Cape Town swings with International Jazz Festival, but hits a few false notes!


Surprisingly few Capetonians attended the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this past weekend, and one gets the feeling that the organisers tend to market the event to non-Capetonians, which may be a very good thing for tourism.  It is disappointing that the Jazz Festival is not expanded, both in terms of the size of the venues, as well as the number of days over which it is hosted, the event of the past weekend clearly not being long enough, the Weekend Argus reporting that the tickets had sold out two months prior to the event.

It is estimated that 34000 jazz fans attended the Festival, some being from overseas, including other parts of Africa, and many from other parts of South Africa, judging by the large number of non-Cape Town number-plated cars driving in the city centre.  Traffic was hectic near the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Friday afternoon, long before the start of the performances, and organisers were quoted as saying that the Centre’s capacity, limited at 17000, would necessitate a large venue in future. Festival Operations Manager Billy Domingo said that they could have printed a million more tickets, and would have sold them all!  One wonders why the organisers do not stretch the Festival over more days, to benefit the hospitality industry, its effect being low key for accommodation establishments in Camps Bay, for example. Guests from Germany staying at Whale Cottage Camps Bay had read about the Jazz Festival in their guide book, and were most disappointed that they were unable to book tickets on arrival in Cape Town.

Last year the Cape Town International Jazz Festival generated just short of R500 million for the Western Cape economy, and created 2700 jobs.  Attendance has more than doubled over the 13 year history of the Jazz Festival.

It is embarrassing to read the media statements by Michael Bagraim, President of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce, who described March as a ‘second Christmas for Cape Town, and I believe it is getting bigger year on year’.  If we compare our Whale Cottage Camps Bay occupancy for February (89%) and March (74%), it is clear that Mr Bagraim’s descriptor should apply to February and not March.  The March occupancy is on a par with that of March 2010, well up on the poor 60% last year, but still far below the 2007 – 2009 period of 94% plus.  The Cape Town Carnival had a minimal hospitality benefit, and the Argus Cycle Tour had fewer out-of-town participants, with few Camps Bay guest houses fully booked for that weekend. Only one of our Whale Cottage Camps Bay rooms was taken by guests attending the International Jazz Festival.  Mr Bagraim seems to be poorly briefed for media statements, most being irresponsible, and embarrassing for our tourism industry in hitting such false notes!

In hosting ‘Black Diamond’ guests from Johannesburg for the International Jazz Festival, who had not pre-booked but had called from the airport for a room, the cultural differences across two spectrums of South Africa were evident.  At breakfast, for example, which we allowed them to eat as late as at midday, they expressed their disappointment that we serve a standard Continental and English breakfast. They were expecting gravy and baked beans with their eggs.  They shared the room with a third visitor, not booked, and were surprised that they had to pay for him too. SA Tourism may have to embark on an educational campaign, to explain to accommodation establishments the breakfast and other expectations of the ‘New Horizon’s Families’, as they call this market segment, while accommodation establishment do’s and don’ts should be communicated to prospective domestic tourists too.

What was noticeable is how many events were scheduled for this past weekend, including the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the Toffie Pop Festival, rugby matches, Franschhoek Summer Wines, and a massive Kfm KDay concert at Val de Vie. One wonders why all these events were hosted on the same weekend, instead of being stretched out over the whole month of March.

Given that the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is based in Cape Town, one would like to encourage the organisers to market the festival to locals too, and for them to keep an allocation of tickets for tourists who happen to be in the city at the time of the Festival, to allow them to experience this top event. We would love to see the Cape Town International Jazz Festival to run over a long weekend in future, such as the one coming up at the end of April.

POSTSCRIPT 2/4: The Times asked today if headline act Lauren Hill, who was a last minute stand in for Jill Scott, could be ‘over the hill?’, receiving negative publicity, half the audience at her Klippies concert walking out due to poor sound and ‘erratic vocals’.  ESP Afrika Jazz Festival Organiser Rashid Lombard blamed Hill’s management for wanting to manage the sound themselves.

POSTSCRIPT 8/4: The Times reported that the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is not expected ‘to break even financially’, despite its record attendance. The cost of hosting the Festival is R35 million, with R7 million coming from the Department of Arts and Culture.  The newspaper also quotes Rashid Lombard as saying that the planned expansion of the Cape Town International Convention Centre will double the size of the Festival, and to reach 470000 by 2018, a commendable if not daunting target!  Lombard hopes to see the Jazz Festival can be structured like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, ‘for which all hotels, restaurants and the host city, and all structures of government, get together and contribute the event’s success’.

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

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2 replies on “Cape Town swings with International Jazz Festival, but hits a few false notes!”

  1. HI Chris,

    can you elaborate how your ‘black diamond’ experience stands in context with the rest of your story? Such an informative piece, but I am not sure how that comes into play.
    Are there other examples to support your theory on the cultural differences of South African in regards to the hospitality industry? I think in your case they may just been cheeky not to tell you about the third person or just didn’t think they would have to pay if there was no extra bed provided. Isn’t an English breakfast supposed to include beans by definition? I would have been disappointed too…


  2. Thanks for your question Annika.

    A large number of the Jazz Festival attendees were ‘Black Diamonds’ from Johannesburg, judging by Tweets from locals observing their presence in local eateries, and from the out-of-town numberplates.

    There is far more I could have written about the ‘cultural gap’ and how the ‘racism’ flag gets raised so quickly. I chose to keep it to the Breakfast expectation and accommodation charge. I can find no reference to baked beans nor gravy being part of an English Breakfast. I have never seen this on a South African breakfast menu. My point was that our tourism bureaus teach us about cultural differences between ourselves and guests from other countries (e.g. Chinese tourists), but our industry seems to have little understanding of the eating preferences of our South African ‘Black Diamond’ tourists.

    You may not know that guest houses/B&Bs charge per person and not per room.


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