Cape Town Tourism Marketing presentation: nothing brand new, collection of clichés!


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  This campaign cost $180 million, and was deemed a failure and withdrawn, being banned in the UK for the use of the word ‘bloody’, and tourism numbers dropped rather than increased, according to Wikipedia!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: Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Please follow and like us:
Tweet 27k

WhaleTales Blog


We don’t spam!

Read our privacy policy for more info.

16 replies on “Cape Town Tourism Marketing presentation: nothing brand new, collection of clichés!”

  1. Good morning Chris

    I saw this article through a twitter link and am rather lost for words reading it. Were we at the same session? Baxter Theatre on the set of Cracks in the City?

    In an age and time where tourism is suffering badly in our city, Cape Town Tourism is the only organisation to be bold enough to arrange a roadshow, to engage the industry, to put their money where their mouths are.

    Do you know how little money is R30mil? It is about a tenth of SA tourism’s marketing budget. And yes – then CTT also have to operate all those visitor centres with that little money.

    CTT is not perfect and if it was up to me I would want many more bookings from them but I (and everybody I spoke to afterwards) have full faith in Mariette and her team to pull this off.

    A lot of things makes sense to me after the session – it is up to CTT to create awareness. And I believe they are doing this. It is up to us, the industry, to take ownership and find solutions together.

    You mentioned earlier that the ‘tourism fairies’ are in town and thank them for your bookings.

    Maybe it is time that you sta giving kudos to a very hard-working and dynamic team of our tousim marketers and stop being so extremely negative about everything they do.

    Sincerely, Liz

  2. I was at the session and felt positive with a renewed sense of hope after leaving the presentation.

    Ian didn’t try to offer solutions in his presentation, he painted the international reality. Maybe you missed this?

    I am wondering why you are so negative about Cape Town Tourism and everything they do.

    I give a huge thumbs up to them! Looking forward to seeing the results of their hard work.

  3. I just returned from a trip in Europe and saw many write-ups on Cape Town in travel magazines. This is the way to go – continued messaging about our city.

    Well done to Cape Town Tourism for the international publicity and also the planned programmes National Geographic and Discovery. The CNN programmes on Cape Town that is showing at the moment. Was pitched perfectly

    Whoever is behind Cape Town Tourism’s PR should be praised.

  4. Dear Chris

    Wow, what a lot of discernment you provided with this blog post. I wasn’t at the sessions as some of the writers above but knowing your vociferous analysis and considering mind believe that Cape Town Tourism made another cock-up. Just as we have come to expect of them.

    I think Cape Town Tourism should have appointed you as marketing manager. You are the genuine marketing pro and they could do with your amazing insight. As always I am loving your blog posts about tourism and the hospitality industry and believe that you would have done a much better job at marketing our city, no indeed our country. Is SA Tourism not looking for a new CEO?

    Please Chris, help us from our hospitality wretchedness and accept the marketing job for Cape Town Tourism – I know that they secretly want you.. no matter what they say.

    Much love, Maria

  5. Dear Lize, Jeremy and Jason

    Thank you for your comments. Let me clarify what my issues are with what I experienced at the presentation, which may have got lost in my reporting of the voluminous content of the presentation:

    * I attended the ‘Strategic Plan for Cape Town Tourism’, as per the invitation, but it is brand ‘Cape Town’ that needs a strategic plan, not that of its custodian marketing body. This shows flawed marketing thinking at the outset.

    * I was surprised to see the previously unannounced (he has been working with Cape Town Tourism for 6 weeks already) Australian strategic consultant, Ian Macfarlane, as co-presenter, who has the credentials of working with Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Australia. The latter campaign was a dismal failure, and had to be withdrawn. Tourism numbers dropped after this Aus$180 million campaign! Some of Macfarlane’s recommendations are those used by Tourism New Zealand more than ten years ago! I am proud of my city and country, and I am sure that a Capetonian, if not South African marketing consultant, could have done the job, probably for far less payment. I would love more of the R30 million to be spent on tourism marketing, and not on a consultant.

    * Why is the City of Cape Town giving R30 million of our rates and taxes to Cape Town Tourism when it admits, through the 5-month contract with Macfarlane, that it is not capable of handling the marketing of Cape Town, and has to ‘import’ a consultant with no particularly special credentials? The previous Marketing Manager of Cape Town was a journalist, and currently the position is not filled. The new incumbent is from an advertising agency, again not making her a marketing expert.

    * The bits of the ‘plan’ that Cape Town Tourism presented was written months ago, when its CEO started doing ‘Brand Cape Town’ presentations. We were asked to give input to it, but it seemed cast in stone then already, and it appeared that rubber-stamping is what was sought. Respected local advertising man and strategist Mel Miller has written that the proposed positioning of Cape Town as an ‘Inspirational city’, designed to draw in scores of leisure and business tourists, students, and creative persons, has already been used for Edinburgh, Korea and even by Pick ‘n Pay. Naively, Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold told us that there is nothing else to say about Cape Town to differentiate it from its competitors! In no way does it address the crisis.

    * Cape Town has received numerous accolades as top travel destination, yet the tourists are not coming to Cape Town. A global campaign as proposed will make little difference!

    * The weak and vague ‘strategic plan’ that was presented to the industry makes me concerned about the City of Cape Town’s wisdom in appointing Cape Town Tourism to do its tourism marketing, when it is clear that the tourism body knows very little about marketing, even with its new tourism marketing consultant!

    Jason: the Discovery and National Geographic channel programmes have not yet been approved, Macfarlane told me after the presentation. The CNN programmes were not initiated by Cape Town Tourism.

    Liz: The ‘tourism faities’ did not come from Cape Town Tourism – they were our hard work in getting past guests to return to Cape Town, and to our guest houses. Had we been fully booked due to the work of Cape Town, all of Cape Town would have been full in the past few days – this is not the case. Other commenters say one should not expect a body like Cape Town Tourism to create bookings for a guest house, but then it cannot take credit when we do receive them!

    Liz, I noted your critical Tweet about Vida e Caffe this morning – why don’t you give their hard-working staff credit for what they do??!!


  6. Dear Maria

    Nice to hear from you again. Your comment came in while I was writing the rather lengthy reply to the previous commenters, and it made me laugh. You are a breath of fresh air!


  7. Hello Chris

    I’ve read the blogpost, and still disagree with your comment on Twitter that our incomes are affected by Cape Town Tourism’s alleged ‘bad job’. My response on Twitter that it would be naive to depend solely on Cape Town Tourism for sales and marketing still stands, and I’m confused by your next (contradictory) response that you don’t depend on them for marketing, yet your original statement was the exact opposite: that our incomes are affected. How so, if you don’t depend on them for marketing? Yes, we may be paying for this as ratepayers, but there is more to Cape Town Tourism than simply marketing! They have been nothing short of wonderful with our company in terms of help, advice and support – I wonder if other Tourism bodies around the world are so supportive of even their smallest members? (In fact, we’re not even a member yet, and we already receive royal treatment – I can’t wait until we’re members!)

    We are a small operator based in Cape Town and we do our own extensive marketing locally and internationally, and have experienced nothing but exceptional growth for the last two years. We have only just applied for membership with Cape Town Tourism (proudly so). BUT… if we sat back and let Cape Town Tourism (or any other body) be responsible for our incomes, I think we’d be doomed.

    Trust me, the decline in numbers of tourists flocking to our shores is not as a result of Cape Town Tourism’s marketing – it is a global problem.

    I also agree with Liz that “A lot of things make sense to me after the session – it is up to CTT to create awareness. And I believe they are doing this. It is up to us, the industry, to take ownership and find solutions together.”

    Further, I agree with Jeremy “I am wondering why you are so negative about Cape Town Tourism and everything they do.
    I give a huge thumbs up to them! Looking forward to seeing the results of their hard work.” and Jason “Well done to Cape Town Tourism for the international publicity…
    Whoever is behind Cape Town Tourism’s PR should be praised.”

    Lastly, if you feel that CT Tourism isn’t doing a good enough job at marketing – what would you suggest as an alternative? I’m sure you’ll agree that criticism is not constructive when its not coupled with advice / suggestions on a better way forward. What solutions would you propose, what strategy would you implement, and who would you have hired?

    I have no suggestions or advice (and no criticism). I have faith in CTT, and I’ll leave them to it, while I stick to what I do well.

  8. As a hardened battle scarred marketing veteran, I am with you all the way Chris. It all sounds like typical airy fairy rubbish, that will achieve nothing. A waste of money. THere is nothing that sounds remotely creative or practical in terms of strategic planning. So it goes…….

  9. Thank you for your support Butch.

    Interestingly for you and I, as market researchers (ex in my case), is that Ian Macfarlane once worked at Nielsen, and stated that he has a connection to TNS. He was not very complimentary to our discipline in the presentation though!


  10. Dear Cape Town Group (apologies, you did not provide your name).

    Little about Cape Town Tourism surprises me anymore. I love how they look after non-members better than the neglect they show their long-existing customers (about 20 years in our case!). I also heard how they invited non-members to share their stand at Indaba in Durban earlier this year!

    You must have misinterpreted my Tweets this morning. I was referring to ‘we’ as the tourism industry in general. We certainly would not rely on Cape Town Tourism for bookings (our business would be long dead if that were the case), but feel that it is ‘the right thing to do’ to be a member of our local tourism bureau.

    I am more than happy to sit in a constructive brainstorm with Cape Town Tourism. I am not happy to be asked for input as a member, which is then discarded, as they know all the answers anyway, or so it seems!


  11. Hello Chris

    I disagree with much of this blogpost of yours, and I agree wholeheartedly with Liz, Jeremy, Jason and “Cape Town Group”. The latter posed a few questions to you, which you neatly sidestepped in your answer. I’m refering to the second from last paragraph in their post…?


  12. Thank you for your comment Jeremy 2.

    I did answer Cape Town Group, by offering to sit in a discussion with Cape Town Tourism. I cannot write an alternative if I cannot obtain a copy of the Strategic Plan from Cape Town Tourism – I did ask, and was referred to the presentation, which I attended, and took copious notes of. But we have not seen the actual Strategy, as members of Cape Town Tourism.


  13. Hi Chris

    Once again – I would love to know how you would market this city and province. With your B.Comm (Hons) and MBA you must have very good insight.

    What I also would like to know – as I sat behind you in the Baxter Theatre. Why did you applaud with the audience after Mariette’s presenation. Why did you clap when it was so bad and when Mrs Helmbold knows so little of marketing.
    I did not see you challenge any of their thoughts in the meeting – yes you asked the question about inspiration but you did not mention anything else.

    regards, Kurt

  14. Dear Kurt

    You are repeating the (boring) questions of Marco and Cape Town Group. Please read my replies to them.

    I did not clap at the end of the presentation, and you did not sit behind me. You would not have been able to see if I did clap anyway!

    I did express my concerns about Mrs Helmbold’s poor Marketing understanding to Ian Macfarlane as we walked to the car park together, and his diplomatic reply was that she gets on well with the powers that be (i.e. the moneybags?)!!


  15. You’re dancing around the subject and direct questions asked by your readers means to me that you do not have an answer. Judging by your responses your readers can only assume that you have no idea about how to change a failing visitor demand in Cape Town and the Western Cape.

    The trouble with people who are very vocal about everybody else’s mistakes is that they seldom know the answers themselves. I want to put it out there that, despite quoting your business degrees, you have no particular solution for tourism marketing.

    By fervently refusing to tell us what you would do to change the tourism situation in Cape Town (independent from CTRU and CTT) and by calling our questions for you to do so as ‘boring’ you are more transparent than you realise – you can indeed not offer a solution.

  16. Dear Kurt Ackerman

    Your attempts to ridicule me on other internet platforms are known to me. I am not prepared to entertain any of that on my blog.

    You can put whatever spin you want to on this – I will not offer any Marketing suggestions until I receive the ‘Strategic Plan’. Wouldn’t it be more fruitful if you spent your time helping Cape Town Tourism in devising the strategy and marketing plan, being a tourism consultant? Why did they not ask you to write the strategy?

    You are welcome to not read my blog, if you do not like what you read!


Comments are closed.