*. Despite the Rand exchange rate being at its best ever for international visitors, no surge in tourism bookings is being seen. The after-effect of last year’s Ebola crisis, and the new visa regulations, have affected tourism numbers from China, India, and Brazil in particular. Hotelier Arthur Gillis said that the golden opportunity of the exchange rate was negated by the visa regulations, and said that we ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’.
About ten days ago Orphanage Cocktail Emporium co-owner Katie Friedman introduced me to new eateries Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar and Palma in the next street block on Bree Street, being landlord to both. My experience of Palma on that evening differed vastly from that of our dinner last night.
I had invited my friend Whitney to join me, and we chose an outside table, given how hot it still was when we arrived. It was lighter than on my previous visit, and the ‘less is more’ interior design impressed. General Manager Roberto Carluzzo did not seem to recognise me, or to react to the Facebook posts and the blogpost I had written about the 26 eateries on Bree Street subsequent to my first visit. The doorman did however welcome me back, a nice touch. Mama Palma Carluzzo was in the bar, putting on finishing touches to leaving, and I was disappointed, as we had been told that she is the chef, in charge of Continue reading →
Every year Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, both bodies tasked to market Cape Town, tell the tourism industry that Seasonality is a problem unique to the Western Cape, and that they have planned events for the quieter months and scheduled more advertising, to address the problem which swallows up in the winter months the income generated in the summer months.
To evaluate Seasonality for our Whale Cottages, we went back to our Occupancy information as far back as 2007, and found interesting trends:
* Occupancy for Whale Cottage Camps Bay was at 72 % on average in 2007, 70 % in 2008, and dropped every year, to 63 % in 2009, 56% in 2010 and 41% this year to date.
* During the period May – August, the Cape winter season, Whale Cottage Camps Bay Occupancy declined year on year, from 54 % in 2007, to 45% in 2009 and 2010, to 28% this year, an almost 50 % decline in Occupancy between 2007 and 2011! Despite an average Occupancy of 70 % over the World Cup, from 11 June – 11 July last year, the World Cup had no effect on 2010 Winter Occupancy, as the good June and July performance was negated by a sharp decline in Occupancy before (19 % in May, being the lowest Occupancy ever in the five year period) and after (36% in August last year, vastly down compared to previous years) the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
* Every individual month has seen a decline in Occupancy for Whale Cottage Camps Bay over the past five years, February 2011 showing the least decline in Occupancy (88% in 2011, our best month by far this year, compared to 97% in 2007), and September 2011 showing the most drastic Occupancy decline (28% in 2011, compared to 60 % in 2007).
* These trends apply to Whale Cottage Hermanus and Whale Cottage Franschhoek too, both towns having seen Occupancy in 2007 (on average around 50%) halve this year for the period January – September.
* Hermanus recovers from Seasonality more quickly in winter, due to the arrival of the Southern Right whales from May. However, in the last two winters the average Occupancy was around 10% (despite the World Cup, which made no impact on business to this town), compared to 40 % on average in 2007).
* Franschhoek shows a similar Seasonality decline, but is at a far lower level in winter, dropping by half from 16 % in 2007, to 7% this winter. The World Cup made no impact on business. The village has seen a decline in the number and size of weddings, and despite an increased activity in hosting events, which fill up the guest houses for the two days of the event, the remaining 28 days remain close to empty! The trend is for a vastly reduced Occupancy, from 41 % on average in 2007, to 13% on average this year, for the period January – September. September has been the month with the most drastic decline in Occupancy in the past five years, but Occupancy declined consistently year on year in each of the months.
* The Occupancy trends reflect the changed tourism pattern, with more international tourists staying in Cape Town, and not travelling to inland towns to stay over, doing a day trip to Hermanus and Franschhoek at best. Cape Town Routes Unlimited is responsible for marketing the Western Cape, and it appears to have failed in its work, if our figures are taken as a benchmark. It shocked me to hear that Cape Town Routes Unlimited has lost both its Marketing Executives David Frandsen and Itumeleng Pooe, and that all marketing is now handled by the CEO Calvyn Gilfellan. Cape Town Tourism’s Marketing Manager Velma Corcoran has only been in the job for a month, and has not made her mark in any way. She has no tourism marketing experience specifically, and no marketing experience generally.
Not having a firm statistic as to the contribution of UK tourists to our Whale Cottage business, we checked our country of origin statistics over the past years. This source market has represented as much as 53 % (November 2007) of our bookings over the past five years, but the average has been at around 33%. It is this percentage of bookings which we will miss this summer, as bookings from the UK are extremely rare, due to the economic woes of the United Kingdom. German bookings for Camps Bay have represented as much as 24 % (December 2007), but have seen a steady decline over the past five years, averaging at about 10 – 15 %. Our forward bookings show a strong increase in German bookings for this summer. Not surprising is that the proportion of South African bookings has climbed steadily, as we have lost international business, and this may also be due to our Whale Cottages still charging affordable 2007 rates, and discounting rates by close to half in the winter months.
A Carte Blanche programme on Sunday highlighted the tourism crisis. Portfolio of Places CEO Liz Westby-Nunn spoke about 52 of her client establishments having closed down in the past year. She has been in business for about 25 years, and business is so bad that she has consolidated her three Portfolio Guides into one, and has dropped her advertising rate by about 50%, just to hold on to her clients. Mrs Westby-Nunn has been a feisty business person, who took 20 % advertising rate increases year on year in the past. Clive Bennett, Managing Director of the One&Only Cape Town, said that “We aren’t seeing growth we should be seeing, and you couple that with the surplus number of beds, sadly there are going to be closures”. Bennett added that the recession had hit South Africa post-World Cup. Shamwari’s Tom Jager said that business for them has seen ‘a big drop’. SA Tourism’s Chief Marketing Officer Roshene Singh said she would look at the impact of the tourism industry’s poor performance on jobs at the end of this year. SATSA President Heather Guiterrez was controversial in stating that blaming the recession is a convenient excuse: “There is 4% tourism growth within tourism worldwide, and we’re not seeing it in South Africa. In fact, we are seeing a huge decline of tourism into South Africa”. She blames the lack of post-World Cup marketing for the current status. ‘South Africa went dead. People don’t go to a country that goes dead’, she said. SA Tourism defended its work, stating that April had seen a 7,5 % increase on the year before. Ms Guiterrez said that SA Tourism does not have enough marketing money to market South Africa on international TV, and this was confirmed by Ms Singh, stating that their marketing budget is minuscule relative to their main competitors. Mrs Westby-Nunn was critical of the official arrival statistics, stating that the 8 million figure should be closer to 1 million. The tourism players interviewed said that the impact of the decline in tourism is its effect on job creation, the target of 250000 having been set, and would not be achievable. Both Bennet and Protea Hotels CEO Arthus Gillis called for more flexibility in the airlines, allowing charter flights, and making SAA the tourism loss leader, to bring as many tourists to the country as possible. Gillis says his business is predominantly focusing on domestic tourists, being their ‘saviour’.
We received the following response to our latest WhaleTales newsletter from Herbert Henrich, a fellow guest house owner in Franschhoek, and he hits the nail on the head in confirming the poor state of the guest house industry: “Thank you for your most comprehensive ‘Tales’ and the detailed information contained therein. For one, like me, sitting on the hospitality industry outer parameters, your reports provide much insight in what would remain obscure otherwise. Our business suffers. The reasons are probably a) global recession and b) lack of exciting promotion of South Africa as a special tourist destination. The most remote parts of the world are being offered to potential tourists on TV almost daily. Very little – if anything – from the RSA. But promotion alone will not re-instate what once was a flourishing industry. There will still be the economic millstone around the consumers’ neck. Hence, business will shrink and establishments will close down, bringing about further lack of income and loss of jobs. Our operational cost go up, however, irrespective of the business slowing down. Municipal rates, levies, electricity, taxes – you name it, will be collected whether there is income or not. I would suggest that it is time that the government will consider easing up on us somewhat. Why do we still have to pay inflated rates for business premises which bring no business? Is it not time the government supports those who do not close down in order not to increase the number of job-less ? Those who actually subsidize the government rather than the other way around ? I think the hospitality industry, which has no alternative replacement business option , should make a united appeal to provincial and national government departments to reduce their every increasing fiscal demands and allow some time to regroup and allow the business to come back to some sort of reasonable level”.
We once again call on Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited to involve our industry in utilizing our information as a predictor of tourism activity for the season ahead, and to focus on the domestic market, in getting them to Cape Town. Our tourists are not on Twitter and Facebook, in our experience, and need good old-fashioned advertising and articles in newspapers and magazines to attract them to our beautiful Cape.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Three months ago we conducted a survey of top-end hotel rates in Cape Town. Given the tourism crisis in the Cape, I repeated the survey on Monday, calling the same hotels, asking them for their August rates. Ellerman House remains the most expensive Cape Town hotel by far, starting at R5000 per room, and the Peninsula All Suite Hotel remains the least expensive 5-star hotel, at R1500 per room. The survey found that the average rate of the sixteen 5-star Cape Town hotels is R 2715 per room, just under R1400 per person, an average decrease by 8% relative to the May rates. Across all 27 hotels surveyed, the average rate per room is R2227, or just over R1100 per person, only 8 % lower on average than in May.
Once again it was interesting to hear how the calls were handled, most hotel reservation departments asking careful questions, to identify if the caller was a travel agent/tour operator or a corporate caller, the questioning being very specific in this regard. Holders of a South African ID book or a Protea Hotel Prokard would have had different rates quoted. Few hotels called had a rate sheet from which to quote immediately, having to access their computer for the ‘best available rate’ information, costing time. I was shocked at the poor quality of the call handling and quoting by the hotel Reservations departments, quoting odd rates (i.e. not rounded off) very quickly, making it difficult to understand and record them accurately; interrupting while one was still speaking; having a radio blaring in the background, affecting their ability to understand and hear the request; not all quoting rates with breakfast included, despite being asked for this rate (Protea Hotels quote room only, and refused initially to quote the add-on breakfast rate); an hotel line rang engaged three times; another hotel line was not answered at all; one hotel had a trainee answer the phone, and she did not know that hotel’s telephone number; one staff member sounded in the depth of depression, as if she hated her job; one hotel did not disclose that it is undergoing major renovations, and its rates have not changed due to the renovations; and one hotel switchboard put me through to the kitchen when I asked for reservations, and I had to call again, as they could not transfer me back to the board. Worst of all for the hoteliers whose rooms the staff have to sell is that only one (Victoria Junction Hotel) of the 27 hotels I called had a call to action, asking if I would like to book!
Some hotels have not changed their rates in the past three months, or only by a small percentage. The Protea Hotel Fire & Ice increased its rate by an astounding 64 % to R1480 per room, making this 3-star hotel more expensive than a number of 4-star hotels. Interesting is that a number of 4-star hotels are more expensive than some 5-star hotels. The Queen Victoria Hotel rate has increased by 25 % relative to its opening special rate. However, only eleven of the surveyed 27 hotels dropped their rates, noticeably the Newmark Hotels’ The Ambassador and Dock House (by 35%), and V&A Hotel (by 40%). The Cullinan Hotel has also dropped its rate sharply, by 30%, as have the Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays, the Twelve Apostles, and the Crystal Towers hotels.
The rates were checked for 3 – 6 August per room for 2 adults sharing and inclusive of Breakfast per day, so as to compare the rates fairly. We added breakfast to the rates where these were quoted separately. We have ranked the hotel rates from most to least expensive, and reflect the rate change relative to our survey for May 2011 in brackets:
Ellerman House, 5 star, R5000 – R15700 (the new villa has 2 rooms offered at R48600 and 3-rooms at R60500), Tel (021) 430-3200 (no rate change)
Cape Grace Hotel, 5 star, R 4980 – R 14 530 for the penthouse, Tel (021) 410-7100 (10% rate increase)
Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 5 star, R 3590 – R20816 for the Presidential Suite. Tel (021) 430-0500 (1% rate increase)
One&Only Cape Town, 5 star, R3489 for South Africans – R5590 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 431-5888 (10 % rate decrease)
Table Bay Hotel, 5 star, R3166 Tel (021) 406-5000 (International rate dropped, no rate change)
Mount Nelson Hotel, 5 star, R 3000 – R 9000. Tel (021) 483-1000 (no rate change)
15 on Orange Hotel, 5 star, R 2620 – R 2820, Tel (021) 469-8000 (5 % rate decrease)
Dock House, 5 star, R2430 (but pay for 2 days, stay for 3 days offer). Tel (021) 421-9334 (35% rate decrease)
Queen Victoria Hotel, not graded yet but seeking 5 stars, R 2350 – R 2715, Tel (021) 418-1466 (25 % rate increase from its opening special)
Twelve Apostles, 5 star, R 2190 – R 3940. Tel (021) 437-9000 (24% rate decrease)
Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays, 5 star, R 2160 – R 3640. Tel (021) 412-9999 (27 % rate decrease)
The Taj Hotel, 5 star, R 2150 – R 2650. Tel (021) 819-2000 (2% rate decrease)
Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, 5 star, R 1700 – R3250. Tel (021) 525-3888 (20% rate decrease)
V & A Hotel, 4 star, R 1640 – R1905 (but special pay 2 days stay for 3 days offer), Tel (021) 415-1000 (40% rate decrease)
Commodore Hotel, 4 star, R1600 – R 7780. Tel (021) 415-1000 (no rate change)
Portswood Hotel, 4 star, R 1600 – R 3960. Tel (021) 415-1000 (no rate change)
Bay Hotel, 5 star, R1600 – R2100 for South Africans, R 2600 – R 5500 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 438-4444 (no rate change)
Cullinan Hotel, 5 star, R 1515 – R 3400. Tel (021) 415-4000 (30 % rate decrease)
Peninsula All Suite Hotel, 5 star, R 1500 – R 3240. Tel (021) 430-7777 (4% rate decrease)
Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Hotel, 3 star, R 1 480 – R 2300, Tel (021) 488-2555 (64% rate increase!)
Winchester Mansions Hotel, 4 star, R 1470 – R 3390. Tel (021) 434-2351 (no rate change)
President Hotel, 4 star, R 1460 – R 2550. Tel (021) 434-8111 (no rate change)
Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, 4 star, R1450 – R 3000. Tel (021) 409-4000 (17% rate decrease)
Cape Sun Hotel, 4 star, R1300 – R 5500. Tel (021) 488-5100 (13% rate decrease)
Ambassador Hotel, 4 star, R 1250 – R 1950 (but stay for 3 and pay for 2 nights offer), Tel (021) 439-6176 (35% rate decrease)
Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, no star grading, R 1220 standard, R1465 business rooms. Tel (021) 406-1911 (5% rate decrease)
Victoria Junction Hotel, 4 star, – Tel (021) 418-1234 (Only re-opening in September, with rate of R1990)
On Moneyweb yesterday, the FEDHASA hotel association was quoted as saying that the ‘hotel industry is being hard hit by the economic climate and there is very little light at the end of the tunnel’. FEDHASA CEO Brett Dungan, who tried to sell South African hotels down the MATCH river for the World Cup, is quoted as saying that hotel rates have come down ‘dramatically’ (by about 10%, according to him) in the past three years, and that hotel occupancy has decreased by 10%. The African Sun hotel group, which operated the 5-star The Grace and The Lakes Hotel and Conference Centre in Johannesburg, has not renewed its operating agreement with these two hotels, saying that the 5-star hotel industry in Johannesburg is ‘no longer sustainable’! The Southern Sun on Grayston Drive in Sandton is also expected to close its doors next year. Singing a somewhat different tune, to that of a few weeks ago, Arthur Gillis, CEO of Protea Hotels, expressed his optimism for the industry. Location is the prime asset of a hotel, he said. “I don’t think the industry is in trouble. I think certain individuals and institutions are in trouble”, he said. Many would disagree!
POSTSCRIPT 3/8: Cape Town Tourism has sent the following response to this blogpost: “Cape Town Tourism met with hoteliers recently to review the value proposition of luxury hotels in Cape Town in particular. The outcome of our meeting and position on price, value and demand will be included in our next industry communication and feedback given at the industry sessions scheduled for next week. As alluded to by MEC Winde, business will react to pressures in different ways as they see fit in terms of their own strategies, market demands and business imperatives. It is common knowledge that published rates are not necessarily what are achieved, particularly in the current climate. Whilst we can offer advice, intelligence, guidelines and input in terms of customer feedback and trends, the market will dictate and business will adjust to market demands as they see fit. Our concern must be with the over-all value proposition of the destination i.e. full pallet of accommodation, experiences, restaurants and services rather than too much focus placed on one segment of the industry. Here is an extract from our industry communication to be published: It is clear that the current depressed nature of arrivals has more to do with externalities and the consumer climate than with accommodation pricing. Cape Town boasts an exceptional, quality product offering and if you look at the complete pallet of accommodation and, experiences on offer, excellent value. We don’t want to undermine the strength of our destination brand by devaluing it. Visitors to Cape Town leave the destination overwhelmingly impressed and willing to return. Post World Cup figures found that 92% of foreign visitors said they would recommend South Africa to others and 96% said they would return. This does not suggest a fundamentally flawed product or pricing problem. Cape Town boasts some of the world’s best small hotels, B&B’s and guest houses that are competitively priced and offer excellent value for money. The fact that Cape Town has a luxury hotel offering that compares with, and in many instances exceeds, our competitors in terms of quality and setting is an asset to our destination. It is commonly recognised that destination price perceptions are driven more by travel time and distance (transportation costs) than by in-destination costs. There is no evidence to suggest that Cape Town’s in-destination costs have detracted from its value proposition. If we can address the demand problem we face, then the cost of flights should become more competitive.”
POSTSCRIPT 3/8 : Provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde has responded as follows: “It is always interesting to see how markets and management react to these pressures. I am also very interested in the new season where we have seen new airlift directly to CT. From France, Switzerland, UAE, Zambia and more in negotiation at the moment. I have asked for a report on our market fact into these places. This will only be good news if we see bums in seats. I will keep you posted once I get the report”.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage