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  This campaign cost $180 million, and was deemed a failure and withdrawn, being banned in the UK for the use of the word ‘bloody’, and tourism numbers dropped rather than increased, according to Wikipedia!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

World Cup anniversary: South Africa was ‘ripped off’!

It is interesting that a review of the advantages and disadvantages of South Africa hosting the World Cup, which started on 11 June last year, and particularly the downside of this world event, is only emerging now.

Yesterday we wrote about the tourism slump that has been caused by the World Cup. In yesterday’s Weekend Argus, a very critical article was published, summarising the book to be published in September and to be entitled “South Africa’s World Cup: A Legacy for Whom?”, written by Eddie Cottle, ‘regional policy and campaign officer for the Building and Wood Workers International, a global trade union federation’.

Cottle is given a prominent space in the paper, and in summary he argues that “…the promises made about the benefits of hosting the soccer World Cup were nothing but ‘bald lies'”!  His introduction is complimentary and gentle, praising the benefits of the event, in there being few technical hitches and little crime. The negatives far outweigh the event, he writes, and he says that South Africa fell for the ‘sales pitch’ of the positives of a mega-event, despite “…the volumes of academic studies on the negative impact of mega-sporting events such as the World Cup”.  He says that the promises made about the financial benefit that was the drawcard for South Africa hosting the event, with its resultant contribution to the GDP, tax revenues and job creation, which was promised by the government, FIFA, the local organising committee and tourism consultancy Grant Thornton,  were “…bald lies, wrapped up in the haze of developmental spin. There was no serious study of the opportunity cost of the investment to be made by the government; the impact on the environment; nor the contribution of the event towards the country’s debt position or the social costs of hosting the event.”  He adds that the official economic report was kept secret, and not open to public scrutiny, because of the flaws it contains.

Grant Thornton made many projection errors, not just in overestimating the number of international visitors to the country for the event, but also in the expected expenditure of tourists while in the country, which was only 16 % of the estimated R55 billion. 

The cost to the government for hosting the event was initially estimated in 2003 to be a ‘mere’ R2,3 billion, but given an estimate of R7,2 billion tax revenue, the event was packaged as generating profit.  In reality, the event cost R39 billion. This figure may not reflect the final cost tally.  The Reserve Bank estimated the cost to the state on capital formation to have been just under R130 billion, creating a deficit of R 63 billion.  What is causing a large income hole is that FIFA took R25 billion profit made by the event out of the country without paying any tax! It was the largest profit that FIFA has ever made out of a World Cup, Cottle states.

South Africa was also misled by projections of the employment benefits of the World Cup, 695000 jobs to have been created, of which just less than half were estimated to be retained after the World Cup.  This scenario proved to be incorrect, in that employment decreased by 5 % in the second quarter of 2010.  The losses of jobs in the construction sector was even higher, at 7 %.  Cottle says that as only a handful of construction companies, including Aveng, Murray & Roberts, WBHO, Group Five and Basil Read, built the insfrstastructure for the World Cup, their quotes were higher than required, a ‘grand theft’, he says.   

South Africans were caught up in the spirit of the World Cup, and went on a spending spree using their credit cards, which they are feeling the after-effects of now, partly as locals were led to believe that things would be better financially as a result of the World Cup.  Informal traders were moved out of their normal trading locations, on the basis of FIFA’s rules of a non-trade zone around stadia, impacting on the incomes of such traders.

Cottle concludes: “Indeed, a considerable negative impact has been left through higher levels of both public and individual indebtedness, the high opportunity costs associated with the event, the displacement of local spending and the reinforcing of already high social inequalities in income among and within cities.”  He states that the government’s decision to not bid for the 2020 Olympic Games ‘surely is a wise decision’!   

POSTSCRIPT 14/6: Southern African Tourism Update  reports today that the Department of Sport and Recreation will request the government to re-consider the Olympic Games bid for Durban for 2020, before the bid deadline of September.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com   Twitter:@Whale Cottage

South Africa has become ‘high price, low value’ tourist destination!

The annual Tourism Destination Conference, organised by Cape Town Routes Unlimited on behalf of the Western Cape Department of Tourism, on “Elevating our Destination’s Global Profile”, was held in the Waterfront yesterday, and had a sobering message for tourism players – South Africa, and the Cape with it, has become too expensive!   Tourism players were encouraged to relook their rates, and contain their costs, to see how they can offer better value.  Ironically the theme of the Conference focused on global marketing, but more than one speaker encouraged the industry to invest in domestic marketing, rather than international marketing, even at provincial level. 

The Conference was intended to provide “a platform for the tourism industry to engage on relevant topics that could enhance our destination’s competitve advantage to contribute towords industry growth”, Western Cape Minister of Tourism Alan  Winde said ahead of the Conference.  Cape Town Routes Unlimited CEO Calvyn Gilfellan added that “Platforms such as the Cape Town and Western Cape Destination Conference are critical to ensuring that everyone in the industry is working towards a common goal: the enhancement of the Western Cape tourism industry”.

Western Cape Minister  Winde said pertinently that Cape Town is not cheap, and despite the oversupply of accommodation, the resultant effect of the law of demand and supply in leading to lower rates is not evident in the Cape.  He said that a comparative study of hotel prices locally and internationally will be conducted by FEDHASA, the hotel association.  Winde said that the focus of his department’s marketing is to increase the market share of the Western Cape, which has been overshadowed by KwaZulu-Natal.  Africa as a source continent is vital for Cape Town, but there are no direct flights between Cape Town and major African cities, all African tourists having to fly via Johannesburg.  Asked how a region like the Garden Route, which is suffering extremely low tourism numbers, can improve its performance, the Minister encouraged players in regions to work together, to attract tourists, Cape Town residents in particular.  He mentioned the example of Knysna and Franschhoek, who are ‘tourism twined’ now, and are going on marketing trips to Gauteng and to the USA, to benefit both towns.  The recently created Cape Country Meander passes on its visitors to the next towns, and includes Elgin/Grabouw, Bot River, Caledon, Villiersdorp, and Greyton.  The recently signposted Cape Whale Coast route shows how tourism players can work together to share more broadly their tourism success.   Minister Winde said that many players in tourism are insular, and think they are ‘the centre of the universe’.  To meet President Zuma’s goal of 5 million jobs to be created by 2015, the tourism sector would have to grow four to five times.  But he said the responsibility cannot be placed on corporates alone to achieve this goal, and that small and medium sized businesses must show growth, to achieve growth in employment.

National Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, encouraged the tourism players to evaluate what Cape Town can do more to allow it to compete with the best in the world.  South Africa had its best ever tourism performance last year, with 8 million foreign arrivals, and a 15 % growth.   Now the country needs to capitalise on the top of mind awareness that was created for it through the World Cup, and meet the goal of 15 million arrivals by 2020, and to increase tourism’s contribution to the economy from R190 billion in 2009, to R499 billion in 2020.  Awareness needs to translate into sales, he said.   Tourism is now one of the six cornerstones of economic growth and job creation, and the success of the tourism industry must lead to the greater economic benefit for the South African population.  Minister van Schalkwyk urged the provincial tourism marketing bodies to focus more on domestic marketing, given the restricted marketing funds.   The Minister indicated that the traditional markets of the USA, the United Kingdom and Europe are the largest source countries of tourism, but are still strongly influenced by the recession.  He highlighted the importance of Africa as a tourism market, showing a growth of 4 – 7 %.  The tremendous potential shown by the Chinese market has been recognised, and direct flights between Beijing and Johannesburg will be introduced by SAA later this year.  SA Tourism will allocate a share of its marketing budget to attract Chinese tourists.  The Minister also said that whilst 50 airlines service South Africa currently, more are needed to fly to the country, so that supply and demand can drive down the cost of flying to this destination.   Airport tax increases were identified as a deterrent to tourism growth.

The biggest challenge that Minister van Schalkwyk threw to the industry was ‘green tourism’.  By going beyond talking about sustainability and biodiversity, and taking the lead in creating low carbon cities, a competitive advantage can be created for South Africa.   “…as the world changes around us, it is imperative that we as a travel and tourism industry in South Africa stay one step ahead.  This will mean challenging ourselves in terms of how we understand the environment, our responsibilities, our markets and our consumers.  It means innovative and strategic thinking in terms of how we plan for the future, as well as the flexibility to adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances” he concluded.

Peter Bacon is an industry player, and was a previous CEO of Sun International, and currently is the Chairman of Cape Town Routes Unlimited and of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.   He said that South Africa is doing better than most long-haul destinations in respect of tourist arrivals.   It was good to hear him say that Cape Town is the ‘jewel in the crown of S A Tourism’.   Cape Town does not suffer a decline in demand, explaining the decline in accommodation occupancy, he said, it is suffering from an oversupply of accommodation created by the opening of six hotels in the last two years.   Coupled to this is that corporate demand for accommodation is down severely, as businesses come to grips with their policies on company travelling.  It was Bacon who said that South Africa’s image has changed from being a  ‘low cost, high value’ destination to one that is ‘high cost, low value’.  Overall average tourism spend is down compared to the past, and the average tourist stay is two days shorter.   He urged the industry to package Cape Town ‘beyond the beach’, and to address the poor value image.  He did understand that rising costs, especially those for electricity, make it difficult to cut rates, but South Africa must be competitively priced, and our destination is not!   Bacon also urged that domestic marketing take the foreground.  Bookings are increasingly on-line, and he urged the accommodation industry to be where the bookings are, on Hotel.com, Expedia.com etc.  Cape Town, and South Africa with it, is a world class destination, and its tourism marketing must be aligned.  He also requested event organisers to not program events in the Cape on the same days – e.g. the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and the Cape Epic taking place this past weekend.  He said: “We need to package our destination and the diversity of its attractions and experience more effectively.  We need to address the value proposition by differentiating South Africa from other long-haul destinations”.

The presentation by Dr Nikolaus Eberl, a branding consultant to the World Cups in Germany and South Africa, was one that attracted me to attend the Conference, but it was disappointing that he went back to the past, focusing largely on the success of the World Cup, and then showed video clip after video clip of Hawaii’s cliff-diving industry, neither addressing the topic of the Conference.  He did remind the audience that South Africa’s World Cup FIFA score of 92 %, 4 percentage points higher than Germany, was an exceptional performance record, and that South Africa could be Plan B to Brazil!   What did make the World Cup such a success was the ‘ubuntu’ of the South African nation, radiating its friendliness and care to visitors and locals alike.  An interesting case study presented was that of the Harley Davidson Club, showing how a ‘brand community’ can be created around a product or service that consumers naturally concentrate around, mentioning the example of the now dead polar bear Knut, who received a world following in the Berlin Zoo.   He talked about creating Brand Ambassadors, which is what visitors to Cape Town become, through word of mouth and social media communication, and this can lead to a ‘brand community’, he said.  

Although the most eloquent speaker, the City of Cape Town’s Pieter Cronje’s talk disappointed in not revealing which other mega events are lined up at the Cape Town Stadium or elsewhere in the city, other than Neil Diamond’s concert in April. He did say that the city would bid for the Olympics, but not for 2020, as Cape Town’s public transport system is not yet ready to handle such an event.  He also indicated that Cape Town has seen an increase in the number of event proposals since the World Cup, which will be good news for the tourism industry if they are staged.   He said what all in the room know already – events create money for the economy, and benefit all tourism players.

With tourism contributing 10 %  to the Western Cape economy it has a significant effect on economic growth and job creation.   The Conference had a contradictory outcome, in that its theme was global marketing, yet its message was one of domestic tourism marketing first.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter:@WhaleCottage