When one reads a headline “Destination South Africa is doing well” in the Cape Times last week, one cannot help but wonder how two senior tourism personalities can attempt to tell tourism players specifically, as well as Capetonians in general, that all is well, when it is generally known that it is not, most tourism players having experienced the worst ever winter. The summer season ahead looks gloomy, with a substantial absence of UK tourists.
Calvyn Gilfellan is the CEO of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, whose organisation is going into a strong PR offensive, issuing media releases almost daily, a welcome change in that this tourism body, marketing both Cape Town and the Western Cape, is now telling the tourism industry what it is doing. Cape Town Routes Unlimited appears to have identified an opportunity to out-PR Cape Town Tourism, which now spends most of its communication energy on Twitter, and rarely issues media releases. Dr ‘Nicklaus’ (actually Nikolaus) Eberl is MD of Brandovation, a branding and marketing consultant who was particularly visible during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, in guiding South Africa’s branding during this world event, having been a consultant to the 2006 World Cup in Germany too. It is interesting that Gilfellan and Dr Eberl have got together to write a lengthy tome on how well we are doing in tourism, denying that there is a tourism crisis, but then justifying why there is a ‘current cyclical slump’!
The authors of the article deny that the Western Cape tourism is in ‘crisis’, but acknowledge that ‘our industry is currently under severe strain’! As we have written before, we ask what’s in a name. One cannot help but think that both Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited do not want to be held responsible for a tourism industry that appears to be suffering more than in any other part of South Africa. Interesting is that the authors do not mention how poorly the Garden Route is doing, for example, which saw the auction of three hotels in Mossel Bay last week, and a letter addressed to a local newspaper confirmed the desperate conditions in this region of the Western Cape. Having a guest house in Plettenberg Bay, which has been temporarily closed for business since January due to a lack of business, we can confirm how serious the tourism crisis is in this once-popular region of the Western Cape.
Correctly the authors state that due to global changes, tourism marketing and operations require change. But stating that the Japan earthquake, the northern Africa revolution, the terror in Norway, the London riots, and the ‘turbulence in our own society’ (not explained) influence tourism to our region is not understandable. The ‘enduring American and European debt crises’ must be the most important factor to blame, coupled with the high cost of airfares, airport taxes and the strong Rand. ‘Blaming games’ (what could they be referring to?) are ‘counter-productive’ , they write, yet the authors themselves try to justify why tourism in the Cape is doing so poorly, citing low occupancy, hotel closures, accommodation oversupply, increased operating costs, and travel being a luxury. Seasonality is blamed as well, and has been the prime complaint of tourism players over the years. Promises are made year after year by both Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited that this Cape-specific problem will be addressed with events and marketing campaigns during winter months. Instead of getting better, seasonality has become even more pronounced, and reached its peak, in our experience, during the past winter, meaning that tourism players have had to dip into their scarce savings generated in summer, to stay alive financially.
Quoting the Statistics South Africa first quarter 2011 tourism arrival increase of 7,5%, they write that ‘destination South Africa is doing well’! While the past summer season was not as good as experienced in previous years, the real impact of the tourism crisis only hit the industry in May. The industry rejects the arrival statistics anyway, in counting cross-border shopping visits from residents of our neighbouring countries. Added to this, our industry is ‘doing well’, they write, as seven new airlines are to fly to Cape Town, the BRICS countries offer big tourism potential (and percentage increases in arrivals are quoted, off low bases), the World Cup offered excellent exposure for the Western Cape (we would argue that it was for Cape Town at best), and interest in information about our region is good in Brazil and Argentina.
To help tourism businesses with ideas to ‘thrust us into the next decade’, the authors suggest the following:
* marketing techniques must change, to adapt to the changed world around us
* tourism development and promotion must be ‘responsible, environmentally conscious’
* the industry must ‘take full ownership’ of the establishment of the Western Cape Economic Development Agency, led by our provincial Tourism Minister Alan Winde, of which much has been talked about but little concrete information has been seen.
* ‘we need to be really clever, and creative, with our pricing strategies, adding extra value wherever possible’. There can be few tourism businesses which have not already slashed their rates, many to pre-2007 levels, for the forthcoming summer season.
* Social Media must be more widely adopted by the tourism industry (ironically Cape Town Routes Unlimited has not done so yet!).
The authors’ over-optimism about the future of our tourism industry is not convincing. They write:“Tourism has proven to be one of the most fickle, but also most resilient sectors of our economy and will overcome the current cyclical slump. We therefore remain optimistic that together we shall overcome this and future hurdles in our quest to create a better tomorrow for all our people”. Our response to this is as follows:
* Stop defending the existence of a ‘tourism crisis’, and use the time to get on with marketing Cape Town and the Western Cape. Business has NEVER been so poor!
* Stop duplicating marketing Cape Town by Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited. This is a costly overlap, and little joint marketing appears visible to the industry. Ironic is that Cape Town Tourism is working with SA Tourism, Gauteng Tourism and the Durban tourism authority, yet the two Cape Town-based tourism agencies are not appearing to co-operate!
* Continue informing our industry about what you are doing for us, but please do not patronise us with information that is different to what we experience at grass-roots level. Use us for information (accommodation bookings are a good indicator for the coming tourism season), so that your predictions can be more accurate and realistic. We can share with you, for example, that there is a minimal number of UK tourist bookings for the coming summer, a massive loss for our industry, and worthy of ‘crisis’ status in itself, having been our major source of business over the past years. We can also share that we are seeing a most welcome increase in bookings from Germany, a country still relatively buoyant in economic and travel terms, despite being increasingly under pressure to support the economy of Europe and the Euro. But the German tourism gain will not make up for the UK tourist loss.
* Lobby for more accurate arrival statistics
* Lobby SAA and ACSA for more reasonable airfares and airport taxes, respectively, especially as there are ACSA representatives on the Cape Town Routes Unlimited and Cape Town Tourism Boards.
* Cape Town is receiving marketing support from Cape Town Tourism. The rest of the Western Cape is suffering, and needs urgent marketing by Cape Town Routes Unlimited.
* Employment is not mentioned in the article at all. Surely the benefit of a booming tourism industry is to maintain, and ideally to grow, employment of our local population. Help us with directing young interns to our industry, and help us to educate staff about the important role that they play in tourism.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage