Last week Cape Town Tourism hosted a series of four workshops on “A Strategic Plan for Cape Town Tourism and Destination Brand for Cape Town”, invitations having been sent to Cape Town Tourism members. The presentation was wishy-washy, and most certainly did not meet the promise of a “Strategic Plan”. I left the two-hour presentation concerned, and convinced that Cape Town Tourism does not have a clue about Marketing, despite the appointment of an Australian consultant!
What was not previously declared by Cape Town Tourism was that it has appointed Ian Macfarlane of Strategetic Consultants in Sydney, who has worked with the organisation for six weeks already. One wonders why a consultant had to be appointed at all, if Cape Town Tourism is the City of Cape Town appointed marketing agency of ‘Brand Cape Town’, and had Lianne Burton as its consultant Marketing Manager (we have previously questioned her Marketing capability, being a journalist), and why a consultant from Australia has been appointed on a five month contract, and at which cost! Macfarlane was introduced as the ex-Marketing Manager for Tourism New Zealand, which developed the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ advertising campaign more than ten years ago, CEO of the Gold Coast Tourism Bureau in Australia, and Marketing Director of Tourism Australia, which launched the controversial campaign ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’, when tourism dipped after the Olympics. This campaign cost $180 million, and was deemed a failure and withdrawn, being banned in the UK for the use of the word ‘bloody’, and tourism numbers dropped rather than increased, according to Wikipedia! Macfarlane is an ex-Capetonian, who was once MD of Young & Rubicam Cape Town, and left the country about 18 years ago. Surprisingly for a marketing consultant, it was hard to find information about him on Google!
Instead of the presentation by Macfarlane on ‘the strategic plan proposed for Cape Town Tourism’ (the plan should be for ‘Cape Town’ as a brand anyway, and not for the organisation!), as indicated in the invitation Cape Town Tourism members were sent, Macfarlane entertained us with a humorous take on the global tourism scenario. He said that the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) reflects an increase in tourism, but that this is not the case, as the body is counting cross-border Asian travel, something SA Tourism has been blamed of as well, in counting shopping visits from neighbouring South African countries. He spoke about cities winning tourism awards, which is nice for them, but that these do not translate into bookings, as we have seen with the recent TripAdvisor top destination award. He candidly said that he hasn’t a clue about the future, and that no one knows for sure! “Times are tough, and friends are few”, he said! He said that tourism will be successful if many little things are done a little better, rather than doing one big thing. These were hardly the quips we were wanting to hear about a serious topic, being our livelihood! He talked about ‘conspicuous consumption’, having led to over-extended consumers, and that a new post-materialism era had begun. This means that consumers are looking for better value, are cutting back on their expenditure, and have become more conservative in spending their money. ‘Urbanisation tourism’ is a trend too, Macfarlane said, in that tourists like to experience the music, museums, art, and entertainment in cities. Bush holidays are on their way out, he added. He told us that South Africa is not competing that well in a tourism context. He reiterated that the only visuals one sees of South Africa, in SA Tourism marketing campaigns, is the Big 5, which means that these campaigns miss 70 % of the world’s travellers visiting cities. While many expected South Africa to fail during the World Cup, it was a success he said, and left an overriding impression of its great cities in which the soccer matches took place. The marketing of our cities has not been carried through, and now SA Tourism is pushing wildlife tourism again, he said sarcastically! Wildlife is not unique to South Africa, shared with other African countries, thus not giving our country a unique positioning.
Macfarlane shared with us ‘learnings from the rest of the world’:
* Visitors are the most important element of tourism, not the suppliers of tourism services. Visitors are changing all the time.
* There are no ‘silver bullets’ to fix tourism. A portfolio of events is needed, not one big one. He sarcastically wished us good luck in hosting the proposed Grand Prix, saying that it had led to a financial loss for Melbourne, and had not grown tourism to the city.
* If there is no demand, there are no sales, which means that one must get into the mindset of the traveller.
* Communication must be on travellers’ terms, meaning that Cape Town should not be packaged aspirationally, ‘badge value’ no longer being important to tourists.
* There is no correlation between the exchange rate and tourism arrivals, a contentious claim!
* ‘Destinations don’t sell themselves. They need a USP (unique selling proposition), representing the sense of the city, touching different people at different times’.
* The ‘mindful consumer’ is tougher, looking for value, wanting to see and do more at no or little cost. He/she wants to expend energy, cycling being popular, and wanting actively engaging experiences, in contrast to ‘restorative’ ones.
None of the above was a ‘strategic plan’, and was more of a consultant-speak overview of the world!
When Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold introduced the session at the Baxter Theatre, I was concerned when the word ‘Marketing’ was not mentioned at all. Contrary to the invitation to hear the presentation of a ‘strategic plan for Cape Town’, Mrs Helmbold talked about an ‘intervention strategy’ that was to be an open-forum discussion, to which they wanted input. It was not clear what Mrs Helmbold was addressing when she took over from Macfarlane. Much of what she had said at the Brand Cape Town presentation was re-packaged, but with some changes. For example, the upturn Mrs Helmbold had predicted for 2014 just two months ago is no longer on the table, saying that we will never recover to 2008 levels. She urged us to become ‘scouters of change’. Consumers are depressed. She said it would be suicide if we looked for new markets, such as business tourism and the domestic market, and neglected the 80 % of tourists coming from our traditional European (Germany, Netherlands, France and Italy), UK, and USA markets, contradicting what she had said at the ‘Brand Cape Town’ presentations. The marketing message for Cape Town must be changed to be relevant to more people. Most people in the world are in ‘survival mode’, and not thinking of travelling. “We must speak to people in their mindset, so that they put us on their bucket list”! In the past 24 months, 118 tourism businesses closed in Cape Town. No job creation is occurring in tourism, given the reduced tourism growth since 2008. We are over-reliant on the traditional long-haul market, and should attract more locals, but the international tourism spend is far more lucrative. The domestic market is the toughest ‘nut to crack’, as it comes with such established preconceptions about a city like Cape Town, e.g. it rains all the time, it is so expensive, it is so ‘racist’, it is so clicky, and it is so far away! For the domestic market these are realities. This market should be attracted to Cape Town for short city breaks.
Further highlights mentioned by Mrs Helmbold reflecting marketing activities included:
* Cape Town should package tourism around events already hosted rather than creating new events.
* airfares to the country are high, and discussions are taking place to address this. Increased demand is needed for airfares to drop.
* Cape Town has some of the world’s best 5-star hotels, but also good value for money B&B’s and guest houses
* the knowledge for Cape Town must increase, and change. Here Mrs Helmbold went down the ‘Brand Cape Town’ workshop presentation route, justifying a broader positioning for the city in being a centre of academia, business and creativity.
The only element of a ‘Strategic Plan’ I picked up was its Vision: “to make Cape Town a ‘must visit’ city”! This means that visitors must be encouraged to come now and spend more. Very briefly, some marketing activities were mentioned, too specific to be a ‘Strategic Plan’, including:
* promotions of the city, with showcases on Discovery (interestingly, the Tourism New Zealand campaign also focused strongly on the Discovery channel) and National Geographic channels, a joint project with the tourism offices of Durban and Johannesburg, as well as of SA Tourism. Within these programs, city-specific ads and promotional programs will be placed.
* packaging food and wine events under one umbrella, to establish Cape Town as the Gourmet Capital of Africa (the city cannot lay claim to this, as this accolade belongs to Stellenbosch)
* tourists must go beyond the usual city tourist attractions, and should be involved in the history of the city, in experiencing the story of freedom in a creative way, and incorporating the Fan Walk.
* proactive PR
* do more direct marketing with the consumer via the Cape Town Tourism website, with real-time bookability
* ‘community-building’ on-line via social media
* appointment of an ad agency this week, to create a brand campaign, to be launched at the Cape Town Tourism AGM om 17 October.
* local content about Cape Town is to be created and distributed via the Cape Town Film Commission
* reviewing and probably reducing the number and location of the Cape Town visitor centres, eighteen being too many.
* A Brand Ambassador campaign, using Cape Town residents as communication icons, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Olympic swimmer Natalie du Toit, and SABC3 Expresso Show and Kfm presenter Liezl van der Westhuizen. The day after the presentation, the Cape Argus headline screamed “Tutu: tax wealthy whites”, hardly the brand ambassador needed for Cape Town!
* inviting visitors to Cape Town to attend blog club meetings
* targeting the ‘young black market’
‘Cape Town’ is a brand that is 361 years old, and is a ‘city of villages’. It still has a very generic image, and stands for a ‘cloud of things’. The cloud must give the tourist enough reason to come to Cape Town, concluded Mrs Helmbold.
It was clear to me that there is no exact ‘strategic plan’, let alone a Marketing Plan for Cape Town, which is what we were expecting! It was a collection of clichés! A discussion arose around my question about the proposed positioning of ‘Inspiration’, which Mrs Helmbold harps on about for Cape Town, despite it already having been used for Edinburgh and Korea, and even by Pick ‘n Pay! Mrs Helmbold’s response, saying that it is hard to find something unique to say for Cape Town, and that Cape Town would be packaged ‘as a basket of unique propositions’, despite the appointment of an international consultant, made me realise that she has no understanding of Marketing! Scary, when one considers that the City of Cape Town has entrusted R30 million of our ratepayers’ monies to Cape Town Tourism to market our city in the next twelve months, with a new Marketing Manager, coming from an advertising agency, and who is only starting at Cape Town Tourism in September! Oddly, no summary of the ‘strategic plan’ has been sent to Cape Town Tourism members who could not attend the presentations, nor to its media list.
The report about the ‘strategic plan’ by the Cape Argus, with a headline “Cape Town to launch global drive for tourism”, appeared exaggerated relative to the information we heard in the presentation. The report states that the plan presented by the tourism body was a response to a report by the newspaper about the city’s tourism industry being in crisis, but we challenge this, in that work on the plan commenced seven months ago, coming from the ‘Brand Cape Town’ workshops!
POSTSCRIPT 15/8: A lengthy report about the ‘Strategic Plan’ was sent to Cape Town Tourism members after our blogpost was published this morning!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage