles of Association’ were provided. If information was being provided in an adequate manner, stakeholders wouldn’t feel included, and negative sentiment would be minimal.

    Our establishment has previously not joined the DMO specifically to show our LACK of support, and find it astounding as to why the Municipality Manager concerned, has not yet questioned the lack of membership (50 or so out of over 200 establishments in Hermanus). It also makes no sense that Clinton has stated that all full members of the Tourism Bureau are now suddenly members of the DMO, but that before the Kiosk can represent all members, certain special meetings must be called to get board approval (these taking more than a month to convene, I may add).

    Measurement of performance is another question I would like answered. Have any measurement criteria been agreed upon and by whom. Who is accountable for this, the Municipal Manager? Does that person have the expertise to evaluate whether money is being spent wisely (i.e. for the good of the whole region, rather than targeted on a select market).

  10. Dear “Seafront”

    I value your detailed input – you are right at the action, living in Hermanus. I agree with your sentiments.

    The DMO should be sending all members of the Overstrand tourism bureaus a regular newsletter (or dare I suggest that they start a blog?!), so that they can tell members what they are doing marketing-wise. Quite frankly, the accommodation occupancy has become worse in the last two years, since the DMO was established, so it has made no difference at all to business coming to Hermanus (and I suspect that it is even worse in the other Overstrand towns). Had the DMO been inclusive, none of this feedback and questioning would have been necessary.

  11. Sinead says:

    It is 8 MONTHS since members of the local tourism bureaux of the Cape Whale Coast were promised membership of the DMO by the Chairman Clinton Lerm. He has not upheld his promises. There is no communication from the committee of the DMO with their members. The marketing projects that have been forthcoming, are discriminatory and biased and it appears that there is a “top-heavy” representation of certain of the DMO director’s businesses.
    There is definitely a rot in this beautiful area…and it is really starting to stink!

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