Plettenberg Bay has been through challenging times. There’s been the population growth — its been the fastest growing town in the Western Cape (double Cape Town’s) because of migration from the Eastern Cape where even children are being sent across the provincial border because schooling is better in the Western Cape. And there were municipal political shenanigans that saw the old Bitou Tourism effectively cease operations in June 2013.
With the municipality failing to meet its responsibilities, an accommodation association had been formed to fill the gap and it was only in July 2013 that a proper tourism body was started again.
Peter Wallington — who moved to Plett after selling his public relations business in Johannesburg — is the chair and has been driving the new organisation with very limited resources. Their budget from Bitou Municipality in 2013/4 was R1,8m compared to around R4,4m Bitou Tourism received in its last full year of operation, 2011/12.
Tourism is Plett’s lifeblood. It’s been playground to SA’s rich and famous for decades. It was the ultimate aspirational destination but that took a bad knock when municipal politics failed to deliver — just like Cape Town did under ANC control, and which led to the establishment of the City’s Improvement Districts.
But the Plett region has more than enough environmental, creative and intellectual capital to rise up again. And there are the people who are making it happen.
Peter and I spent an hour together, establishing bona fides, discovering mutual acquaintances from our pasts, and exploring the major opportunities for Plett. Without being prompted, he made it clear that the new Plett Tourism is spreading the benefits of tourism, throughout the whole community, to build an inclusive economy.
Much of the new Plett Tourism’s efforts had to go into getting the buy-in of locals, who had either started doing their own thing in the vacuum or been leaderless. And showing where the opportunities lie.
One usually thinks of Plett primarily for its beaches, but there is much more. It is now a serious player in Wine Tourism and there are now 18 vineyards in the Plett region, contributing much to the region’s events and activities. There’s a Birding Route, activities galore and, of course, the sublime environment.
Chatting to Peter, he’s in no doubt that there is lost ground to make up and an enormous amount to be done, to meet Plett’s challenges. Plett is becoming visible again and it is achieving that with panache — growing the unique brand that sets it apart. Maybe it’s time for the Municipality to change its name back to Plettenberg Bay to enhance the destination brand…