Cape Festive Season disappoints, February looks promising


I am always astounded about how our local tourism authorities make comments to the media without foundation. 

Cape Town Tourism’s latest statement refers to a nonsensical “better than average” tourist season which the Cape has just experienced over the festive season, according to the tourism body.  The CEO Of Cape Town Tourism, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, has been at her holiday home in Pringle Bay over the festive season, according to her Tweets on Twitter, and no formal survey has been conducted amongst its accommodation, restaurant and product owner members to come to such a conclusion. 

In a report in the Cape Times, the festive season was described by Mrs Helmbold as “We have had a better than average holiday season with many accommodation establishments recording ‘higher than expected’ occupancy rates”.   It is unclear exactly how good or bad this is meant to be,  the newspaper interpreting her comments in its headline as “Cape Town had good ‘first summer season’, an exaggeration.   She described the Cape’s summer season as consisting of two parts:

*   “a domestic high point during December (and the school holidays)” – Mrs Helmbold has no clue of the reality of the tourism pattern in this quote, in that the festive season period is made up of a mix of international (German and UK in the main) and domestic visitors, who only arrive in the Cape in any large numbers from 26 December onwards, and who largely left the Cape to return home this past weekend, making it a very short festive season of two weeks.   South African visitors to the Cape were more likely to be staying with friends and family than in accommodation establishments.

*   “an international season that peaks between mid-January and the end of February” – once again, Mrs Helmbold is out of touch, in that a tourism vacuum started yesterday, and lasts for two weeks before things pick up again, and then the season will run through until Easter.    February looks well-booked ahead already, mainly by British visitors, and those attending weddings.

The Times  crows today “Hospitality industry coins it”, overexaggerating as it likes to do, but refers extensively to Durban.  The article also quotes one-month holidaying CEO of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, Calvyn Gilfellan, in stating that tourism to Cape Town increased by 3 % over an unspecified period, and that occupancy increased to 65%.  No research source for Gilfellan’s statistics is mentioned.  Gilfellan expresses his satisfaction with the occupancy rate he quotes, but the industry would not be, given that this is the prime period in which it makes its money to survive the bleak winter months.

The exceptionally strong Rand, and the increase to 20 % in the VAT rate in the UK, have been prime deterrents to the UK tourists visiting the Cape, and are the region’s largest source of international tourism.   Its decline has been extremely noticeable this summer season.   However, the extremely severe winter weather experienced in the UK and in Europe has encouraged many tourists to come to the Cape in search of warmth and sun, which they would have had to the extreme last week, when Cape temperatures rose up to 42°C in Franschhoek, for example, Cape Town not being much cooler.   The extreme heat has caused the Franschhoek water supply to be severely depleted, and citizens of the village and its visitors have been encouraged to reduce their water usage by 50 %, ironic in that the village has the largest dam in the Western Cape on its outskirts.

A blow at the start of the festive season was the snow-stuck UK visitors, who could not fly out for three or four days, costing hospitality establishments lost bookings.   Seaside towns such as Plettenberg Bay and Hermanus experienced far lower visitor numbers than in previous years, Johannesburg visitors noticeably absent in the Garden Route town for the second year running.  Last year the Johannesburgers were staying home to save money to renovate their homes for the World Cup, a dream which came true for a small minority only.  Inland towns such as Franschhoek had lots of day visitors, but reduced numbers of guests staying over in accommodation.

It has been a different type of visitor coming to the Cape this festive season, and the domestic visitors in particular appeared to be more demanding, and in some instances dishonourable in cancelling bookings in the last minute, after the rooms have been held for them for many months, without adhering to the cancellation policy, more so than in previous years.   In part this was due to the endless days of a gale-force southeaster blowing over 100 km/hr in Camps Bay, for example, followed by two days of rain over New Year, which led to some guests departing early.  

POSTSCRIPT 20/1: Following our feedback to Cape Town Tourism in this blogpost, Mrs Helmbold has adjusted her definition of the second summer peak to “our international peak tourism season is from end-January until the end of March ” (Ms Helmbold had it as running from mid-January – end February in her December media release), in the newsletter which was sent to members today.  We are delighted that we could be of service to Cape Town Tourism, whose CEO seems severely out of touch with the reality of tourism in the city she is meant to handle the marketing of!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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3 replies on “Cape Festive Season disappoints, February looks promising”

  1. Dear Chris

    The relevancy of where I spent Christmas aside…as suggested before, it is advisable to contact Cape Town Tourism to verify your statements for accuracy before publishing your blog. I refer to your blog post of Tuesday, 11 January titled Cape Festive Season disappoints, February looks promising and would like to clarify some points made:

    A total of four member surveys will be conducted as part of our summer survey series; two of which have been completed with a further two to take place in February and March respectively. The results of the second survey, in addition to an industry phone around and a survey of more than 200 visitors at our Visitor Information Centres is what was used to correlate the results we released to media on 22 December 2010.

    As a member of Cape Town Tourism, you would have received our first two surveys in specifically the accommodation category.

    Cape Town’s tourism and hospitality bodies (Cape Town Tourism, Cape Town Routes Unlimited and FEDHASA) have had a unified forecast of Cape Town’s occupancy and visitor levels for the 2010/ 2011 summer season. I quote from the official statement released on 22 December 2010: “Cautious optimism remains the order of the day as Cape Town starts to experience the beginnings of its traditional summer tourism season with an influx of domestic tourists. Whilst it’s not expected to be a bumper season, the early findings of a Cape Town Tourism industry survey conducted across the accommodation, tour, restaurant and attraction sectors in November 2010 and then again in mid-December 2010, confirm that more and more visitors are arriving for the holidays, albeit in many cases at the last minute.”

    Cape Town Tourism’s industry surveys are a great indicator of trends and traffic within Cape Town’s tourism industry if viewed as a poll rather than an audited survey. It is a good indication that our World Cup survey findings were later mirrored by official, academic surveys.

    Please also note that these results are early findings and with the trend of late bookings having emerged it is not possible to forecast accurate occupancy levels. We always respond to a media request about tourism levels with a reminder that audited numbers only become available four to six months later. Our surveys were devised as a response for the media, and the public’s, need for more immediate insight. We do not claim that they are the benchmark – only that they are healthy and reliable indicators.

    If you refer to our release of 22 December 2010, you will see that we are in agreement that the international tourism season runs from January to March/ April. We do not deny that there is a dip after New Year. As per our report, we state that international arrivals peaks between mid January and the end of March.

    Furthermore, we have not said that Cape Town does not receive international visitors during the December period, but rather that the majority of visitors during this time are domestic travellers. We also pointed out in our report to media that “… there may be a substantial number of visitors in town who are staying with relatives and we are not picking up these visitor numbers.” Although you argue that domestic visitors only arrive from the 26th December, it is our experience that domestic visitor patterns coincide with the school holidays, markedly increasing around the public holiday of 16th December, and we believe that overall visitor statistics (to be released later in 2011) will confirm this.

    Below is the entire report back on our second summer survey submitted to the industry, as well as to media during the week of 22 December 2010.


    22 December 2010

    Cautious optimism remains the order of the day as Cape Town starts to experience the beginnings of its traditional summer tourism season with an influx of domestic tourists.

    Whilst it’s not expected to be a bumper season, the early findings of a Cape Town Tourism industry survey conducted across the accommodation, tour, restaurant and attraction sectors in November 2010 and then again in mid-December 2010, confirm that more and more visitors are arriving for the holidays, albeit in many cases at the last minute.

    60% of accommodation establishments polled did not notice a year on year increase for the period October to November 2010 but 57.7% of respondents have observed an upswing in occupancy figures since the beginning of December 2010, largely due to increased numbers from the domestic market.

    “It’s important to remember that our international peak tourism season is from mid-January till the end of March,” says Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, “so it’s too soon to tell what kind of a tourism season we will end up with, but our partners and members are predicting that it will not be a bumper season, although some are reporting an above-average season.”
    ACSA also reported an overall (domestic and international) upswing of 4% for arrivals in October and November 2010, with domestic arrivals taking the lion’s share of this surge.

    Hotels are reporting small groups, couples (topping the list at 59.6%) and families as their predominant guest profiles. An ever-increasing tendency towards online booking may tie into the fact that it is now also a major platform for advertising of the specials and reduced room rates that just under 50% of survey respondents had put in place during October and November 2010. No less than 78.90% of bookings were made within the month leading up to the guests stay or at the last minute and the UK remains our top international source market.

    Last minute bookings are just one of the rogue challenges that face Cape Town’s tourism landscape. Unpredictable economic fluctuations and, more recently, climatological upsets, are factors that can influence travel patterns significantly, making numbers harder to predict.

    Says Du Toit-Helmbold; “We must stay ahead of trends and use some of these trends to our advantage. For instance, promoting the great Cape Town weather to visitors currently facing severe winter conditions; if they are willing to travel at the last minute we can offer great value-for-money offers. Innovative marketing can allow us to turn challenges into opportunities for Cape Town “.

    She goes on to say: “Our member surveys have proven to be an accurate indicator of trends and traffic. The findings of our World Cup surveys were later verified by studies that the City of Cape Town and other organisations executed, but we feel that more should be done to measure and evaluate tourism statistics effectively and speedily. For instance, our top star hotels may be reporting lower occupancy rates but we now have a lot more beds. Equally, there may be a substantial amount of visitors in town who are staying with relatives and we are not picking up those stats.”

    To date, despite there being random evidence of visitors coming because of, or returning after, the World Cup, there is no major trend to suggest that an upsurge of World Cup-inspired visitors are arriving. Again, this may escalate as Cape Town moves into its peak international tourism season and later in 2011.

    Cape Town Tourism will survey its membership again in February 2011.


    Mariette du Toit-Helmbold
    CEO, Cape Town Tourism

  2. Dear Mariette

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to our blogpost.

    Contrary to your writing, I have not received any survey participation requests, nor am I receiving your media releases any more. Perhaps if I had received both, I would have been better informed. I could only go by what was quoted coming from you in the Cape Times.

    There is no “mid-January” peak – we are all dying of emptiness in hospitality, this dearth having started a week ago, and will continue until about the 27 of January. I absolutely do not agree that your surveys are good indicators at all, due to the poor research methodology and poor question formulation.

    I sent you schedule information to reflect Camps Bay’s poor guest house occupancy, which you ignored responding to.

    I request that you add me to your media list again, and wonder why I was dropped off it again?


  3. In an e-mail today, Mrs Helmbold admitted that we had been removed from the Cape Town Tourism media mailing list, blaming a “misquote” on this blog relating to the Cape Town Tourism AGM. The poorly formulated Cape Town Tourism media release was to blame for the initial confusion, and our blog post was amended once this was pointed out to us.

    Today Mrs Helmbold wrote a defamatory and most unprofessional Tweet, blaming us for “deliberate misinterpretation of facts”, thereby ‘justifying’ her organisation’s media censorship! We have also been blamed for not requesting media input from Cape Town Tourism, and for not looking for media releases on the Cape Town Tourism website – not quite how the media works Mrs Helmbold! Do not be surprised if you and your organisation are misquoted if you do not make releases available.

    This is meant to be a neutral tourism body marketing Cape Town!

    It is shocking that, together with Ms Grove, Cape Town Tourism’s PR Manager, Cape Town Tourism is continuing its personal attacks. It appears that Cape Town Tourism’s management is unable to accept criticism of its incorrect and misleading information supplied to journalists and members of Cape Town Tourism about the status of the tourism industry in Cape Town. Instead, Mrs Helmbold blames (other) journalists for misinterpreting her information, not a way to win friends and influence journalists! Strange that there is so much finger-pointing by Mrs Helmbold at the alleged ‘misinterpretation’ by journalists of her information!

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