One does not often see tourism bodies pointing fingers at each other, and therefore the Weekend Argus headline ‘City must rethink its tourism strategy’, quoting SA Tourism Chief Marketing Officer Roshene Singh, was a surprise. It may be the way in which SA Tourism hits back at Cape Town Tourism for its recent criticism that SA Tourism only focuses on wildlife and natural beauty in its marketing of the country, and not on its cities!
Singh is critical of the city’s tourism marketing focus, which we have written about extensively in the last few months. Singh is diplomatic enough to not name Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, both bodies duplicating in their marketing of the city. It is the former, however, that has the sole marketing responsibility within its R40 million budget to market Cape Town as largely a tourism destination, and that must take responsibility for the SA Tourism criticism.
Ms Singh said that Cape Town tourism authorities should ‘re-prioritise its markets and target wealthy tourists from Africa to boost its struggling sector’. According to her, ‘big-spenders’ potential lies in Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. On Saturday we wrote about Cape Town Routes Unlimited having visited Angola recently for a trade show, and provincial Tourism Minister Alan Winde’s visit there in September.
Attending the Sports and Events Tourism Exchange at the Convention Centre (about which neither Cape Town Tourism nor Cape Town Routes Unlimited have sent information to the industry) last week, Miss Singh said: “Traditionally, Cape Town has depended a lot on Europe, but Europe is a continent in crisis. So, as the world’s economy is shifting from the developed world to the emerging markets, we are seeing the future growth markets being Brazil, India, China and Africa”, being all the BRICS countries with the exception of Russia, which also seems to be struggling economically.
She warned that the global recession had started in 2008, and that recovery has been slow. Travel is a luxury within such a scenario. The World Cup had ‘buffered’ the country economically. “But unless we have an offering that is really compelling – something people feel they have to do – they probably will not travel or will travel closer to home, or they spend their money on other things like decorating their homes”, she added. “We feel that you have to move away from selling a bed to looking at how you are selling a total tourism experience”.
Ms Singh commented on the dichotomy of Cape Town winning top international destination awards (e.g. TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Destination Award) but that these are making no impact in bringing tourists to the city. “…the fact that occupancies (in hotels) are down and the stats are up indicates there is a misfit in what is happening in arrivals and occupancies. We don’t know for sure what is causing this”. Tourism arrival statistics are blamed by the industry for being an unreliable indicator of tourism numbers, as cross-border visits for shopping are included in these. Yet national Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, clings to these figures, and quotes them to prove that all is well in Tourism!
Singh added that Cape Town has a perception of being expensive, to which Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold responded by saying that Cape Town has ‘been battling the perception of being over-priced since before the start of the World Cup’, mainly due to the media quoting five-star hotel rates when doing stories on accommodation pricing. Getting her economics mixed up, she says that due to the ‘weaker’ (!) Rand and the rising ‘cost of living’ in Cape Town, ‘visitors feel the double pinch of rising costs and dwindling return on their currency – and all of this in the middle of a gloomy economic downturn’!
It is interesting that Ms Singh did not berate the two tourism bodies for marketing Cape Town outside of the city’s border, given that Minister van Schalkwyk had recently told the bodies at the FEDHASA Cape AGM to market locally, and leave international marketing to SA Tourism! Whilst criticising Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, it does not appear that SA Tourism is making any worthwhile contribution to solving the country’s tourism crisis, which appears to have hit Johannesburg too. It will be interesting to see how Cape Town Tourism addresses the tourism crisis in its Marketing Plan presentation to its members next week.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage