Cape Town overwhelmed by one of busiest Festive Seasons ever!

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Cape Town Festive Season Cape Town PartnershipCape Town experienced one of its busiest Festive Seasons ever, so much so that the city can be said to have been out of control as far as access to its attractions, beaches, shopping malls, and roads was concerned.  Perfect weather and a weak Rand attracted locals to the Mother City.  Once again the Atlantic Seaboard was the most attractive location for tourists in terms of restaurants, beaches, and accommodation, with resultant chaos in this area in particular at all levels.

The Festive Season period was a very short ten day period, from 27 December – 5 January this year, and almost every accommodation establishment, especially those on the Atlantic Seaboard, was fully booked.  Guests were predominantly from Johannesburg, or living overseas with South African family connections, meeting up in the city.  At Whale Cottage Camps Bay our international visitors were Norwegian, British, and Dutch during this period.

While it felt fantastic that Cape Town was so popular, one felt that the city was doing itself a disservice in that tourists had to experience:

*   manic roads, with out of control sedan and minibus taxis doing U-turns everywhere, especially on Camps Bay’s Victoria Road, blocking the traffic in both directions.  There was no action from the City’s traffic department to address this lawlessness, its staff ticketing or just driving up and down Victoria Road rather than taking action.  Accidents involving minibus taxis are a national topic, but even Cape Town felt the traffic chaos effect of the taxi which rolled onto its side on Kloofnek Road, simply by driving too fast, on New Year’s Day!

*   linked to this were idiotic traffic officers appearing to be trainees, ‘controlling’ the traffic at the circle linking Tafelberg Road and Signal Hill Road, the location for many near misses even without traffic chaos.  Staff sent there to control the traffic caused worse problems than had they not been there, and contradicted each other in their traffic instructions on opposite sides of the traffic circle, causing even worse traffic congestion.   Traffic lights to control the flow of traffic are urgently required.

*  manic days were 26 December and 1 January, and whilst the influx of thousands of beachgoers is expected on these days, it is unfair to the many tourists visiting Cape Town to not be able to go to Camps Bay beach, or to enjoy its restaurants, as all street level restaurants along Victoria Road had closed for the day on 1 January, for fear of danger to their patrons, their staff, and their property.   Security was not arranged proactively, and Bay Response had to be summonsed urgently when some beachgoers tried to break down the doors of Pick ‘n Pay in Camps Bay!   The city centre was chaotic on 4 January for the Tweede Nuwe Jaar Minstrel carnival.

*   ‘out of stock‘ became a swearword used by retailers to blame their suppliers when the shop shelves in Cape Town and even in Franschhoek and Hermanus were bare, Manager Chris of Pick ‘n Pay in Camps Bay even blaming the ‘public holidays’!   I heard a restaurant owner begging her wholesale supplier at 18h00 to deliver her order, or else she would have to close her restaurant for dinner, as she had no meats in her fridges!  Closing down corporate South Africa on 15 December, and only re-opening on 6 January or even worse next Monday is one of the most customer-unfriendly and economy-detrimental decisions companies make, especially this Festive Season, given the number of persons in Cape Town.  I also heard that retail staff were partly to blame for empty shelves, being so run off their feet that they made errors in the quantities ordered from their distribution centres!

*   staff was a nightmare this Festive Season, and I have not encountered a hospitality owner not affected by staff stay-aways or ‘ill’ staff phoning in.  Many a business owner was washing, ironing, cooking, and serving over this period.  I had been told that Melissa’s on Kloof Street would be open on 1 January, and went there to have my daily (excellent) ice coffee fix. When I arrived, the deli was closed.  The next day I asked a waitress why they were closed, and she explained (proudly) that they had always been closed on New Year’s Day in the past, so when they were told to work this year, they decided to boycott the work, and not one staff member other than the manager appeared for work!   Whilst one cannot live without one’s trained staff, such an act of business sabotage should be heavily punished.

*   attractions such as Table Mountain were poor at (not) communicating the closure of Tafelberg Road, the electronic board at the Kloofnek Road traffic circle indicating that the Cableway was open but we were not allowed to drive on the road to drop off some tourists at the start of the Platteklip Gorge hiking trail, and were very rudely dealt with by an employee of the Cableway company.

*   absent owners of businesses were evident as well over this period.  I wanted to speak to Melissa van Hoogstraten, owner of Melissa’s, about an incident at their V&A Waterfront branch, but was not surprised that she wasn’t available and on holiday until mid-January!  The owner of one of my favourite restaurants in Franschhoek still has not responded to my sms and detailed e-mail about the service disasters experienced last Saturday, his customer care assistant calling four days later, as she herself had been on leave!   The overall manager of the tasting room/restaurant himself was not at work on Saturday.

The V&A Waterfront expects to have received 24 million visitors for the last year, although one wonders how they measure visitor numbers!   One must congratulate the retail space with its unique setting for its excellent New Year’s Eve concert and fireworks, which received praise all round!

Cape Town Tourism had predicted a 73% occupancy rate for ‘December‘, but this may have been the figure for the Festive Season period.  It certainly did not reflect the occupancy of the whole month, which was far lower at about 50%, even including the busy Festive Season.  The tourism body’s media release spoke about an ‘incline‘ in domestic tourism, continuing the tradition of poorly written communication from its former PR and Communications Manager Skye Grove!

While the Cape Town Tourism media release quoted bolshy City of Cape Town Tourism, Events, and Marketing Mayoral Committee member Councillor Grant Pascoe as saying that ‘the City was moving into an exciting time for tourism with the commencement of Cape Town’s tenure as the World Design Capital on 1 January 2014‘, no effect of this year-long event is evident in bookings to date!  The Councillor added: ‘Urban tourism is the fastest growing segment of the global tourism market, and previous World Design Capital title holders have seen increased visitor numbers as a result of the designation. Africa Travel Week, which takes place in Cape Town in April, presents the City with a perfect opportunity to showcase our design-inspired tourism products to international buyers. The title World Design Capital 2014 forms part of the City’s broader vision to transform Cape Town into a sustainable, productive and opportunity African city, bridging historic divides and building social and economic inclusion’.

Wesgro, Cape Town Tourism, the province’s Tourism department, the City of Cape Town’s Tourism, Events, and Marketing Directorate as well as its traffic department, should meet with the hospitality industry to discuss how the off-putting events during the Festive Season can be addressed, to ensure that they do not occur at the end of the year again and that our city does not lose out of town visitors to Durban!

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

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