I was recently told that Wesgro had finally appointed a Marketing head after looking since April 2012. I called Judy Lain, its new Chief Marketing Officer, and was able to set up an appointment to meet her after her trip to South America. We agreed to meet last Friday at Café Paradiso, on Judy’s recommendation.
All I knew about Judy was that she was better known as Judy During, and had run an advertising agency called 34 Woman, focusing on generating information about women’s purchasing behaviour, being responsible for not only FMCG but also big ticket brand decisions in their households. Prior to that she worked at Inviseo Media, at Bester Burke Underground, and at draftfcb, therefore having a practical marketing and advertising background. Our telephonic interaction in setting up the meeting was very different to the bureaucracy I experienced when I arranged to meet with Wesgro CEO Nils Flaatten. Judy answered the phone herself, sounded friendly and bubbly, and decided that we should meet over lunch.
We had forgotten to describe one another over the phone, but we both instinctively knew who the other person was, and spontaneously hugged each other on meeting. Judy has an infectious personality and laugh, and it felt as if we have known each other for ages.
Judy shared that she had accepted the Wesgro job, leaving the advertising world, because she wanted to make a complete change, having got married about a year ago, and wanting to make a difference. I asked Judy how she was coping in an organisation that I felt to be stiff and very male orientated when I visited it twice last year, and even though her reply was very diplomatic, she said that she is slowly working on creating changes internally, her team being the marketing staff which were at Wesgro already as well as those from the former Cape Town Routes Unlimited, most of the latter having left when Cape Town Routes Unlimited was incorporated into Wesgro a year ago. Cape Town Routes Unlimited was created in 2004 via the Tourism Act of that year, to amalgamate the marketing of every town and region in the Western Cape, including Cape Town, but the poor running of the company led the Western Cape Minister of Tourism Alan Winde to have it closed down and moved into Wesgro, where he has great faith in its CEO Nils.
We talked about the role of Wesgro in Tourism Marketing, and the marketing of Cape Town and the Western Cape, the pay-off line which was used by Cape Town Routes Unlimited, and which causes branding confusion and duplicate marketing of Cape Town by both Cape Town Tourism and Wesgro. Given that former CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold and former PR and Communications Manger Skye Grove left Cape Town Tourism five weeks ago, and that the tourism body’s Marketing Manager Velma Corcoran is on maternity leave, Wesgro would need to lead in marketing both Cape Town and the Western Cape. Surprisingly, after a year at the helm of the Marketing department in the City of Cape Town’s Tourism, Events, and Marketing Directorate, Rory Viljoen has not demonstrated the Directorate’s role of Destination Marketing for Cape Town, which was removed from Cape Town Tourism late last year and taken over by the Directorate.
This is a most worrying state of affairs, given that the tourism industry is on the brink of a new tourism season, yet there is barely a sign of tourism bookings for Cape Town as well as the Western Cape towns for the summer season to come, other than for the Festive Season. Judy explained that in the first three months she has managed to do the following, whilst getting to know the tourism industry and her colleagues and the organisation:
* For Tourism Month they have used the national theme of ‘Water’ more specifically as ‘Water connects us’, and today she is taking Minister Winde to Simonstown to go cow-shark diving. She explained that there are about 40 such gentle non-threatening sharks in the area. They are linking a consumer competition to Tourism Month too, offering a weekend away in Laaiplek, and a visit to the West Coast Fossil Park, to showcase the area. This has been supported by radio interviews.
* Judy has just returned from a trip to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, to represent our region at the SAA Explore Road Show. While she was there she discovered that younger and middle class South Americans are not yet very proficient in English, so the marketing collateral was in Portuguese and Spanish, as they prefer to travel on a self-drive basis. Higher income South Americans book via tour operators. Interesting was her finding that South American parents want their children to learn English, there being a minimal number of classes in the language at schools, and therefore they are sending their children to Canadian language schools, as that country went on a marketing offensive 20 years ago, as well as to Miami. Now Judy would like to encourage them to come to Cape Town to learn English, and to return as brand ambassadors for our province. She will encourage product and service owners to market to the students via the language schools. I suggested to Judy that she connect with Tony Leon, former SA Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
* On her South American trip Judy also met media and tour operators, who are very eager to get to know more about our city and province, and she will be commencing an educational program. While Cape Town as a city name is well known to the South Americans, few of them knew where South Africa is!
* Judy will be setting up an information data bank of tourism products, services and attractions, via a Western Cape Blog, to help with search engine optimisation, and will appoint a content generator.
* She has tapped into the Wesgro IQ data base, and discovered that the Western Cape has the potential to create niche tourism products such as Avitourism, focusing on bird watching, our region offering the safest Pelagic bird watching in the world, she discovered. She will focus on birds, flowers, and even whales in attracting more visitors to our area in winter, Seasonality in the winter months being a crisis problem for the local tourism industry.
* Wesgro will participate in World Design Capital 2014, and she will meet with the organisers, having worked on a potential ‘Art, Craft, and Draught‘ promotion, to highlight not only our region’s design strengths, but also its growing craft beer production.
* Events are vital, and she wants to attract more events for the winter months, which is what the industry is crying out for, to counter Seasonality. She will prepare an Events calendar.
* Judy’s team will have to start from scratch in setting up a data base of tourism product and service owners in the province, and having to get their permission to send them regular information. I shared that it is vital that the province’s tourism players know what Wesgro is doing in Marketing Cape Town and the Western Cape.
Ultimately Judy wants to ‘fill up the Western Cape’ as much as she can, by getting Western Cape residents to visit other towns and villages in our province, and to attract other South Africans to the province. This is the fighting talk that will give the tourism industry confidence in Wesgro, which to date has only been synonymous with trade and investment. Judy impressed with her openness, freshness, and connectedness, and I left our lunch with confidence, and this was reinforced later in the day when Nils called to thank me for spending time with Judy, a reflection of what Judy has already achieved inside the organisation!
POSTSCRIPT 9/9: Judy sent a photograph of the cow-shark diving she and Minister Winde did today, to attract attention to this little-known activity in Simonstown specifically, and to Tourism Month’s ‘Water Connects us’ theme generally.
Wesgro, Waldorf Arcade, 80 St George’s Mall, Cape Town. Tel (021) 487-8600. www.wesgro.co.za Twitter: @Wesgro @JudyLain
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage