The new WhaleTales blog is going from strength to strength, and I am extremely grateful to Carl Momberg from CapeInfo.com for encouraging me to blog on his website. To protect him from any criticism of our frank tourism news, we have moved the WhaleTales blog to the Whale Cottage Portfolio website. Stay up to date with the latest tourism news at www.whalecottage.com/blog. A new feature of the Whale Tales blog will be a weekly Sweet & Sour Award, awarded every Friday on the blog, based on the Sweet & Sour Awards programme I presented on Radio Good Hope many years ago. I would be delighted to receive your nominations for companies or persons delivering Sweet or Sour Service at info@whalecottage.com.

I am extremely grateful for the support I received about the FEDHASA Cape expose (click here), a David versus Goliath story that does not belong in the tourism industry. Hotel & Restaurant editor Andrew Moth, himself often controversial in his editorials, calls the FEDHASA story a "storm in a teacup", and pleads for diversity of opinion in our industry. His vote of confidence by writing in his editorial in the October edition that “she must not be silenced” is much appreciated.

We have a new newsletter distributor, and the company inadvertently sent out an "Unsubscribe" e-mail last month. This was an error, and we apologise on their behalf for the inconvenience it may have caused. Please do not take us off your address lists.

Chris von Ulmenstein
Owner, Whale Cottage Portfolio

Credit crunch could benefit tourism
Stellenbosch world wine winner
The tipping point
Cape Town scores World Cup Green Goal

Film Office shoots itself in the foot-age!

Whale of a presidential battle 

Credit crunch could benefit tourism



The global economic crisis may not be such a bad thing for South African tourism after all, given its effect on the Rand exchange rates, and resultant greater affordability as a destination for international tourists.  Domestic tourism too should benefit from the exchange rate volatility, in that locals may switch to local holidays over the festive season, instead of going overseas.

The outlook for 2009 and 2010 is favourable, given the Confederations Cup and British Lions Tour taking place in winter 2009, and the soccer World Cup taking place in winter 2010.  Winter traditionally is a very low income period for the Western Cape in particular.

The past week has seen the US dollar exceed R 10, its weakest ever, and exchange rates of R 18 to the pound sterling and R 14 to the Euro.   It is the dollar exchange rate volatility that may cost the country a petrol price decrease next month, and also may see an interest rate increase instead of the hoped-for decrease. 

The tourism industry appears to be optimistic to date about the effect of the international credit crunch.   Tourism Business Africa quotes Joop Demes of Pam Golding Hospitality as saying that the hotel market grew by 19% in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year.  Growth is in Gauteng, and particularly for hotels at OR Thambo airport in Johannesburg.   Revenue per available room has increased by 16 %, and by 19 % for 5-star hotels, and by 25% in Johannesburg.  Demes says that about three-quarters of the country’s 57 000 hotel rooms are booked by locals, driven in particular by the MICE market of conferences and meetings, as well as budget holidays.  Business Day reports that local hoteliers do not yet see an immediate impact of the financial market turmoil, but a slowdown in the next few months is certain.   Hotel performances in the USA have already declined sharply, as measured by the STR Global surveys. 

Travel agents are seeing a switch to bookings of domestic products. Their international clients are booking accommodation inclusive of meals, as a result of the exchange rate weakening, and are paying more promptly, to avoid further price increases, reports Travel News Weekly.   The credit crunch is also driving locals to game reserves, instead of overseas, as well as to beach hotels in the province, says FEDHASA KwaZulu-Natal, Southern Sun Hotels confidently predicts that 2009 will be busier than 2010, not only because of the Confederations Cup and British Lions Tour, but also due to the elections and inauguration of the new President, Soccerex, the Australian and English cricket tours, and the FIFA World Cup Final Draw, which takes place in Cape Town in December 2009, reports Travel News Weekly.   Southern Sun has contracted about 10 000 of its rooms to MATCH, the FIFA accommodation agency, and is the single largest accommodation provider for the World Cup 2010.

Kurt Ackermann of the Afrikatourism blog, writing on Travelwires, questions the focus on international tourists, given the global economic problems, and says the World Cup 2010 “could be more of a distraction than a solution (to the projected decline in tourism growth in the next decade).  He writes that 2010 will see a marked fall-off in international tourism, and encourages the industry to start attracting the domestic market, with better price offers, to avoid having to close down their businesses, in what he calls “a significant shakeout starting in the winter of 2011”.

The tourism industry in the Western Cape is facing challenging times. After a very wet winter and the wettest September in 50 years, sky high petrol prices, as well as international stock market turmoil, the industry is slightly more optimistic about the season ahead.   Climate change is affecting tourism, with Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company CEO Sabine Lehmann saying: "We have had the worst weather at the top of the mountain in 10 years of record keeping.   We have had five months in the past financial year with record bad weather patterns".   Visitor numbers dropped by about 10 % to 785 000 in the year ending June.   The launch of the new Table Mountain Cafe is to make the company less dependent on tourist visits to the mountain top.


“Black Friday” 10 October is behind us, and the courageous emergency plan by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has had an immediate impact on bookings.   November looks to be well booked, and even bookings for the rest of October appear to be picking up.


Cape Town has been voted the top city in Africa and the Middle East by Conde Nast Traveler readers' in the Readers' Choice Awards, in the company of Buenos Aires (South America), San Francisco (USA), Bangkok (Asia), Sydney (Australia/Pacific) and Florence (Europe).    San Francisco has won as the best USA city sixteen years in a row, mainly based on its good restaurants.    Singapore Airlines won the best airline award on international routes for 20 out of the past 21 years, and Virgin America won on domestic routes for the first time.   Crystal won the large cruise liner award, and Seabourn the small cruise liner award.  Jerusalem and Damascus took second and third place after Cape Town as Top Cities in the Africa/Middle East category. Three Cape Town hotels were rated the best in Africa, namely the Cape Grace, Twelve Apostles and the Table Bay Hotel.   The Grande Roche in Paarl was voted the second best Resort in Africa.  Reported in the November issue, the awards list reflects the votes of more than 32 000 readers. 


TIME has sung the praises of Cape Town, for its scenic beauty, restaurants and nightlife.   The 29 September issue article opens as follows: "It's difficult to have a bad day in Cape Town.  Spread over the slopes of Table Mountain, the city is one of the world's most beautiful".  The article describes Cape Town as a cultural, political and historical hub, and praises its food and wine, being close to "some of the world's best winelands".   



The mid-week Heritage Day on 24 September was a welcome boost to the tourist industry, with many locals taking the two successive days off to create a long weekend, thereby leading to good accommodation occupancies and restaurant business during the public holiday week. The Hermanus Whale Festival has been a success, judging by the accommodation shortage in the town in this period.

The Cape Odyssey race, a trail race for runners organised by the same team involved in the Cape Epic for cyclists, finished at Boschendal wine estate in Franschhoek earlier this month.  The race had a powerful impact on tourism in the towns through which the race was run, including Hermanus and Franschhoek, with sold-out accommodation.   More than 300 runners participated in the blistering 200 km race, taking them from Hermanus, to Kleinmond, through Elgin and Grabouw, on to the finish at Franschhoek.

Princes William and Harry are putting South Africa on the map, with their participation in an eight-day off-road motorcycle Enduro Africa rally between Durban and Port Elizabeth, a route of more than 1 600 km., reports Reuters.  The princes' participation will raise funds for Prince Harry's Sentebale charity for AIDS orphans in Lesotho, UNICEF, and the Nelson Mandela Childrens' Fund.

It would appear that the political turmoil in September has had little or no impact on tourism. Perhaps the speedy replacement of ex-President Mbeki by new President Motlanthe, as well as the re-instatement of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel quickly helped to calm the feelings of South Africans.

Restaurants too are feeling the credit crunch (incidentally, the opportunistic name of a new chocolate bar launched in the UK).  TIME reports that the $550 billion American restaurant industry is stagnant, causing cashflow problems due to rising labour and food costs.  Restaurant chains appear to be particularly hard hit in the USA.   No-tip self-serve fast food outlets are likely to gain from the depression, predicts the magazine.   Whilst the average number of restaurant meals enjoyed by Americans remained the same at 22 per year, the number of restaurants in the USA grew by 14 %.  The same is likely to be true for the South African restaurant industry.

Cape Town sees the visit by international stars as the festive season draws near.   Lionel Ritchie will be performing at Sahara Park in Newlands on 22 November, while Rod Stewart will also perform there on 1 December.   Helmut Lotti is loved by the European crowd, and will be performing at Grand Arena on 2 November.

Helen Zille, Mayor of Cape Town, has won the 2008 World Mayor Prize, ahead of Mayors of Nuernberg, Zurich, Gothenburg, Tehran, Phoenix, Chacao, Guayaquil, Marikina City, Villa Nueva and Porto Alegre. The only female nominee on the final shortlist, Mayor Zille has been recognised for her dedication to and passion for Cape Town, and going beyond the call of duty. Not only do we have an iconic city, but now our Mayor Zille is adding to our iconic status by being elected as World Mayor. Well done and congratulations to her for all her hard work, in making Cape Town a better Mother City for all!

Robben Island needs a drastic management shake-up, in allowing the facility to be closed for two weeks in the busiest tourism month of November.   This most valuable tourism time has been chosen to implement maintenance and repair work on the Island’s tour busses, refurbishment of their ferries, and to cull the growing number of rabbits, reports TravelHub!   Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold has deplored the timing of the closure.  “We are concerned about the impact that this closure will have on the tourism industry, in particular tour operators and travel plans of visitors. Robben Island is one of Cape Town’s most iconic visitor attractions and most visitors include Robben Island on their itineraries.” 

Portfolio, the accommodation directory, has also developed a taste for blogging, and has created a site http://travelblog.portfoliocollection.com, which it describes as "the informed choice for the independent traveller". Portfolio has bragged about being the "Benchmark of the Best", but many leading properties have stopped advertising in the company's three publications, due its exorbitant advertising rates and poor on-line booking performance.

Stellenbosch world wine winner





Notorious consumer website www.tripadvisor.com has announced its top ten wine destinations in the world, and the list includes Stellenbosch, the only South African wine region to be listed, alongside Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany, Champagne, Barossa Valley, La Rioja, Sonoma Valley in California, Valle Central in Chile, and Marlborough in New Zealand.   The website describes Stellenbosch as:” Home to one of South Africa’s most visited wine routes, Stellenbosch is the heart of the Cape Winelands region, with more than 100 wine cellars to visit, surrounding the culturally rich center town of Stellenbosch."


New research has shown that white wine too is good for the heart, reports The Australian, quoting research conducted by Dr Dipak Das at the University of Connecticut.   The benefits of drinking red wine have already been well documented.


Franschhoek's five star estate Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Auction Reserve 2005 achieved the highest price, at R 5 400 for six bottles, at the Nedbank Cape Winemakers' Guild auction earlier this month.   The highest price achieved for white wine was R 3 300 for a case of Steenberg The White Savage Sauvignon Blanc 2008.  The auction raised just less than R 5 million.


The eleven (two wines scored joint tenth position) Top 10 Sauvignon Blancs selected in the WINE Spar Tops review are Alexanderfontein 2007, Backsberg John Martin 2007, Bloemendal Suider Terras 2006, Cape Point 2006, De Grendel Koertshuis 2007, Diemersdal Eight Rows 2007, Fleur de Cap Unfiltered 2007, Graham Beck Pheasant's Run 2007, Groote Post Reserve 2007, Nitida 2007, and Springfield Life from Stone 2007.


Horst Frehse, previous GM of Grande Roche in Paarl, and current GM of Singita Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania, and formerly of Singita Sabi Sand, takes over as General Manager of Asara Wine Estate and Hotel outside Stellenbosch from November.  Asara has quietly opened alongside Neethlingshof, and makes one think of a brand new Spier.  Whilst the staff are friendly (and recruited largely from Spier), and the Estate is pristine in terms of its landscaping, it still lacks soul.   No doubt Frehse will infuse his cigar-smoking charm onto this new estate, and allow it to live up to its pay-off line “Out with the Ordinary ... In with the Extra-Ordinary’.   The service in the restaurants does not yet live up to this promise.   Asara’s logo incorporates a slave bell and the date 1691.  It is a relative unknown in terms of its wines, and new five-star hotel, two restaurants, deli, conference center, and wellness services, which opened five months ago.  Its High End Kitchen shop sells porcelain, cutlery and crockery,as well as kitchen accessories.  A “shopping emporium” is set to open, with “exclusive showrooms & boutiques”, according to the Asara brochure.  



The KWV is doing well under new CEO Thys Loubser, with a 99% increase in profit over the year before, reports Cape Business News.   The company's challenge is to market its Roodeberg and Laborie wines to South Africans.   Roodeberg was exported for many years, and unavailable to the domestic market.  KWV has a new wine brand called Cafe Culture, and has just launched a Roodeberg White, spurred by its 20 % sales growth in Europe. 


Champagne corks will be popping in Franschhoek at the beginning of December, when the third Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival takes place.  Champagnes on show will include Billecart Salmon, Laurent Perrier and Joseph Perrier, while local Cap Classiques such as Boschendal, Bon Courage, Colmant, Constantia Uitsig, Graham Beck, Krone, Pierre Jourdan, Pongracz, Simonsig and Steenberg will be sparkling the palates of bubbly-lovers.   The Festival takes place on 6 and 7 December and entrance costs R 180, including a flute and vouchers to taste the delicacies of the best restaurants in the Gourmet Capital of South Africa.


Allee Bleue in Franschhoek is launching a "Meet the Winemaker" evening on 31 October, and will host these quarterly. Bookings can be done at tel 021 874-1021.


The global economic crisis is affecting sales of Champagne, with exports to the USA dropping by 22 % in the first half of this year, reports the Boschendal Wines’ Blog.  Following good growth in 2007, sales to the French market, representing half of all Champagne sales, dropped by 4 % in the first eight months of this year.  Quoting Business Report, the blog states that Champagne sales are however growing in the East, in Russia, Scandinavia and in the Gulf states, albeit off a small base.


Internationally, interesting wine trends can be expected, reports the Cape Argus.   Dr Monika Christmann of the Geisenheim Wine Institute, and keynote speaker at the recent Nederburg Wine Auction, says that wine consumption is declining in traditional wine drinking countries, whilst wine production in India and China is increasing steadily.  China already is the fourth largest wine grape producing country in the world.   Even Holland, Denmark and Sweden are becoming important wine producing countries, due to climate change, she says.    A trend towards health warnings on wine bottles is also expected.

The tipping point




The New York Times has raised the perennial question “Why Tip?”.  Tracing the history of tipping to more than three hundred years ago, the article reports on the restaurant The Linkery in San Diego, which has recently taken a no-tipping stand.  Jay Porter, owner of the restaurant, found that instead of motivating better customer service, his waiters were fighting over the tip income, wanting specific better-paying shifts, while his kitchen staff were upset about not being able to share in the tips, and this led to selfishness rather than teamwork amongst his staff in his restaurant.  He observed that tipping was counter-productive to his restaurant's service.  Porter saw that the commonly held belief that better tips were paid for better service did not always hold true in his restaurant.  He was surprised that the restaurant business is the only one to allow part-payment of the staff’s services of a business. With his staff’s support, he positioned his restaurant as a non-tipping one, and his bills presented to patrons have “We do not accept tips” boldly printed in red across them.    In America $ 42 million in tips is earned by 2,6 million waiters, who receive a substantial part of their income from tips.


In South Africa a non-tipping policy should be introduced as well, given that all restaurant waiters have been receiving a minimum wage since July 2007. Prior to the introduction of the Sectoral Determination for the Hospitality industry, waiters were largely reliant on tips for their income. The level of restaurant service in general has deteriorated.  

Cape Town scores World Cup Green Goal



The Mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, and the Premier of the Western Cape, Lynne Brown, launched the Western Cape's Green Goal action plan for the World Cup 2010 last week.   R 8 million will be spent by the City and the Province on 41 projects which have been designed to minimise the carbon footprint, to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, to enhance the water and energy efficiency, to introduce a more environmentally-friendly transportation system in Cape Town, to develop an "eco-park" in Green Point,  to boost indigenous gardening, and to encourage responsible tourism in general, reports the Cape Argus.   The City aims to reduce its waste volume as a result of hosting the World Cup by 30 %, and to reduce its energy usage by 50 % and water usage by 20 %.   Transportation plans include bicycle and pedestrian lanes, a bicycle rickshaw service in the city centre and "eco-taxis".   The Green Goal action plan aims to position Cape Town as Africa's "leading eco city".


The City of Cape Town’s Transport Director Maddie Mazaza has said that if the current major road upgrades are not finished by June 2010, it will not be a “train smash”, and will not cost Cape Town its participation in the World Cup 2010, reports the Cape Argus.  The Hospital Bend and first phase of the Koeberg Interchange upgrades should have been completed by 2010, and the integrated bus rapid transport system should be up and running.  The latter will incorporate bus services between Tamboerskloof, Oranjezicht, Vredehoek and Gardens; and between the airport and the city centre, Green Point and Sea Point.    A dedicated buslane is also planned for Blaauwberg Road. The national Minister of Transport, Jeff Radebe, has reassured South Africans that all transportation plans for 2010 are "on track" and will be completed on time.  More than R 13,6 billion is being spent on road upgrades.


The upgrade of Cape Town International Airport will create 4000 parking bays, and will see its first phase completed by July 2009, and its second phase a month before the kick-off to 2010 World Cup.

World Cup ticket prices have been reported to range between R 140 (Games 1 - 48) and R 1 050 (Final) for the cheapest tickets for sale to South Africans.   Two further price classes for South Africans sees ticket prices for the Final at R 2 800 and R 6 300, reports the Cape Argus. Tickets go on sale in February next year.   Each of the 32 participating nations will receive 12 % of the tickets for the matches in which they participate.

Zakumi is the 2010 World Cup mascot, and his spotted design has met with criticism. According to the FIFA 2010 website, the official mascot, a leopard, has been designed and produced locally . “The name is a composition of “ZA”, standing for South Africa, and “kumi” translating into “10″ in various languages across Africa. Inspired by his football idols, Zakumi has dyed his hair green as he felt it would be the perfect camouflage against the green of the football pitch.” 


“Zakumi represents the people, geography and spirit of South Africa, personifying in essence the 2010 FIFA World Cup. We are certain we will have a lot of fun with him in the lead-up to and during the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup,” said FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke.   “Zakumi is a proud South African and, as such, an ideal ambassador for the first African World Cup. He was born in 1994, the same year as the country’s democracy. He is young, energetic, smart and ambitious, a real inspiration for young and old, not only in our country,” explained Danny Jordaan, Head of the World Cup 2010 Local Organising Committee.


Zakumi visited Brussels last week, to support the Spanish soccer team ahead of its match against Belgium, and received a roar of approval.  The team was handed a team shirt with the Confederations' Cup logo, having qualified for this 2009 event.


The tradition of the Official FIFA World Cup mascot has been in place for more than 40 years. World Cup Willie was the first-ever FIFA World Cup mascot, invented for the 1966 tournament in England. Official Mascots have come to play a more and more important role in the 2010 World Cup as with their infectiously positive attitude, they have over the years added to the atmosphere of each competition in their own unique way, says the World Cup website.

Film Office shoots itself in the foot-age!




Cape Town has developed a bad reputation in the film-industry, being seen to be film-unfriendly in terms of its management of film shoots in the city.  The Cape Town Film Office in particular is blamed for its poor administration of the booking of shoots, reports the Cape Argus The Film Office is blamed for using an antiquated manual booking system, for "being hostile to the industry and highly disorganised".  An increasing number of locations are deemed to be off-limits, and rules related to filming at locations change constantly. Traffic officials are difficult to arrange.  This has led many film-makers to move their shoots to Johannesburg.

The City of Cape Town, which funds the Film Commission, has reacted to the criticism by allocating R 4 million to the Film Office, eight times more than two years ago.   Location fees in the city have been reduced, to stimulate the film industry.   The Film Office states that it issued 4 500 location permits last summer. 

Building work on the city's new film studio, renamed from Dreamworld to Cape Town Film Studios, will commence this month and is expected to be completed in 2010.  More than R 430 million is being spent on building the facility.  CEO of the Studios Nico Dekker says that the facility will be "comparable to the best in the world", and the four studios to be built will be similar to Hollywood-style studios, reports the Cape Times.

Whale of a presidential battle

The American government has declared the beluga whales off Alaska's Cook Inlet an endangered species, despite opposition to this protection by Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, says the Los Angeles Times.   In the past decade the beluga whale population off Anchorage has been reduced by half, and only stands at 375.   According to the legislation, any plans to build bridges or drill off-shore will have to prove that these will not disturb the whales.


The Northern Right Whale too is to be protected, with new legislation to be introduced in the USA to regulate the speed at which shipping traffic may travel along America's East Coast between Massachusetts and Florida.  There are only 300 to 400 Northern Right whales left in the world, and the legislation is designed to stop whales from dying from collisions with ships.


A new book attempts to explain whale music.  Called "The sound of whale music", and written by David Rothenberg, the book tries to explain why male humpback whales sing.   It is thought that they sing to stay in contact with each other, or to attract a mate.  The singing may be a way of communicating emotional messages, the book says.






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