APRIL 2009

The Easter Bunny and the elections have come and gone, and officially it is autumn in the Cape. However, the generous public holiday allowance this month has been a small boost for tourism, with four public holidays in April and one at the start of May. Every year the Whale Cottages drop their rates by close to half during the winter months, starting in May.

I am grateful to my alma mater, Wits Business School in Johannesburg, for featuring the Whale Cottage Portfolio success story in its January/February issue of the Wits Business School Journal.

We are grateful to the Governor of the Reserve Bank for the welcome 1 % drop in the interest rate last month, and eagerly await another drop this week. The credit crunch is making its mark, and one of our stories below reflects what impact it is having on Cape Town restaurants.

Chris von Ulmenstein
Owner, Whale Cottage Portfolio

One&Only Cape Town opens with a splash!
S A Tourism proudly un-South African!
Wine Loft opens with largest winelist and collection
Restaurants bitten by credit crunch

City puts Guest Accommodation Policy to bed!

Sweet & Sour Service Awards

One&Only Cape Town opens with a splash!




The One&Only Cape Town opened in the V & A Waterfront earlier this month, four months ahead of schedule, with a star-studded cast of VIP’s, but at a ”relatively low key” function of only 400 invited guests, compared to the $20 million owner Sol Kerzner splashed out for the re-opening of his hotel in Dubai. Nelson Mandela, Sharon Stone, Thandie Newton, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, Yasmin le Bon, Robert de Niro, Mariah Carey and Naomi Campbell headed the star-studded VIP list, reports The Times. Guests at the cocktail-like launch party were spoilt with a “moveable feast” created by Gordon Ramsay’s maze and Nobu Matsuhisa’s Nobu restaurants.

Rates at the One&Only Cape Town in the V&A Waterfront, with 131 rooms, will range between R 6 000 - R 50 000 per night.  South  African  residents are  being  attracted  to the hotel with a special offer of 
R 3 950 per room until August. Staff uniforms have been designed by local designer Jenni Button, and are made from pure silk.

Sol Kerzner, who became a renowned hotelier and casino operator when he established Sun City and The Palace of the Lost City outside Johannesburg more than 25 years ago, says of his newest project: “One&Only Cape Town will become a significant landmark in Africa with its bold, contemporary design promising to make it one of the world’s leading luxury resort destinations. I am looking forward to once again contributing to South Africa’s tourism industry, which has seen an incredible growth in recent years. I am very pleased to open a spectacular resort with a fresh and exciting new concept in my home country in what I’ve always believed to be one of the greatest sites in Cape Town. Opening in plenty of time for the 2010 World Cup, the resort will appeal to the international traveller and play a key role in the local community”. 

Kerzner is celebrating 40 years in hospitality, and told students of the University of Johannesburg that excellent service is one of the most important ways in which hospitality establishments can combat the credit crunch, reports Business Day. He also recommended patience, in weathering the financial crisis. Stating that he made the decision to erect a One&Only in Cape Town in 2003, he speculated that he may not have gone ahead had he known that the world would be in a credit crunch at the time of his hotel’s opening, “….if I’d known that we’d be 10 to 15 percentage points down on occupancy.” Some of the One&Only projects have been put on hold due to the world economic crisis, but the Cape Town and Mexico hotel projects went ahead. Kerzner stated that it was vital that international service standards be maintained at South African hotels. Therefore well-trained hotel staff is vital for the hospitality industry, as the best planned and best designed hotels can only be as good as the staff that run them, he said. Many of Kerzner’s staff have been attracted from other leading hotels in Cape Town, including The Table Bay, the Cape Grace, the Mount Nelson, the Grand Roche, and Steenberg Hotel.

The three major sport events taking place in the country in the next three months could inject R 4 billion into the economy, according to economist Mike Schussler, reports the Cape Argus. Some economists forecast that the effect of the three sport events will be large enough to protect South Africa from the worst effects of the global credit crunch.

The Indian Premier League cricket tournament started batting in Cape Town on 18 April, and continues with 58 matches in total around the country, until May. England lost to South Africa in hosting the Indian Premier League tournament, which had to be shifted away from India due to safety concerns. The Indian government felt that it could not guarantee the safety of the players due to elections being held in India during April and May, given the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Mumbai in November. South Africa was chosen mainly due to concerns over the weather in England in April, and the county cricket season being underway in the UK at the same time, reports Sky News. Twelve South African cricketers, including Graeme Smith, Morne Morkel, Tyrone Henderson, JP Duminy, Ryan McLaren, Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers, have been contracted to Indian teams for the 2009 Indian Premier League season, reports www.southafrica.info. Cape Town Tourism will be using the IPL matches as a marketing platform for Cape Town, targeting cricket fans from Durban and India.

At the end of May the British and Irish Lions rugby tour kicks off its ten-match series in Rustenburg, continuing into June. Tickets for the first three matches are sold out already.

On 14 June the Confederations Cup gets the ball rolling as a ”warm-up” to the 2010 World Cup. Ticket sales have been slow, with only half the tickets sold.

S A Tourism and Cape Town Tourism worked hard in marketing the country at the ITB travel and tourism expo in Berlin last month. According to TravelHub, S A Tourism launched the new ‘Voices’ advertising campaign, which sees Germans being asked to relate their positive experiences of South Africa. It is planned to have over a million Germans talking positively about South Africa by June 2010. FIFA and the Local Organising Committee for the 2010 World Cup used ITB as a platform to encourage and inform the German market about the event, reassuring them about the country’s readiness, infrastructure and sustainability.

Cape Town Tourism too was active at ITB, and its CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold reported back on the successes her association achieved: Cape Town Tourism was invited to present its visitor services and marketing innovation to the World Tourism Organisation International Destination Council; the 2010 World Cup mascot Zakumi was used in a competition, in which ITB attendees could be photographed with Zakumi, post it on the Cape Town Tourism website with a creative comment about Cape Town, to win two tickets for the 2010 World Cup, resulting in 200 images being received; via a German PR company, Cape Town Tourism’s PR and Communications Manager met 15 journalists individually; presented its marketing toolkit to Dr Michael Kaiser from News Corporation Germany, who will do a presentation on Cape Town to the German Press Club; Suedafrika magazine will do a free two-page spread on Cape Town; and a free feature on Cape Town will appear in the bi-annual German 1 Golf publication.

In addition, Cape Town Tourism will be running a winter promotion on Expedia; an educational campaign with FTI, Germany’s third largest tour operator, was concluded; joint marketing agreements were concluded with Tripadvisor, Google, and BBC News on-line; an agreement was reached with Petit Fute to develop a French guide book for Cape Town; and assistance will be provided in the production of the official 2010 FIFA World Cup documentary.

However, Cape Town Routes Unlimited Marketing executive David Frandsen, on his return from ITB, predicted that leisure tourism from Germany will decline by 20 % in the coming season. He based his forecast on the 30 % drop in bookings received by the top five German tour operators making bookings in South Africa earlier this year. He said however that 200 smaller special tour operators are making up for the decline in bookings received from the big tour operators. Namibia is attracting bookings from the German market, and has become a trendy destination for Germans, and is therefore a threat to local tourism.

Cape Town won the Best Entertainment Category at the International Luxury Travel Awards in Zurich, Switzerland. Cape Town’s top quality restaurants, to which recent additions are Nobu and maze, as well as tours, activities, shopping, cultural offerings and sport made the city eligible for the nomination. Cape Town Tourism CEO, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, receiving the award on behalf of the City, believes that it is Cape Town’s “level of authenticity” that allowed Cape Town to be nominated. “The level of authenticity one can experience whilst also enjoying a luxury experience is a key part of Cape Town’s allure. Yachting at sunset, having a massage outdoors amongst fynbos, driving an exotic car through the winelands – these are all adventures that celebrate the simple things in life in the most luxurious way.” she said.

The tenth Cape Town International Jazz festival was a huge success, with a line-up of top jazz artists including Freshlyground, Kyle Eastwood (son of Clint Eastwood, who is in Cape Town shooting a movie about the Rugby World Cup 1995), Shakatak, Abigail Khubeka, Goldfish, Hugh Masekela, Jonathan Butler, and the Stylistics entertained the 32 000 jazz fans. Cape Town Routes Unlimited estimates that the Jazz Festival generates R 430 million for the economy of the Western Cape.

Wilbur Smith’s heaven-on-earth is Hermanus, he says in an article he wrote in The Telegraph earlier this month, in a series of “Heaven-on-Earth” articles written by celebrities. Smith is an internationally recognised and prolific writer, having just published his 32nd book ‘Assegai’, and lives in Cape Town. He enthused about Hermanus as follows: “Hermanus is famous for whale watching during South Africa’s winter and spring – the whales can be seen from the town’s cliffs as early as June. It also hosts an annual whale festival during the mating season at the end of September. The area has some beautiful beaches while the interior is quite mountainous and a great place to cycle and hike. The hinterland is dotted with vineyards, all of which are so good I find it hard to single out any one in particular. Just be sure to drink some of South Africa’s delicious wines before heading home. I invariably stay at The Marine, a superb five-star hotel perched on top of a cliff and run by a lovely lady called Liz McGrath. It offers wonderful views of the sea from the bedrooms. It also has a fantastic restaurant, Seafood at the Marine, which I can thoroughly recommend, though if you want to find out more about the other restaurants I’d suggest visiting the town’s website (www.hermanus.co.za) “.

The first Humpback whales were sighted in Hermanus in April, a very early arrival, reported the Hermanus Times.

Humpback whales pass through Hermanus on their way to the Mozambique and St Lucia waters, where they breed. They are usually seen between Vermont and the Beach Club in Hermanus.

S A Tourism proudly un-South African





S A Tourism is re-developing its website www.southafrica.net, and the government tourism promotion agency, together with Google, is doing a “complete clean-up of the National Tourism Product Database” says an e-mail sent to tourism players.

Sent by William Price, the Global Head: eMarketing of S A Tourism, the e-mail encouraged co-operation in updating each tourism player’s information. The e-mail contained a verification code, which has to be requested of the S A Tourism representative when he/she calls.

What is most astounding is that the e-mail says”….and don’t be alarmed by the Aussie accent when you get your phone call.” Whale Cottage received numerous calls from persons with American and other accents in the past month, requesting update information. No verification numbers were requested by the callers! The immediate question to the caller was to understand why a South African tourism agency would use a non-South African company to update the S A Tourism website. The callers could not explain this.

After e-mails sent to Price received no response, Whale Cottage called Price. He confirmed that S A Tourism is using an Australian call centre to update the National Tourism Product Database. He spoke openly and honestly about the problems the tourism marketing company had in finding a South African company that could accurately verify the contact details of tourism products in South Africa. S A Tourism wants to add the details of all tourism products onto its new website, which it is launching at Indaba in May. It then appointed Yodel, a call centre company started by South Africans in Australia and New Zealand, who are now setting up a branch office in South Africa. The call centre company is more efficient and less expensive in offering its service than the South African call centres it had used previously, Price says.

Since the letter was sent, product owners have received numerous calls from persons with heavy American and other accents (none from Australia though), claiming to be from “South African Tourism in Randburg”. As they struggle badly with some brand names ‘ e.g. ‘Whale Cottage Franschhoek” it is immediately clear that they are not from this country. Every caller that was asked in which country the call centre was based, put down the phone without answering. The most recent caller was honest enough to say that it is based in the Philippines!

Price also explained that his organisation is looking to assist small product owners who do not have a website. In conjunction with Google, such product owners will be given a free website and domain for three months, and S A Tourism has set aside a budget of R 500 000 for this. Vodacom is also looking to offer new product owners connectivity services. It will be interesting to see what level of success the call centre will have, as the initial reaction one has to someone claiming to call from “South African Tourism” with a heavy non-South African accent is one of disbelief. Even harder is being able to understand the strongly-accented call centre staff, something one normally has a problem with if the calls come from local call centres! 

Wine Loft opens with largest winelist and collection




A 5 000-bottle wine library opened in the One&Only Cape Town, showcasing the largest wine collection in the South African hospitality industry, reports the Cape Times. The Wine Loft offers 100 wines by the glass, select older vintages, as well as wines from new wineries. Tasting sessions can be booked, and will be complemented by tapas dishes from the nearby Gordon Ramsay maze restaurant. The 35-page wine list was compiled on the basis of terroir and regional wine styles, rather than on brand name or variety, says One&Only Group Sommelier Stephen Towler. The Wine Loft stocks 450 local and 150 international wines.

Distell has added a pink lady to its supreme sparkling wine brand Pongracz, with the launch of Pongracz Brut Rose, a Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend, reports WINEmag.co.za. The Pongracz range is inspired by Desiderius Pongrácz, a nobleman and refugee from the Hungarian uprising, whose vision and wisdom revitalised viticulture in the Cape.

The second Solms Delta Franschhoek Oesfees on 4 April was a huge disappointment. What started as a noble idea from a wine estate known for its creativity in marketing its wines, in celebrating the harvest with staff of wine farms from all of Franschhoek in 2008, this year’s Oesfees seemed to have broadened its net to attract Capetonians to attend in great numbers. Arriving after dark, there was no lighting, and no indication where one was to enter the grounds of the festival. The place to collect plates and cutlery was also not visible. There was no lighting in the food section at all, and much of the food had run out by 19h00, two hours before the end of the festival. The staff manning the food section were very casual about this, saying that more food was coming – the food tent was a mere 5 meters away! Then one had to find one’s way to the drink’s section, quite a distance away, to find that one’s two drink ticket allocation bought 2 glasses of wine, or two plastic cups of tapwater poured from a wine bottle! R 150 was charged for 3 tiny pieces of sausages, 2 sweet potatoes, a spoonful of rice and a ‘roosterbrood’, the 2 drinks of tap water, and the music. Chairs were already piled up near the stage at 8 pm, and staff were clearly wanting the festival to finish ahead of time. Being really dark at 8.30 pm, it was dangerous to walk on an unlit gravel road from the festival area to the cars. The music was the saving grace, and Hannes Coetzee of Karoo Kitaar Blues charmed with his singing and unique guitar playing with a spoon held in his mouth. The most irritating MC screeched into the microphone. It felt as if the owners of Solms Delta had abdicated responsibility for the event, thereby losing control over it. Solms Delta will have to reconceptualise what it wants to achieve and what it wants to stand for – an event for the local farmworkers, of which some were drunk at the festival, or to put on a festival that is a much more sophisticated thanks to a good harvest completed.

Wines of South Africa (WOSA) is taking South African wines on a bus tour in the United Kingdom during May. The Great South African Wine Trail aims to expose the variety of wines that the Cape has to offer, reports www.offlicencenews.co.uk. The double decker bus that will be used is carbon neutral, and is branded with South African images, to educate British wine drinkers about the conservation initiatives of South African wine farmers. Winetastings will also be done, and winemakers will be introduced to the media. WOSA is expecting to reach a million wine drinkers in the United Kingdom, visiting eight British cities.

A two-day conference on wine tourism will be held at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town on 21and 22 July, with the theme of “Share, innovate, inspire”. Trends and best practices in the $15 billion global wine tourism industry will form the spotlight of the 2009 South African Wine Tourism Conference, with topics including the proposed new liquor law, e-marketing and blogs, wine festivals, an overview of Australia’s wine tourism strategy, the lessons that the German wine and tourism industry learnt during the 2006 World Cup, customer attraction and retention, responsible tourism, and creating tourism brands. Speakers will include representatives of leading wine farms, tourism industry bodies and marketing specialists.

Restaurants bitten by credit crunch



Much of what has been heard about the effect of the global credit crunch has related to the United Kingdom and the USA. When well-known South African brands are affected, the credit crunch is a little too close to home for comfort.

It started with Madame Zingara, which closed two months ago. Then came two branches of Carlucci, in Bantry Bay and in Rondebosch, which closed shortly thereafter. Earlier this month three Vida e Caffe branches closed down in the city centre and in the Bayside Mall, and the Melissa’s in Green Point has also closed. This month has seen a restaurant bloodbath, with the sad news that The Showroom of chef Bruce Robertson, Riboville in the city centre, and Summerville in Camps Bay have closed down. Camps Bay had already seen the closure of Cafe Delmar and Wangthai in the past few weeks.

The one thing that the closures of the larger restaurants have in common is the crippling rentals that they have to pay to greedy landlords. The landlords should recognise the value that the restaurants have to tourism, and that they should come to the party in keeping the rentals reasonable, to ensure that their centers remain fully occupied.

A shock discovery earlier this month was to see the poor state of the Orchards farmstall on the N2 highway outside Grabouw. It has been a landmark on the trip from Cape Town to Hermanus. Hardly any fruit was displayed, and the few bananas on the shelf were black. The restaurant service was poor, and on enquiry the customer was told that the farmstall is in liquidation. It has just been taken over by a new owner. A few kilometers further along an auction sign outside the popular Houw Hoek farmstall, also on the N2 highway, was visible, but it has since been removed as it did not receive anything near the reserve price that the seller wanted. Customers and staff are delighted that ownership will not change.

              Chefs Margot Janse of Le Quartier Francais and   
                        Luke Dale-Roberts of La Colombe      

But all is not bad news for the local restaurant industry. Last week Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek and La Colombe in Constantia were selected onto the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards list, being ranked in 37th and 38th position, respectively, reports Bloomberg.

Top honours have once again gone to El Bulli on the Costa Brava, at which chef Ferran Adria is renowned for his unusual food preparation. He has held the top position for three years in a row. He recently visited Cape Town, and spoke about his passion for cooking.

Surprisingly Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck retained its second place for the fourth year running, after having closed for more than a month earlier this year when hundreds of its patrons became sick after eating at the restaurant.

Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants have shown a steady decline in the ranking on the Top 50 list, having come second in the inaugural year of the Top 50 list in 2002. Last year it was placed at 13th position, and this year only maze in London was on the list, at 91st position. His PR company’s comment about his poor performance this year was as follows: “Gordon takes all these sorts of surveys with a pinch of salt. As always, Gordon regards his thousands of customers as his most valued critics. They are his judge and jury.” Nobu, which has also opened in the One&Only Cape Town, came in at 34th position for its UK restaurant. Noma in Copenhagen won third place, having been at tenth place last year, and its chef Rene Redzepi won the Chef’s Choice Award. The restaurants ranked from 51st - 100th position are also revealed, and the Cape can be proud to have a further three restaurants on the top list, being Jardine at number 79, Aubergine at number 96 and Rust & Vrede in Stellenbosh at number 98. Jardine and Rust & Vrede are on the Eat Out Top Ten list, while Aubergine is not.

The restaurants Zuma in China, which made the 51st position, and the Zuma restaurant in London, which came in at number 92, may increase in popularity when Jacob Zuma becomes the President of South Africa next month. The full list of top 100 restaurants, chosen by 837 food writers, critics and commentators, can be found here.

Since the opening of the One&Only Cape Town last week, Capetonians are coming to check out the hotel, and are having dinner at its two branded restaurants, Nobu and maze. maze in Cape Town is the first to merge maze tapas and maze grills, which are separated elsewhere in the maze world. Sol Kerzner encouraged Ramsay to add a South African touch to the menu. The touch is most visible in the dessert menu. A dinner at maze five days after opening highlighted the excellent service of the sommelier Stephen Towler, but poor service on the restaurant side. The main course was boring in its presentation, the portions small, and the kingklip had bones and was tasteless. The starters were beautifully presented as were the desserts, and here Ramsay seems to excel creatively. The dessert list is interesting, with unusual combinations, and almost overdone-South African touches (”melktert, pink grapefruit granite, lemon curd” and ”malva pudding with poached apricots, gingerbread ice cream”). The menu prices were reasonable, on a par with Cape Town’s top restaurants. For a detailed review of maze, click here.

The ‘Taste of Cape Town’ festival earlier this month was a huge success, if the traffic jams on Kloofnek Road were anything to go by, largely due to the good publicity received. Chefs prepared fine foods for thousands of visitors to the festival under trying circumstances, with extreme heat, limited space and less than perfect cooking equipment. The location of the Festival on the Jan van Riebeeck sportfield was not ideal - the parking area was too far away, and in the dark the walk was dangerous on a very steep, unlit and uneven route. The shuttle was a great solution to this problem, but was not communicated to persons parking at the sport field, and one such vehicle was not enough. Tamboerskloof clearly does not offer enough parking for an event with such a large following. No traffic police were visible on or off Kloofnek Road, and it meant that a trip from the city to Camps Bay took more than an hour. The staff selling the food and wine tasting crowns, wearing soft pink T-shirts, were hard to find, especially deeper into the grounds and after dark. Last year’s ‘Taste of Cape Town’ in Camps Bay had a far more organised and sophisticated feel to it.

A marriage between Kathy and Gary Jordan of Jordan wine estate in Stellenbosch and Neleen Strauss, a South African restaurateur now based in London, and previously running Vivat Bacchus, has created High Timber in London, in High Timber Street close to St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Modern, and Shakespeare’s Globe, reports The South African. High Timber has 40 000 wines in its cellar, many of them being from Jordan. The menu has been designed to complement the wines stocked. It has South African staples like steak, but with an international flair.

City puts Guest Accommodation Policy to bed!




After studying industry input to its Draft Guest Accommodation Policy for almost a year, the City of Cape Town adopted the final Guest Accommodation Policy on 7 April. The announcement came via the Cape Times, and the industry bodies have not yet reacted to its contentious content. Not much of the industry feedback and input appears to have been accepted by the City.

The need for a unified guest accommodation policy came about because the City of Cape Town consisted of six municipalities previously, each with their own rezoning requirements for accommodation establishments. The unified City wants to implement one unified guest accommodation policy, to apply to all new applications for temporary departures and rezoning.

The City decided to ignore an industry request that a Bed & Breakfast, defined as an establishment in which the owners live and is predominantly a residential building housing the family, be allowed to have more than three letable bedrooms. The new Policy stipulates “no more than 3 rooms and no more than 6 paying lodgers/guests per land unit”. No self-catering facilities are allowed in a B&B at all, a very contentious rule. B&B’s do not have to apply for temporary departures or rezoning.

Guest houses are defined as having a “maximum size of 30 persons or 15 rooms permitted”. This is an above average large size for a guest house, but this request came from the industry. What is completely contradictory is that both guest houses and B & B’s are not allowed to employ more than 3 staff members “at any given time”! It would be impossible for 3 staff members, of whom one would be a manager, to be able to service 15 rooms every day. It also means that no shifts could be set up, as it would increase the staff requirement. The hospitality industry is supporting the initiative to curb unemployment, and to have a staff restriction placed upon it is not understandable.

For backpackers, self-catering apartments and hotels no restrictions are set for the number of staff. All establishment types, even hotels, have to provide on-site parking, one bay or more for every guest room, which many do not offer.

All establishments, irrespective of their definition, may not sell alcohol without a licence, and may only sell it at the times of the day specified in the City's new Draft Liquor by-law, which is yet to be redrafted after the criticism it received from the hospitality industry.

More details of the new Guest Accommodation Policy can be found here .

Sweet & Sour Service Awards




The latest Sweet Service Awards have been awarded as follows:

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, for their hard work in performing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and Haendel’s Messiah over the Easter weekend. - read more
Hermanus police station, for negotiating a win-win deal with an ex-Manager of Whale Cottage Hermanus, who stole money and beverages from the guest house - read more
One&Only Wine Loft, for the excellent service by their sommelier Stephen Towler - read more
Rondevu Limousines, for a special rate offered to spoil Whale Cottage Camps Bay staff in one of their limousines - read more
The Grand Café Camps Bay, for always being welcoming and for making a table available, even if their regular customers have not made a booking  - read more

Sour Service Awards went to the following in the past five weeks:

Cape Stay, a website accommodation company, for its focus on making money instead of building relationships with its clients - read more
Sea Point police station, for intimidating a person wanting to lay a charge - read more
Vodacom, for having the joint worst call centre in the country, and for cutting off customers’ lines even if they have paid, without question, and for making the reconnection a nightmare - read more
Sandown Motors in Cape Town, for inviting Mercedes Benz clients to an Easter breakfast, only to charge them for it when they requested further information about the event  - read more
Fresh Laundry in Sea Point, for charging a fortune for linen it could not get the stains out of, and for being exceptionally rude to the customer - read more

The Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented weekly, every Friday, on the Whale Cottage Portfolio WhaleTales blog www.whalecottage.com/blog. To make a nomination for a Sweet Service or a Sour Service Award, please send an e-mail to info@whalecottage.com.






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