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TOURISM SEASON AHEAD LOOKS PROMISING

Despite a very quiet winter season, the summer season ahead looks very promising.

South Africa's relatively low price levels and its relative safety in a terrorist-threatened world, has led to good forward bookings, with November and December looking particularly promising to date.

The Volvo Ocean Race, reaching Cape Town in early December, will make an important contribution to a period in which bookings are slower. More than 11 000 bed nights have been booked for the Race in the city, and the Race is set to contribute more than R 200 million to the city's economy, reports Business Report. A spill-over impact is also expected for areas outside of Cape Town.

Foreign arrivals to South Africa increased by 1 % between 2003 and 2004, and arrivals from the USA have improved by 10 % in particular, and arrivals from Africa have also increased, compensating for a 4,5% decline in visitors from Europe, reports Hotel & Restaurant. Flights from Brazil and India are adding greater numbers of tourists to South Africa from these countries, offsetting the decrease in tourists arriving from Germany, hard hit by its economic woes. Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, is quoted by the publication as aiming to grow foreign arrivals by about 2 % in the current year.

Arrivals from France too are declining, by a dramatic 26 % in the last year, reports Travel News Now. The Netherlands also appears to be following a European trend towards reduced tourism to South Africa.

Two thirds of foreign arrivals are independent travellers, as opposed to arriving on packaged tours, the latter form of tourism having increased of late. The strong Rand exchange rate and more tourists arriving on packaged tours is seen to result in reduced spending by tourists, the industry fears. Tourists from China are arriving in larger numbers but are packaged tour clients who are satisfied with one and two star accommodation, says Business Report. This can significantly affect the accommodation sector in future as S A Tourism focuses on this burgeoning market.

South Africa had the highest number of tourist arrivals ever in the third quarter of 2004, reports the Wits Business School Journal, quoting S A Tourism information. In September 2004 arrivals rose by 6 % alone, compared to the year before.

In March more than 600 000 visitors arrived in South Africa, an increase of 14 % on the year before. Arrivals from the UK, at over 50 000 during the month, were more than double those from Germany and the USA.

A group of 30 Australian and New Zealand travel agents visited Cape Town at the end of June on a familiarisation tour of the area. The travel agents, hosted by S A Tourism, qualified for the trip on the basis of being top sellers of South African products, and also had attended a training course on South Africa. The percentage of Australians visiting South Africa is low, at 2 %, relative to the 3 million visitors that could potentially travel from that country.

The accommodation sector nationally earned R 963,9 million per month on average, between September last year and January this year, reports the Cape Times. A new analysis by Stats SA has broken the accommodation sector, consisting of 99 600 "stay units", into hotels (47 000), B & B's and lodges (33 800), caravan parks and camping sites (10 600), and guest houses and guest farms(8 200), according to Hospitality.

A survey commissioned by the Cape Town Routes Unlimited tourism authority found that criticism of excessive pricing for Cape Town and the Western Cape province is unfounded, Accommodation prices were found in the survey to have almost equally stayed the same between 2003 and 2004, or to have increased by 5 - 10 %. Spa treatment prices increased by as little as 3 %, while golf course green fees rose by 8 % on average. Ironically, a new director of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, COSATU General Secretary Tony Ehrenreich, was the industry's biggest critic of pricing levels and their impact on employment in the tourism industry. His public criticism of the industry appears to have been unfounded, given the survey results.

The Western Cape province has allocated a mere R 32,9 million of its current budget to tourism, of which R 25 million goes to part-fund the operation of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, and the balance goes towards development projects such as the creation of a new Cape Flats Route, and towards projects to create tourism skills amongst historically disadvantaged persons, particularly as tour guides. Tourism is the largest source of revenue for the province.

Cape Town has been selected by the 230 000 readers of a leading travel magazine as top city in Africa and the Middle East for the fifth time. In Travel & Leisure's latest survey, Sydney was voted as best city in the world, with Cape Town achieving 8th place.

A city wine bar, Caveau Wine Bar and Deli, located on Bree Street, has made Conde Nast Traveler's list of "35 Cool New Night Spots" in the world, the only African establishment on the list.

Cape Town hoteliers appear to be optimistic about the future of tourism in the city, with a record number of hotels being developed in the city centre, including the Fountain Hotel on St George's Mall, the North Wharf Protea Hotel near the Convention Centre, the Cape Diamond Hotel near Parliament, the Adderley Hotel in Mandela Rhodes Place, and unnamed hotels on the corner of Long and Pepper Streets, and between Dorp and Wale Streets, reports Travel News Now.

The international tourism industry is expected to grow by 5 % and reach a value of $ 6,2 trillion and employ 74 million persons, reports Hospitality, quoting statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council. After three years of terror, disease and war threats, there appears to be an upturn in tourism demand. The fastest growing tourism countries in the world, in order of importance, are Montenegro, China, India, Reunion, Croatia, Sudan, Vietnam, Laos, Czech Republic and Guadeloupe, all with growth rates in tourism of between 7 % and 10 %. The Council's forecasts of the impact of the tsunami on tourism show expected declines for the Maldives at 30 %, Thailand at 23% and Sri Lanka at 21%. In total, the tsunami catastrophe cost $ 3 billion in lost tourism revenue and 250 000 jobs.

The international airline industry is expecting to loose $ 6 billion this year, due to increased fuel prices and increasing costs. In the last three years the IATA airlines collectively lost $ 36 million, in the aftermath of 9/11.



WINE TOURISM NEEDS MATURATION !

The South African wine industry, estimated at R 4,2 billion, has been criticised by SA Tourism director Paul Bannister. Bannister has criticised South Africa's lack of a centralised wine industry body to collectively market the country's wine industry and products, describes the wine industry as still having "a cottage industry mind-set" and states that it does not invest enough in research and marketing, according to Business Report. Bannister feels that wine must be made more desirable amongst locals, as has been the success of the Australian wine industry.

Bannister's view was reinforced by a finding that South Africa does not have a wine culture, according to research conducted by the University of Stellenbosch Graduate School of Business, which has found that wine makes up only R 4 billion of the R 33,5 billion alcoholic beverage industry, and that wine consumption is only 7,9 litres per capita, one of the lowest in the world of the countries that produce wines.

The USA market is the largest wine market in the world, estimated to be worth about $ 24 billion by 2008 and, according to Business Report, is one of the countries being targeted by South African wine producers. This market is not an easy one to crack, warns Cape Classics, a local wine exporting company. With little knowledge of South Africa and its wine regions and brands amongst Americans, and no other generic South African marketing, exporters have to sell the country generically. Cape Classics now sells 200 000 cases to the USA, and its breakthrough was a favourable mention in Robert Parker's influential The Wine Advocate magazine.

The recent Nederburg wine auction, which sold fewer wines at higher prices than in previous years, has been criticised by restaurateur Allan Pick, claiming that wines of not high enough quality were sold at the April auction, and that the prices were "horrendous", reports Business Report. Wines of South Africa CEO Su Birch disagreed, and felt that the record prices reflected the fine wines sold at the auction.

Recent winners of the Fairbairn Capital Trophy Wine Show include Quoin Rock Syrah for Best Shiraz, Seidelberg Roland's Reserve for Best Pinotage, Neethlingshof Lord Neethling Laurentius for Best Red Wine and Best Red Blend Bordeaux Style, Diemersfontein Carpe Diem for Best Cabernet Sauvignon, Culraithin for Best Merlot and Hildenbrand for Best Semillon.

Winner of the Woman Winemaker of the Year is Debbie Burden, for her Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2003.

Not surprisingly, an Australian study has shown Stellenbosch to be the best known wine route in the Cape Winelands, reports Travel News Now. The University of Adelaide's Wine Business School study found that 28 % of the Stellenbosch Wine Route visitors were from overseas, and that cellar guests visit 3 - 4 cellars on average on their visit.

An innovative marketing strategy by Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek has been to be the official wine for the Global Challenge 2004/2005 yacht race. The wines are highly regarded in the UK, Ireland, Japan and the US, says Business Report, and the winery has seen an increase in sales since the start of the yacht race.

The first fully black empowered wine producer, Signal Hill Wines, is to make its wines in the new Mandela Rhodes Place, a lifestyle centre being developed in the Cape Town city centre.

The Diner's Club Wine List of the Year Awards are to be re-introduced, and will be organised by wine and food fundi Michael Olivier. The competition is looking to judge the fit between restaurant winelists and menus, the variety of cultivars offered, the balance of wines from larger companies and small wineries, and how wines are described to restaurant clients in the menus.

The French wine industry appears to have hit a low, with exports down by 13 % in the first quarter of 2005 relative to the same period the year before, this coming after a 9 % decrease the year before. Global overproduction has put a pressure on the price of French wines, leading to lower revenues. Champagne sales have been popping, however, with an increase in 14 %, reports Business Report.



WHALE COTTAGE SHINES IN GERMANY

Whale Cottage Camps Bay and Whale Cottage Hermanus have been featured in the April issue of Petra, a German lifestyle magazine. Focusing on the Bed & Breakfast treats all the way from Cape Town along the Garden Route, the writer of the article highlights the excitement of whale watching, surfing and rhino spotting along this beautiful coastal route.

Whale Cottage Hermanus celebrates its 9th anniversary this month, having been the first Whale Cottage in the Whale Cottage Portfolio, and established in 1996. The Southern Right whales have returned to Hermanus, and Whale Cottage Hermanus is benefiting from the great interest in these spectacular mammals, which can be seen from the guest house.



DIVING OPERATORS SEEN TO BE SHARKS!

An increasing number of shark attacks has led to criticism that the shark diving industry, mainly operating out of Gansbaai on the south-eastern Cape coast, is partly to blame.

Shark diving companies use chumming, whereby fresh fish is used to attract sharks to their boats, to give their clients a thrill, especially those that venture into a cage with little protection from the sharks.

The UK media (including Sky News, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph) as well as local newspapers, have reported extensively about a British shark cage diving tourist, Mark Currie, who claimed that his life was endangered when a shark broke off one of the bars of the cage he was in and bit off a buoy. The shark then tried to attack the cage from the top. The client claimed that the cage was at risk of coming loose and sinking and that his life was at risk. The shark diving operator, White Shark Eco-Ventures, claimed that the client exaggerated the size of the shark and the potential danger to his life, and lied to sensationalise the story, reports The Argus. The company plans to sue Currie for "loss of earnings, alleging he over-dramatised the incident", reveals the International Marketing Council of South Africa's Foreign Tourism Media Coverage analysis.

George Burgess, Director of the Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, is critical of shark-cage diving in South Africa, Australia and the USA. He is reported by the UK Independent on Sunday as saying that: "Shark tourism is not seeing sharks in their natural habitat - what tourists are watching is a circus".

Specialists are being consulted by the local Shark Working Group to evaluate anti-shark measures and how effective they are to protect users of the Cape coast beaches from being attacked. They will also evaluate shark-cage diving and its relationship to shark attacks on behalf of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, reports The Argus.

The Shark Concern Group, on the other hand, has appealed to Environmental Minister van Schalkwyk to ban chumming and the use of bait in the shark tourism industry, reports the Cape Times. The group proposes boat-based shark watching without the use of any measures to attract sharks to the boats. It has also called for greater protection of the Great White, similar to that in California, where any interference with sharks is not allowed.

A volunteer shark spotting service has been implemented at Muizenberg beach, to alert swimmers and surfers of sharks getting close to the surf. According to the Cape Times, the City of Cape Town has refused this initiative permission to erect shark warning signs or to erect a shark watching tower on the beach.

A journalist from the Sunday Times in the UK has criticised the boat-based whale watching trip he went on in Hermanus. He criticised the captain of his boat for chasing after whales, rather than waiting for the mammals to swim towards the boat, for the noisy banging on the side of the boat as the boat got close to the whales, for the passengers on the boat making a noise, scaring the whales off, and for the boat then chasing after the fleeing whales.



FILM INDUSTRY LOSES FOCUS

The Cape Town film industry is in such doldrums that it is marketing itself in Cannes in an effort to reach the international advertising industry.

AdVantage reports that Cape Town has been particularly hard hit by the downturn in the international film production industry, by as much as 50 %, and that a number of players in the industry rented a restaurant outside the Majestic Hotel on the Croisette in Cannes, temporarily named "South Africa House", to market the industry to delegates attending the Cannes Lions advertising festival in June. The R 1 million marketing campaign was supported by S A Tourism and the Cape Film Commission. The festival is attended by 8 000 advertising and marketing executives from 75 countries.

The planned Film Studio outside Cape Town, which was awarded to the Dreamworld consortium two years ago by the Western Cape provincial government, has become less viable due to the downturn in the film industry and the strengthening of the Rand to the dollar, reports the Cape Argus. When the film studio was planned, the dollar/Rand exchange rate was 9 to 1. The exchange rate has since dropped to 6,6 to 1. Originally planned as a commercial venture, the City of Cape Town and province of the Western Cape are now funding a portion of the estimated R 426 million cost by R 30 million each. The development is stirring controversy, in that the developers are now wishing to add a housing, hotel as well as retail development on the site near Faure, to make it financially viable. This was not initially included in their bid. The new developments are seen to threaten the wetlands on the site. The consortium has just been given the approval for the expanded development, despite protests by CapeNature due to the "critically endangered" fynbos in the area, as well as being an important conservation area for frogs, says the Cape Times.

The winner of the Cape Town film studio bid, film-maker Anant Singh, is due to complete a film studio in Durban next year. The R 700 million Durban Film City is funded by private funds Singh has raised in addition to his own investment.



SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS NOSE DIVES

A seven day strike by cabin crew and ground staff of South Africa's national airline at the end of July has had a major impact on the tourism industry and its clients. On a number of days all local and international SAA flights were grounded, with passengers stranded around the world as the airline operated at only a 25 % level.

SAA took out costly print and TV ads to apologise to its customers about the disruption and inconvenience caused. The airline has also run follow-up ads thanking their domestic competitors for assisting their clients. Full-page ads also thanked travel agents for re-booking affected passengers flights and for fielding endless enquiries. To win back customer affection, probably at an all-time low, SAA is running further full-page ads, now in colour, with a special Woman's Day offer for women flying with the airline.

In addition to paying for these ads, the airline is estimated to have lost R 25 million in business on each day of the strike. Travel News Now has speculated that affected passengers stranded at airports in countries belonging to the European Union will be eligible for a 600 claim against SAA.

Travel agents and tour operators such as Tourvest have written to their accommodation clients and other tourism partners, requesting them to be lenient on their clients in terms of their cancellation policies for the late arrivals of guests who were booked on SAA. Travel insurance policies tend to view such delays as an "act of God" and do not pay out clients directly involved or third parties indirectly affected.

FEDHASA Cape Chairman Nils Heckscher, in an e-mail to his members, expressed the industry's "...dissatisfaction about the duration and resulting impact (the strike) has on our businesses."

Now it would appear that the airline pilots are threatening to strike. The pilot's association has just passed a vote of no confidence in the airline management, and is seeking permission to strike. Pilots have been reported to be openly expressing their resentment of SAA's management in their in-flight announcements.

Just a few months ago SAA appointed Kyrl Acton, previously with Aer Lingus, but his input has not appeared visible in the dispute. SAA Chief Executive Khaya Ngqula was criticised for spending the weekend at the start of the strike at a luxury game reserve rather than at his desk.

SAA is facing further woes, having been slapped with a R 25 million fine for colluding with travel agents to receive airline bookings in preference to other domestic airlines between 1999 and 2001. This meant that in many instances clients of such travel agents paid more for tickets than they could have, had alternative airlines been offered to them. Nationwide Airlines, which brought the matter to the Competition Tribunal, is set to now sue SAA for lost business.



LE QUARTIER COOKS IT ON TOP

Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek has made it to the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, voted in 35th position, and also was selected as the Top Restaurant in the Middle East and Africa by UK magazine Restaurant. The Fat Duck restaurant in the UK won the Top Restaurant award.


DROUGHT DRAINED

The severe drought that has drained the water supplies of the Western and Northern Cape appears to have been broken, with the storage dams in the Western Cape currently more than 60 % full on average, and at a higher level than in 2003 and 2004.

Heavy downpours since April, including major storms that led to the closure of the N2 highway outside Caledon for several weeks, have led to the good water levels. In April, Hermanus had the heaviest rainfalls ever since measurements began in 1947, reports the Hermanus Times.

August is usually a good rain month, and this could further improve dam levels.


WhaleTales is a newsletter issued by the Whale Cottage Guest House Portfolio
and is edited by Chris von Ulmenstein. Past issues of WhaleTales can be read on the website
www.whalecottage.com



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