This is a tribute to all South African firefighters, disaster management and emergency rescue personnel… to all the volunteers and the grateful public who help where they can.  Cape Town’s fire which is still burning saw volunteers with Working with Fire come from as far as the Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

The following photos of the big fire that started on Sunday around Ou Kaapse Weg (Old Cape Road) in Cape Town’s southern peninsula, and still rages at the time of writing, come from social media, so a thank you to the photographers for sharing them.

Social media has also been full of posts and photos showing and shaming vehicles where one of the occupants has thrown a lighted cigarette butt out the window, notwithstanding the very-visible inferno on the mountains.  That’s a good thing — it shows concerned citizens — because mindless stupidity cannot be tolerated.

But we must also realise that what we are seeing is nature’s normal cycle of events.  We live in an area of astounding biodiversity — the Cape Floral Kingdom — the smallest yet richest of the world’s six Floral Kingdoms.  And Cape Town is uniquely situated with a National Park at its core.

Our unique fynbos needs fire to regenerate, and it needs that fire every 14 years or so.  So fire will always be part and parcel of the Western Cape.  Cape Town’s last really big fire was in 2000 – when it swept up from Simon’s Town to Hout Bay.  So this year’s fire could have been anticipated — it was almost overdue.

Doesn’t this make a case for more planned and controlled fires in future?  Or better fire breaks if nature must be allowed to take it’s course because one of the major threats to fynbos is too-frequent fires — it does not allow for seed beds to mature.

 

Posted in Destination brands, South African life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

In the next few days, we’ll be re-introducing ratings & reviews for destinations — towns & cities.  And it’s been a challenge to try to do it better and more appropriately.  The 21st century is different — it’s about social media, experiential travel, digging deeper and being more aware.  It’s about caring and being environmentally-aware.  Travellers take home far more than just a  t-shirt.

We’d really appreciate all comments and suggestions before we finalise everything.

So what are the Rating Criteria we’re looking at?

How safe?  Public safety — that’s foremost on any list.  Not many people are willingly to head off to risk their life and possessions.  Did you feel safe most of the time?  Crime stats alone can be misleading if most crime only occurs in hotspots tourists are unlikely — or foolish — to visit.

How much to do?  How much is there to see and do?  Big cities obviously offer much more but some small towns punch way above their stature in their offerings, and the quality of those offerings.

How caring?  Is it a “feel-good” destination?  Does is draw you back or make you want to own a piece of it?  Were you impressed by the sense of inclusivity and community-minded citizens.

How authentic?  Does it offer a unique, unusual or appropriate experiences that reflect local history & culture?  Does it celebrate its roots and place in the universe, with a clear vision for its future?

How aesthetically pleasing?:  Did it feed your soul?  This is the difference between surviving and living.  Vibrant creativity or great urban design and public spaces contribute to this, but so can natural features and environments.

The atmosphere: Cities and towns that are unsafe, dirty or unpleasant to visit, regardless of the quality of their attractions, will score badly.  Occasionally some cities or towns get extra points for being unusually pleasant, vibrant, charming and tourist friendly.

Getting around:  Are you forced to use your own car and is the drive an acceptable experience?  (Big cities are always daunting.)  Or is there excellent public transport?  Or even better, can you forget wheels and walk (or cycle) everywhere, soaking up all there is to soak up?  Small towns need not be at a disadvantage.

The bottom line: was it value for money?

So where is accommodation, food & drink, shopping…?  They are all parts of the above.

The Review
What counts ultimately is the thought given to the review.  Is it an original and insightful view?  Other readers will give your review a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on how helpful and believable yours has been.  Over-the-top reviews are rarely credible.  No place is perfect!

We also ask reviewers:

  • To describe their highlights
  • To describe their lowlights
  • If they locals or visitors
  • Was it a solo, partnered, family or business trip
  • The year of the last visit
  • Do they want to visit again
Posted in Destination brands, Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I was asked to join the board of the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (CWBR) last year and was given the marketing portfolio.

Now, the CWBR is mandated by UNESCO, the Western Cape’s Biosphere Reserves Act and MOUs with national &  local government departments to address growth in tourism within the Reserve in such a way that it benefits Man & Biosphere: enhancing the natural environment and creating meaningful jobs.

So the obvious place to start was to engage in discussions with with people running existing tourism organisations in the towns within the CWBR to explore opportunities for collaboration, and to start collecting stats that will help us take decisions — “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

The survey has just been launched — so please give us 4 minutes of your time and click here to participate.  It was prepared by CapeInfo using our very sophisticated survey system that we’ve put to such good use in the past.  In 2009, working with Cape Town Tourism, CTRU, Joburg Tourism, KZN Tourism, Fedhasa, SATSA and others, we started monthly tracking surveys when price gouging started appearing for the 2010 World Cup.  One of the effects of this focus and introspection was that price-gouging was largely replaced by far more realistic attitudes — and the World Cup did become a tourism investment for the future.

We invited everyone we could think of in the local industry to participate in the formulation of the questions and answers, help us promote the survey, and share in the stats which become available.

We tried to make contact at the outset with the head of tourism for Stellenbosch Municipality — which is responsible for the iconic and tourist-popular towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.  Widmark Moses’ first email reply to me was so unintelligible that I shared it on my personal Facebook page in absolute disbelief!  It received more than a few comments.

He eventually did call after I followed up and we had a promising discussion, so arranged to meet the next day.  He is very likeable and undertook to review the draft survey to see how it could help Stellenbosch take better decisions.  The only point he raised was the criticism that tourism is “too white” — which I said had been addressed by asking visitors if our destinations are authentic & unique, reflecting local history & cultures.  Widmark also undertook to send a list of people who might be able to contribute to the survey.

Well… we never heard from Widmark again and he didn’t deliver on any of his undertakings.  Since then, I’ve heard that he loves meetings, to the extent that he is the bane of busy peoples’ lives.  The question I have to ask is, “What qualifies Widmark to manage tourism in such important tourist destinations?”

And then there’s Stellenbosch 360, the town’s tourism organisation.  My last three emails to Annemarie Ferns, the CEO, resulted in read receipts and nothing more.  Even popping in to the office yielded no result.  They are an embattled organisation and the most frequent question I’ve been asked is, “Would Stellenbosch get any fewer tourists if it didn’t exist.”  Surely that’s when you need to reach out to new partnerships the most?

Stellenbosch Wine Routes is far more aggressive than Stellenbosch 360 and seems to be gaining support.  We also only got a read receipt from CEO Annareth Bolton, but then she was probably totally focused on her imminent AGM.  They opened a new visitor centre at the top of Church Street at the end of last year.  (They used to have this facility in Stellenbosch 360′s offices not that long ago.)  Why on earth start competing facilities — it’s madness and doesn’t make it easy for visitors at all!

A few people suggested I ask Marinda Holtzhausen to participate since she is chair of the Stellenbosch Chapter of the Chamber of Commerce and has been actively involved in tourism for some time.  But no response from her either.

So kudos to Tania Steyn in Franschhoek, Melody Botha at Breedekloof Wine Valley, and Elizabeth Nicholls at Cape Winelands District Municipality for their input.  (The one tourism organisation that does seem to stand out is Franschhoek Wine Valley, which leads the pack with its calendar of events, although the municipality has received requests for support from new initiatives.  Widmark has his hands full making sense of Stellenbosch’s tourism dynamics… but is he up to it?)

Am I any closer to understanding the Biosphere’s role in all of this?  Not by a long chalk so please complete the survey!

Apart from tackling the survey for the Biosphere Reserve, CapeInfo also gave the Biosphere a new website last September and it’s done spectacularly well compared to the other brands in the region.  Alexa.com ranks traffic to websites globally:

Low numbers are best. Google is #1. Paarl-Wellington is not shown in the graph because it was so much further down.

Low numbers are best. Google is #1. Paarl-Wellington is not shown in the graph because it was so much further down.

Last Word
I must repeat something I learnt long ago once again:  The late Don Titmas, after he opened the first fine dining restaurant at the V&A Waterfront, pointed out that the tourism and hospitality industries are perishable industries.  Like a greengrocer.  Because if you don’t sell bodies in beds, and bottoms on restaurant, bus or airline seats today, they are lost forever.  You can’t sell those beds and seats tomorrow.  Everybody involved in tourism needs to take that to heart!

Posted in Destination brands, Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dear Derek

I hope you’re going to be speaking to your colleagues now that a list of the National Key Points has been published.  I’m sure you also didn’t know when you were breaking the law before government was forced by the courts to let us know which laws we are breaking before we break them!  Twenty years into democracy and we were even more in the dark than the unenlightened days of apartheid.

This legislation needs to be scrapped immediately. It’s making most tourists to SA criminals. Don’t we want them to take home photos of our Parliament Buildings, or Tuynhuys, or the Union Buildings? And what about all the photos taken inside and outside our airports?

Let’s rather replace it with a new Act that says that any law which has not been enforced in a period of a year must be scrapped from the statute books.

Posted in Destination brands, South African life, Tourism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The conundrum is:  Should CapeInfo be putting customers/readers and what’s easiest for them first; or should advertisers come first — and what’s easiest for them?  We’d appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Customer-focusedBecause so few hospitality businesses have a marketing background, there’s often the belief that marketing is telling the customer what you want them to hear, rather than what the customer wants to hear. And equally, businesses often follow processes that suit the business, rather than the customer — losing custom in the process.

When CapeInfo started over 17 years ago, there was no such thing as “online booking”.  The biggest challenge then was just getting people to use email and overcome their fear of adding content online.  Well… for some people, the latter still hasn’t changed.

The advent of online booking systems introduced the ultimate convenience — bookings became automated and businesses could just sit back as business just flooded in… or did it?  Did any successful businesses close their call centres and just sit back?

Online bookings also have the advantage that you know exactly where your business comes from… but do you know how much you’re actually missing out on?

At CapeInfo, we’ve always given advertisers a choice — our Full listing allows an advertiser to provide almost every possible direct link — landline, mobile, fax, email, website, social media, videos, attachments — to make it easier for the customer to get the information they want in a seamless manner.

If a customer wants to make contact or place a booking, they can do so immediately with no waiting, response times or further searches.  Shouldn’t that be the ideal?

Online booking systems are great, but they only cater for a percentage of potential business.  There are a few areas where online bookings do not work:

  1. If you’re also marketing a restaurant, conference facilities or a spa, for example, and you cater for walk-in business too, relying solely on online booking is not going to help you.  Customers need your phone number or email address.
  2. If you’re in a town which has little discretionary tourism and relies largely on business tourism, you’re dealing with a corporate market.  And many corporates need an invoice before they can make a booking.  So they need to call or email you first.
  3. Last-minute bookings usually occur after the deadline for online bookings that most businesses have, so that phone number becomes critically important.  If you’re lucky, they’ll just arrive at your door.
  4. And then there are those people who want to make contact before they place a booking.  It could be about facilities for kids or neighbourhood amenities, or your pet policy.  If making contact is difficult, they’ll try someone else who is less difficult to get hold of.

The downside of business that comes by phone, email or social media is that you don’t really know how it ended up with you.  Even if you ask everyone, you’re lucky if they remember the last place they got your contact details, rather than the first place they learnt about your business.

There are essentially two kinds of portal websites — those who retain “ownership” of the customer and those who put customers directly and immediately in touch with service providers.  And there are some who fit in between these, giving customers direct access to you after they have completed an enquiry.

Whenever advertisers ask for better stats on where there bookings come from, we’re tempted to introduce enquiry forms, but we know that’s not what customers always want.  They want as much info upfront as possible.

What do you think we should do?

Posted in Marketing tips, Technology/Internet | Tagged | 3 Comments

One is an organisation I admire greatly.  The other is one I used to admire.  And it all came into focus when I just happened to read both their annual reports in one week.

Wesgro’s annual report is a monster and reminded me of City of Cape Town reports prior to 1976, when departments tried very hard to show how busy they had been.  Intellectual and creative visions or plans take the back seat.

Cape Town Partnership’s annual report is very different.  It doesn’t tell you how many meetings the organisation attended.  It does inspire and inform, and you don’t need to take annual leave to read it.

The reports tell all about the divergent corporate cultures of the two organisations.  Wesgro is bureaucratic and insecure.  The Cape Town Partnership embodies the spirit of a creative and exciting Cape Town, which is just going to get better and better.

Isn’t it time for an overhaul of Wesgro’s corporate culture?

Posted in Destination brands | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The previous post on this blog expressed our dismay with Wesgro.  In our recent newsletter, we stated that Wesgro (Western Cape destination marketing agency) hadn’t delivered on the good news they promised (and noted key staff losses amid poor ongoing communication).

Judy Lain, Wesgro’s chief marketing officer, responded to the newsletter with the following email.  We think it’s in the public interest to publish Judy’s email and our response.  What do you think?

Dear Carl

“I see Wesgro is still the only news you are reporting, if you would like an update to ensure that you report the facts please let me know I would gladly meet with you.

“In terms of our website, we have had some development issues so instead of launching a website that is not 100%, we have delayed it. This is not unusual in terms of web development. At present there is a website up.

“In terms of what Wesgro has been up to in the past few months.

-          We are in the process of writing the 5 year strategy with DEDAT. We have presented this to each of the regions for feedback and are now in phase 2 of this

-          We are in the process of writing the cycling strategy for the province in collaboration with private and public sector. We have put together a task team of private and public sector

-          In total we would have attended over 6 international trade platforms promoting the province in our source and emerging markets

-          We are holding individual workshops with our regions to help develop plans around driving domestic tourism

-          We are doing weekly social media campaigns on our platforms

-          We have produced 7 videos, one provincial and one for each region to be used on international and domestic platforms to help drive visitor numbers

-          We have signed over 15 JMAs with media, tour operators and other partners to help drive tourism

-          We have sponsored over 27 events in the province

-          We have hosted over 300 tour operators from source and emerging markets in the Western Cape to help promote the region

-          We have won 16 conference bids

-          We have assisted with incentive groups and corporate meetings

-          We have successfully launched on WeChat in China, their biggest social media platform

-          We hold quarterly sessions with our regions to discuss plans going forward and collaboration

-          We have done research in terms of Ebola effect on the Western Cape and engaged with over 3 000 outbound tour operators from our source and emerging markets in terms of this

So is Wesgro delivering? I believe we are if you just look at what we have done in the past few months.

We don’t do big advertising campaigns, like you use to do Carl. We don’t get the funding for it. So we work with partners that ensure high return on investment.

As I’ve said before, I am more than happy to meet with you if you have questions or issues with us to ensure that you do report on the facts.

Kind regards
Judy

 *****

Dear Judy

I think defensiveness and lack of understanding and accuracy shine through in your email.

“Wesgro is still the only news you are reporting.”  That’s an untruth.  It wasn’t even the lead story in the last newsletter.

“We don’t do big advertising campaigns, like you use to do Carl.”  Please name one big advertising campaign I’ve done, Judy.  There isn’t one.  If anything, I am known for doing more with less.

Keeping busy — as you are at pains to show — means nothing.  What is the Return on Investment?  What was achieved?

I keep thinking of the late Don Titmas’ comment when he opened the first fine-dining restaurant at the Waterfront: “People don’t understand that tourism and the hospitality industries are perishable industries.  If you don’t sell a body in a bed, and bottoms on restaurant or bus or plane seats TODAY, it’s lost forever.  You can’t sell it tomorrow.”

How many bodies in beds, bottoms on restaurant bus and plane seats did Wesgro realise?  Now you’ll probably respond that it’s not your job to do the selling, so let me ask the question another way… what would happen if Wesgro wasn’t there?  I think very little — it would be replaced, where necessity demands it, by more efficient and more effective private sector initiatives.  And all Province needs is a shrewd investment analyser to allocate funding to the best initiatives.

Tourism doesn’t need endless strategies, plans and JMAs that achieve little.  Wesgro has provided poor leadership to the Western Cape’s RTOs and LTOs and I think they are in the weakest position they’ve been in for years.  In Stellenbosch and Robertson, the privately-funded Stellenbosch Wine Route and Robertson Wine Valley have taken the lead from their towns’ LTOs and they are doing far more.  They “do” more than they talk and strategise!

But let’s come to the webite/s.  You’ve been Wesgro’s chief marketing officer for over a year.  You say that the existing site is too bad to be promoted; too bad to drive traffic to.  In May, you said the destination marketing website was going to be launched in June.  And it’s now September.

I’m sorry.  I can’t take you seriously.  A month away from a launch date and you were full of promise of how good the imminent site would be.  And you haven’t been able to address the “development issues” in the ensuing three months?  Come on!  Trying fooling someone else!

It sounds like poor and maybe even incompetent project management.

I’m guessing, but I don’t think Wesgro has met its Service Level Agreement with Province on the website for the entire duration of your tenure.  If I was the Provincial Treasury, I’d reduce Wesgro’s funding until it proves that it can manage a simple thing like developing a website.

Because, in spite of whatever spin you might try to put on it, websites are still a very important element of the marketing mix.

I would never place all blame at your door — because I think you have tremendous energy and enthusiasm –  and I think your CEO, your board of directors, and the Provincial tourism department have contributed to the malaise.  They are the ones who set direction and the tone of the corporate culture.

Is there anyone left at Wesgro with deep knowledge of and insight into the tourism industry?  My experience in dealings with you is that you believe you have all the resources you need (extra funding excepted).  Suggestions intended to be helpful are rebuffed.  And I am luckier than most because some others don’t even get replies.  (See a comment to the previous post.)

This is what happened at the old CTRU, Wesgro’s destination marketing predecessor, where the organisation even rebuffed its own board’s suggestions and requests.  Does the same happen at Wesgro?

I am yet to discover a Wesgro fan club among industry leaders, and I do encounter more criticism than kudos.  Maybe you need more collaboration where you listen more (and a JMA is not, per se, collaboration).  Because, neither you nor the Provincial tourism department have all the answers.

Kind regards
Carl

PS.  When will the marvellous new websites be launched?

*****

But what does the wider industry think?  Please have your say.

 

Posted in Destination brands, Tourism | Tagged , | 4 Comments