Tag Archives: New7Wonders of Nature

December Cape Town tourism performance information contradictory!

Tourist attractions in Cape Town reported an increase in visitors during December, but Cape Town International airport bucked the trend, announcing a reduction in passenger arrivals in December 2012 relative to December 2011.

Cape Town International saw a 10% decline in passenger arrivals, which the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry has blamed on SAA cutting its London – Cape Town route.  The Chamber has been known to make incorrect statements relating to the tourism industry in the past, especially in the term of its previous President Michael Bagraim, not appearing to have a good grasp on the Cape tourism industry.  We have not had any feedback from tourists complaining about not being able to get to Cape Town, given that BA and Virgin fly direct from London to Cape Town, and a number of other direct flight options as well as those via Johannesburg are available to tourists at varying prices.  A report by the Cape Times quotes Airports Company South Africa Deirdre Davids as saying that passenger arrivals increased by 7% in December 2012, and that international arrivals increased by 17%, but it does not state which period the increases are relative to.

Quick to jump on the tourism bandwagon, but not always knowledgeable about the industry he is meant to represent on the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee, is Councillor Grant Pascoe, who issued a media release in December about the City’s November tourism performance, adding up the visitor numbers for the Big Six City tourist attractions, and coming up with a figure of ‘over 2 million people’, without taking duplication of attraction visits into account!  The media release comes from the City of Cape Town’s ‘Integrated Strategic Communication and Branding Department’, but does not have an author, its poor writing comparing with the poor media releases generated by Cape Town Tourism!

The media release reported the following visitor numbers in November 2012:

*   V&A Waterfront: ‘over’ 1,8 million

*   Table Mountain (Cableway, one assumes that this is the measured entity, but it is not specified by Pascoe): ‘just over’ 90000

*   Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens: 70745

*   Cape Point: 37600

*   Robben Island: 31870

*   Groot Constantia: ‘over‘ 20000

The Cableway reported that it had achieved its best ever ticket sales of 119000 in December 2012 (it ran a price reduction promotion for locals to thank them for voting Table Mountain as a New7Wonders of Nature at the beginning of December!), and on Boxing Day 7500 visitors went up the mountain, its best day of the month.  Similarly Kirstenbosch increased its numbers, at 82000.  Robben Island ticket sales have been on a downward trend since 2010.  The V&A Waterfront claimed to have received 3 million ‘visitors’ in December 2012, reported Business Day, an increase of 10% on December 2011, claimed the V&A Waterfront CEO David Green.  This implies a 67% increase relative to November 2012! One wonders how the Waterfront measures the ‘visitor numbers’, and what percentage of these are in fact Capetonians shopping there, and going to the movies or eating out, as we have written before.  The V&A used to have a counter on the road at its entrance, but it is not visible any more.  This could make the V&A figures misleading as far as its tourism visitorship is concerned!

If Cape Town International is reporting a 10 % decline for December, and the local tourist attractions reported an increase in visitor numbers, it means that the Cape had more local (Western Cape) visitors to Cape Town, and South Africans who drove instead of flying to Cape Town, possibly due to excessive airline prices, even for domestic flights, and car rental costs.

Once again Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold referred to Seasonality, paying lip service to fixing the problem, as she does year after year: ‘We need to work really hard and continue the effort to promote Cape Town as a year-round destination and encourage visitors to travel out of the peak season so we can extent (sic) our season all year round‘, reported EWN!  Interesting is that Cape Town Tourism admitted that Cape Town could not cope with the tourism numbers over the Festive Season, with rental cars sold out, limited parking, and increased traffic, said its PR and Communications Manager Skye Grove, according to a report in the Cape Argus, a predictable problem, but one which Cape Town Tourism did nothing about, all its top management having been on holiday over this period!

The publicity surrounding the December tourism performance is interesting, as the month has a summer seasonality component, as we are seeing for each of the summer months, with the exception of February.   So, for example December had two very poor weeks in the first half, and Cape Town only filled up just after Christmas, therefore containing only a small Festive Season tourism component.  Our Whale Cottage Camps Bay occupancy figures show that the December 2012 occupancy of 61% fell from the 70% in December 2011, and is still far below the record occupancy of over 84 % and higher in 2009, 2008, and 2007!  Pascoe’s claim that ‘the City’s tourism industry has been enjoying a steady annual increase in visitor numbers’ is misleading and factually incorrect!

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

Whale Cottage Blog: Restaurant Specials tops in 2012!

Before the new working year kicks in tomorrow, when most return to work, we have taken stock of our blog.  Last year we had just over 401000 unique pageviews, and the winter Restaurant Specials blogpost was by far the most popular. Most traffic came via Google searches, and interestingly Facebook generated three times the volume of traffic to the blog compared to Twitter.  More than 2000 subscribers receive the latest blogpost daily on RSS feed subscription.

We cannot always predict what drives traffic to the blog.  The three best read Blog days, with over 2800 unique pageviews each, were 11 January (Cruise liners mean ‘The World’ to the V&A Waterfront: Cape cruise crisis), 23 April (Chef Bruce Robertson returns to Cape Town, plain sailing at The Boat House), and 9 November (Spier Sweet Service and City of Cape Town Sour Service Awards).  Interesting is that the blogpost we wrote on 18 April in 2011 about the unfortunate passing of the President of Ferrero Rocher in Cape Town still achieves daily readership, and was the second best read blogpost last year.  The top ten Continue reading →

Why is the Table Mountain Cableway not keeping its tourism icon up to date?

Table Mountain is the icon of not only Cape Town, but also of our country and even Africa.  It was made a New7Wonders of Nature a year ago, and inaugurated as such a month ago.

Recently the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company proudly bragged that it had the highest number of visitors ever in November, with 90000 visitors in that month, or 3000 per day on average, assuming there were no closures due to bad weather days in November.  This would mean that in that month an average of 1500 cars went up the curvy and steep Tafelberg Road every day, in the hope of parking.  Dropping guests off at the lower Cableway station yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but think how antiquated and tourist-unfriendly this leading tourism destination is:

*  The parking ‘facility’, if one can call it that, is wholly inadequate.  Yesterday the parking alongside the road was full to just past where the taxis park, near the traffic circle on Kloofnek Road, which would mean a strenuous uphill walk to the lower Cableway station for anyone arriving from about 10h00 onwards.  On our way up, we saw that there still is no pedestrian facility, and that tourists have to walk in the already narrow road to get to the Cableway station.   One would have thought that a shuttle service would have been introduced to take tourists from the parking area at the traffic circle to the ticket office.  Clearly the parking area near the traffic circle is wholly inadequate to accommodate all the cars destined for the mountain tour. The City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus stops at the Cableway station, and this has alleviated some of the pressure on parking, as guests can get off and hop on again once they have been to the top of the mountain, but this trip would cost them R250 for the day ticket, in addition to the R205 for the Cableway return ticket.

*  The electronic board at the Kloofnek traffic circle is a useful information service, indicating if the Cableway is operating or not.   This has alleviated unnecessary traffic up Tafelberg Road. Yesterday the billboard was not operating, but it was clear that the Cableway was open, given that it was a beautiful wind-free day.

*  A solution introduced by the Cableway company was the online booking of tickets.  This service has been marketed as alleviating queues that Table Mountain was notorious for, many visitors in past years having to queue for up to four hours to buy their ticket, and then to queue for the cablecar.   Our guests had pre-booked their tickets (they are valid for 14 days), but when we arrived at the Cableway, the service seemed to be so efficient that not one person was at the ticket office, but there was an incredibly long queue to get into a cablecar.  The online ticket purchase was therefore of no benefit at all.  Even odder was that other guests of ours who wanted to go up the mountain as well, could not go, because the allocation of online booked tickets had run out for the day by lunchtime, even though they could have bought tickets at the ticket office.  All this does not make sense and is customer-unfriendly.

*   Visitors coming down the mountain cause severe traffic blockage on Kloofnek Road in the late afternoon, the road widening done in winter not alleviating the traffic problems. Two days ago we drove into town, and saw that there were no traffic officials to regulate the traffic flow, or lack of!

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company has done little to upgrade its facilities in many years since it introduced new cablecars, with the exception of a repaint of its cablecars, probably sponsored by its advertiser VISA, and the erection of the electronic billboard earlier this year.   One cannot understand that the parking situation has not been addressed, that there is not a dedicated safe pedestrian path, and that there is no suitable undercover protection for tourists having to stand in the sun for many hours to get into the cable car, at temperatures such as 36°C yesterday, especially as the CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, Sabine Lehmann, is the Chairman of Cape Town Tourism!

POSTSCRIPT 27/12: Our guests reported the disaster of the rest of their trip up Table Mountain this morning.  The queue was a shambles, being a general one for both online ticket holders and non ticket holders. The non ticket holders were then sent to the ticket office, to buy their tickets.  Standing in the queue in the heat for so long, the daughter of our guest fainted.  A Cableway staff member saw this, but did not react at all, nor call for help with first aid.  Part of the congestion is that the lifts only take 12 passengers at a time, and that the cablecar only took about 40 passengers at a time instead of its capacity of 64. The guests had to queue for an hour to get into a cablecar to get back down the mountain.  Our UK guests said that this has been their only negative experience in Cape Town.

POSTSCRIPT 28/12: This morning I took another guest up to the Cableway station, and this time the traffic was even worse than on Boxing Day.  It took an hour to drive to the station and return to Camps Bay! The police (NOT traffic police) were directing the traffic at the Kloofnek Traffic Circle, which caused an even greater traffic jam.  I saw the odd umbrella for the queue waiting to get into the Cablecar.  There is a wooden pergola all the way up the steps where the queue has to wait, but there is no awning over the pergola, therefore not protecting the tourists against the sun and heat at all.

POSTSCRIPT 28/12: Sabine Lehmann, CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, has responded to this blogpost via a Comment.  We were shocked to hear that she had been on leave from 20 – 27 December, returning to work today.  She admits that Boxing Day was their busiest day.  One wonders how a CEO can be away from her business at the peak of the tourist season!  This is her detailed reply:

“The 26th of December was our busiest day this year and our facilities were severely under pressure. We find that in the mornings the Cableway is at its busiest and remind visitors and tour operators alike, that even on our very busy days (such as today), it tends to be much quieter from 3- 4pm onwards.

I agree, we do not have enough parking on Tafelberg Road. But as the road is in a nature reserve it is unlikely that more parking will ever be built. The Taxi’s offer a shuttle service from Kloof Nek @ R5 per person. We are also in discussion with the City of CT to assess whether the MyCiti Bus could connect from Kloof Nek to the Cableway. I am hopeful that this may have a positive outcome by season 2013.

Upgrade of Facilities:
During shutdown each year, the Cableway completes the upgrade of facilities. These are almost always dependent on permissions from a number of parties (City of CT, SANParks and Heritage) so in most cases projects are 2-3 years in the planning before they can be completed.
Some of the signficant investments and upgrades that have taken place over the past 5 years include:
Complete Table Mountain Cafe overhaul including all back of house facilities, top station ablution block upgrade and new sewage system, shading at the lower station on Tafelberg Road, shading at the lower station on the ramp, new ticket system to allow us to sell on line, rehabilitation of Tafelberg Road, completion of a pedestrian boardwalk either side of the Lower Cable Station, completion of a new turning circle at the lower Cable Station and the electronic sign board on Kloof Nek. We have more planned over the next 3 years but are awaiting final sign off of necessary permissions and need to time projects with our shutdown over the next few years.

Pedestrian Safety
The Cableway invested R3.5 mill this year to rehabilitate Tafelberg Road, build a new turning circle and build the pedestrian Boardwalk. Tafelberg Road is a public road and not owned nor managed by us.

Online Tickets:
Online tickets were introduced 3 years ago. They have helped spread demand throught out the day (as has the Sunset Special after 18h00). The Cablecar unfortunately will always remain the bottle neck but visitors who do hold on line tickets do get through quicker. Due to the fact that we are so weather dependent and cannot predict when we will open nor whether there will be a view, we only sell a set number of on line tickets per day”.

POSTSCRIPT 31/12: Forwarding this blogpost on to Cape Town Tourism demonstrates that having Ms Lehmann (CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company) as Chairman of Cape Town Tourism will never result in any action against the Cableway Company.  This is the reply we received from Enver Duminy, Executive Manager Tourism Services of Cape Town Tourism, reflecting that mediocrity rules in Cape Town’s tourism authority:

I note the detailed response received from Sabine Lehmann, MD of Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) on the referred blog post and trust that her feedback is satisfactory. We have also liaised with TMACC and we are satisfied that everything possible is being done to ensure the best-possible service to visitors. I hope you find the above in order?”

Our reply was that it is not in order!

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

Cape Town tourism industry confused about Festive Season tourism prospects!

Yesterday the Cape Argus and Cape Town Tourism released their forecasts about the Festive Season and the November – January period.  The Cape Argus prediction of a ‘flood of tourists’ over the Festive Season and Cape Town Tourism’s description of the November – January period seeing ‘positive seasonal growth’ are exaggerated, and not reflective of what the tourism industry is experiencing.  Both information sources do not acknowledge something we have called ‘Summer Seasonality’, which is becoming more pronounced!

Cape Town Tourism astounds with its poorly written media releases, and it is clear that their PR and Communications Manager Skye Grove struggles in expressing herself coherently, sounding out of depth in writing about accommodation occupancy, rates, and RevPAR (Revenue per Available Room), clearly terms which are foreign to her, as is market research in general.   While her headline refers to ‘positive seasonal growth’ being seen by ‘Cape Town’s Tourism Sector’, she contradicts herself in her introductory paragraph, clumsily writing that there are ‘slight growth trends across occupancy and average room rates indicators for the months November 2012 – January 2013‘.  She forecasts Occupancy over the three months at 71% and an average room rate of R 1136, without providing details of how the information was arrived at.  She then compares the results from two different surveys conducted a year apart, and concludes that Occupancy will be higher this summer compared to last, a nonsense deduction.

Even worse is the poorly written paragraph attributed to Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, in which she contradicts herself in predicting that ‘we are not expecting a record season of arrivals and bookings’, yet states in two sentences further that ‘..the City Bowl, The V&A Waterfront and the Atlantic Seaboard will be a hive of activity’, clearly not knowing what is happening in the tourism industry! She does admit that the Festive Season only covers the period of the third week of December (i.e. from 21 December onwards) to ‘early January‘.  Mrs Helmbold admonishes the tourism industry for not coming up with ‘new and interesting experiences‘, something our tourists are ‘hungry for’, she writes!

A statement by poor Nils Flaatten, the CEO of Wesgro, is also incorporated in the media release (aren’t they in competition with each other in marketing Cape Town, one would ask), and justifies the hard work they are doing with Cape Town Tourism to ‘ensure improved dispersal of visitors across the greater Cape Town region and beyond’, his mandate being to market the Western Cape and to minimise the duplication of marketing Cape Town. Flaatten refers to international tourists visiting the V&A Waterfront to shop, and to visit Robben Island and Table Mountain.  Domestic tourists, he says, ‘are experiencing a greater appetite (sic) for festivals and events across the province’, and then refers to the 600 festivals which took place in the province in the past six months!  Ironically there are no festivals and events taking place over the Festive Season!  We have seen no marketing activity or communication from Wesgro and Cape Town Tourism to ‘disperse’ the Cape Town-based tourists into other parts of the province, the tourists doing their own research about where else to stay. Fact is that the Atlantic Seaboard is the most desired location for Festive Season visitors to Cape Town, and it would only be the non-availability of accommodation in this area that would make them stay further away from the city.

The Cape Argus article, written by journalist Daneel Knoetze, was based on two interviews, with Mrs Helmbold and her Board member Susanne Faussner, the headline shouting that a ‘Flood of tourists expected in Mother City’, and misleadingly stating that our industry is ‘expecting one of the most successful festive seasons to date’! The only justification for this misleading claim is a quote attributed to Mrs Faussner about an increase in Occupancy relative to last year, but as the Festive Season has not even begun, no accurate Occupancy figures are available! She added that the poor European winter and the favourable exchange rates are in our industry’s favour, but we have not seen the effect of this. Immediately after the exaggerated positive claim, the journalist lists dreadful crime-related accusations against Cape Town, and states that the positive publicity generated by Cape Town performing well in international tourism lists will outweigh the negative shock crime information relating to Cape Town! Mrs Helmbold places all her bets on an increase in tourism numbers on Table Mountain’s new ‘New7Wonders of Nature’ status, which was confirmed at the beginning of this month.  Ironically Cape Town Tourism Chairman and CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, Sabine Lehmann, deplored the very windy beginning of December, and the number of days that the Cableway had to be closed due to adverse weather conditions in the Cape Town Tourism release.  Funny was seeing the Christmas Lights on Adderley Street, supplied by the City of Cape Town, which includes an illustration of Table Mountain and the incorrect title ‘New7Wonder of Nature’!  One would have thought that Mrs Lehmann or Cape Town Tourism would have advised the City of Cape Town of its faux pas!

Summer Seasonality is becoming increasingly apparent, and adds to the woes of the Tourism industry, which experienced extreme Winter Seasonality in the past two years, worse than ever before, largely due to the extremely wet winter, which kept Johannesburgers from Cape Town, and Capetonians from the rest of the Western Cape.  Even more frustrating is the increased Summer Seasonality, which gives the industry two very good weeks and two very slow weeks each in November, December, and January, resulting in an average Occupancy of 50% for each of these months, an unsustainable performance.  February is the best booked month, the only one with Occupancy close to 90%.

Cape Town Tourism likes to brag about its performance, and clearly is under pressure from the City of Cape Town to justify the R35 million it receives from the City. It is irresponsible to mislead the Tourism industry with platitudes, contradictory information, and the false presentation and interpretation of statistics!  We would like to request the City of Cape Town to act against this unprofessional communication by Cape Town Tourism, and to appoint a professional Communications company that can assist Cape Town Tourism in issuing more credible and professional media statements, for the benefit of our City’s image and reputation!  The PR company it uses currently appears to only distribute the media releases.

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