Wesgro, the Western Cape’s trade and investment agency absorbed the province’s beleaguered destination marketing agency (Cape Town Routes Unlimited – CTRU) in April 2012.  I attended Wesgro’s AGM in October 2012 and left unimpressed.  It was all about ticking the boxes with little vision apparent.  As a slick presentation, it was a flop, relying largely on videos.  We could have watched it from home and been spared the uncomfortable presence on the stage.

I met with CEO Nils Flaatten and COO Howard Gabriels in January 2013 to discover what progress had been made.  In May 2014, I met with Nils and Judy Lain, who had been appointed Chief Marketing Officer in August 2013.

At both meetings, after hearing what they had achieved and planned to do, Nils asked me to rate Wesgro, “How would you score us,” he asked.

Thinking back on it now, I would give Wesgro a score of 30-40%.

I had declined at the first meeting because I was uncomfortable with the rigid process-driven approach he had outlined.  I needed to absorb it and see what it delivered.

I had been hoping for good news at this month’s meeting and was taken on a tour of Wesgro’s new offices over four floors in the Reserve Bank Building.  That in itself was a strange choice.  It’s probably one of the least efficient, least “green” buildings in Cape Town; a national keypoint – which deters casual visitors.  This was so different to the vision tourism minister Alan Winde had spelled out a few years ago – all economic promotion and tourism agencies sharing the same high-profile building with easy access.  And Wesgro’s new offices (and the activities observed) just screamed “bureaucracy”.

Before meeting with Nils and Judy, I had shared with them my concerns about the performance of their websites and the rebranding which had taken place a few months earlier.  In 2012, destination marketing had its website upgraded and revamped, and Nils was expecting great things from it.

It hasn’t performed as one can see from the publicly-available Alexa.com rankings.  It trails behind Gauteng Tourism and KZN Tourism.

Alexa comparison of websites based on traffic rankings

The most recent rankings show Wesgro trade & investment’s global rank is #918,454, Wesgro’s destination marketing website is at #599,327, KZN Tourism is #473,131 and Gauteng Tourism is #415,060.  (For comparison, Cape Town Tourism stands at #98,351.)

Of even more concern, if one looks on the Western Cape Treasury’s website at Wesgro’s Quarterly Performance Reports, the destination marketing website only achieved between 22.9% and 25.5% of traffic targets for the first three quarters of the financial year.  Remedial action should have been taken a long time ago!  Tourism is a perishable industry – bodies in beds and bottoms on restaurant seats not sold today are lost forever.

(Wesgro seems to be behind in supplying validated reports to the Treasury and some other stats there raise questions too.  Click here for that report.)

The good news is the Destination Marketing gets a new website in June 2014, Trade & Investment gets a new one in July 2014 and a new Cape to Namibia Route website comes out in August 2014.  Whether they deliver the goods remains to be seen.

The new destination marketing website also gets a new URL (address) which is bound to attract a lot of debate.  But we’ll leave it to Wesgro to announce the details in due course.  We can’t see it being favoured by search engines though – it does a terrific job of hiding the brand!

Rebranding
Wesgro logoWell, it’s essentially just a new logo or set of logos, which set out to establish Wesgro as an agency managing a number of mandates.  It’s an opportunity lost!

Until one reads the tagline, one might wonder if Wesgro is similar to Seagro (a fertiliser) or if it’s a garden shop.  It is confusing.  Wesgro needs to live and be the brand it markets – a name change is overdue.  When Wesgro was established some 25 years ago, the local “Cape” brand wasn’t nearly as strong globally as it is now.

I think it’s also unfortunate that Wesgro has decided to main separate websites, because there are such synergies between trade, investment and tourism.  You’re not talking to different markets in effect; but you do need to package information differently.  More investment flows out of tourism than any other way.  Former Wesgro CEO David Bridgman pointed that out to me in 1997 and Nils concedes that it’s still a fact today.

Judy defends the decisions taken and I’m still waiting for her narrative around the new logo.  We’ll save that for another time, for more in-depth discussion.

Judy has only been on the job for about 10 months.  She is a marketer, is capable and works very hard.  But she has no tourism/trade & investment background and she doesn’t have the benefit of anyone else in Wesgro with any real destination marketing expertise.  And, coming from the private sector, being part of a local government agency needs a significant paradigm shift.

Wesgro has been successful in working more closely, and working differently, with the regional and local tourism offices.  (That comes through very strongly from the tourism offices I’ve spoken to.)  And there’s a blog Judy writes to keep those offices informed – click here.  (Have a look and then come back to add a comment saying if the new branding works for you!)

Communication
I only received the link to Judy’s blog after I complained about the lack of news and communication from Wesgro over the past year.  I used to be on all their mailing lists.  Nils and Judy conceded that this is a valid criticism.

And then a week after our meeting, wow! … I receive a media release.  It was quite a good one so I used it, only to discover that it was stale news, lifted from another website, and had been published in several other places six weeks earlier.  Now that kills all credibility and trust in Wesgro’s Communications Officer!  Judy responded to my complaint saying it was “shocking”, and that processes would be put in place to prevent it happening again.  That calls into question the calibre of staff appointed at Wesgro.

Another week goes by and I receive my first-ever CEO’s newsletter titled “New year, new home, fresh start”.  New year… with the winter equinox just a few weeks away?  That’s a *Fail* Wesgro!

Yes I know Wesgro has a number of mandates – conventions, film, trade, investment, Saldanha EPZ, etc. – and a limited budget and limited resources.  But destination marketing is what will make or break the organisation.  And it’s time Wesgro started sharing big ideas, big visions and demonstrable successes.

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Visitors to Indaba at Durban’s ICC last weekend were greeted by posters on the lamp poles around the complex saying “Western Cape welcomes Indaba delegates.” And the Independent on Saturday carried a wrap-around (the newspaper’s outer four pages all promoted Cape Town & the Western Cape).

Wesgro poster at Indaba

Wesgro wrap-around

The wrap-around on the Independent on Saturday

This left Durban Tourism fuming and they launched an unprecedented attack on SA Tourism for allowing this happen.

You can read the full statement by Durban Tourism below, factual errors and all.

Durban’s complaints have been rejected by SA Tourism.

They are just sour grapes at having been caught napping.  The posters and wraparound were paid advertising by Wesgro, the provincial destination marketing agency for Cape Town & the Western Cape, not just the city of Cape Town.

Kudos to Judy Lain, Wesgro’s chief marketing officer!  Wesgro’s stand also won gold for the second year running.

Marketing is all about competitive advantages and, when budgets are really limited, it takes creativity to do good marketing.  I wonder how many Indaba-goers remember 15 years ago how Felix Unite, when he couldn’t afford a stand at Indaba, postered the lamp poles around the ICC?

The number of people who attended Indaba was 9,754, down eight percent from last year.  The number of buyers dropped from 2,019 in 2013 to 1 863 and the number of exhibitors was down to 4,904 compared to the 6,100 in 2013.

Full statement by Durban Tourism:
It was not all rosy for the City of Durban at this year’s 26th travel and trade show, Tourism Indaba, held at Durban ICC during 10 – 12 May 2014. The host city has been left out on key marketing campaigns by South African Tourism (SAT) that seek to promote South Africa globally. The City of Durban, through Durban Tourism, last year launched its marketing strategy aimed at bringing [an] additional 1.8 million visitors with a view to increase revenue from R5.7 billion to R10 billion by 2020, however, it appears that the city will have to do this all by itself, as its partner seems to be on a different path to Durban.

First and foremost, during the launch of the largest tourism marketing events on the African calendar and one of the top three “must-visit” events of its kind on the global calendar hosted in Durban, the city has been snubbed and received just a handful of mentions in the major presentations and marketing collateral that marketed Indaba. Durban’s imagery and branding has not been included in promoting Tourism Indaba and has been left out, and the city’s involvement has not been mentioned in the publication – Indaba Daily News – which is published daily during the trade show. Durban has also been left out in the planning and hosting of trade buyers on [the] Pre and Post Indaba Trade Show.

During Tourism Indaba’s opening launch, it became evident that Cape Town plays a major role in position, and marketing South Africa and Indaba, as it featured prominently on the global marketing campaign. Durban, a major partner to hosting of Indaba has not been featured in the global campaign that seek[s] to attract visitors to the country.

The city of Cape Town, which competes directly with Durban and has hosted a rival trade show – WTM Africa – has been prominently on the South African Tourism global campaigns and has received a prominent spot to ambush Durban – KZN in a platform that has been paid for by the city and the Province of KZN, and this being the event of SAT; they are responsible to authorize and vet marketing materials that make their way to Indaba so that they do not become a prominent feature over the partners who have paid for the hosting of Indaba, which is the province and the city.

Importantly, South African Tourism as the host of Tourism Indaba, did not have a stand at Indaba, which means South Africa as a country did not have a representative in a global trade and travel show.

Despite all of the above, the city of Durban has pulled out all the stops, lived up to its reputation as the entertainment and events capital of Africa, as it hosted successfully [the] Indaba Beach party themed “Ekasi Shisanyama,” which was attended by 3,400 delegates and dignitaries from all over the world. [The] Durban Tourism team worked tirelessly in ensuring that all our visitors to the city get to experience [our] authentic lifestyle.

Durban Tourism held successful trade meetings with international buyers and showcased the city and experiences to the international delegates and media. Most of the hosted buyers come from major source markets namely India, Australia, Botswana, Nigeria, Zambia, and Germany, which are essential to the city’s tourism strategy. The team has ensured that visitors experience the unique Durban Township Lifestyle and experienced the rich culture and heritage of [the] Woza eNanda Heritage Route.

The city of Durban, engaged its key stakeholders with its leadership during the live panel broadcast of CNBC – Africa hosted at one of Durban’s iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium encompassing the theme “Unlocking Durban’s Potential into Africa” with emphasis on investments, events, and tourism destination[s] into Africa, [and] developments in [the] Dube Trade Port and expansion of Durban’s hotel infrastructure.

“It is our view that the city of Durban, as a partner and a host city for Tourism Indaba, maximizes on its investment, [and] showcase[s] the city to key international buyers and media. Our visitor strategy seeks to increase visitors to our city, and Indaba is one of the key trade shows where we are able to show what our city has to offer and what trade buyers can take back to sell our destination. Successful hosting of Indaba carries a positive economic impact of over R140 million, and we remain optimistic that Durban will remain to be the host city for years to come, despite the challenges we have come across this year,” said Phillip Sithole, Head of Durban Tourism.

“Durban Tourism is confident that visitors to Indaba 2014 will take their experiences to the market we seek to target and will result in additional visitors that we seek to attract as part of our strategy,” said Sithole.

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I attended a remarkable tourism conference in Johannesburg on Monday and Tuesday.  It was “The Summit” organised by Gauteng Tourism and the Tourism Business Council, with support from SA Tourism.

I live by the adage “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” and this conference measured everything — there was audience participation at every level: on Twitter (where it trended at #1), after every speaker, and responses were quantified immediately.

So… if politicians are in any doubt about their constituencies’ views… doubt no more.  Will it make any difference?  I will say that in the wrapping up session, I was impressed by the rapid feedback and the commitments given from Gauteng’s political sphere.  Guys, your responses were minuted!  If you deliver, the DA must start worrying…

1402870_515304588566632_2110287828_oFor me, the star of the show was Dawn Robertson.  It was her organisation that played the main role in pulling the conference together.  Quietly spoken, incisive, focused and without any brash bravado.  And hugely committed.  I hope she stays at Gauteng Tourism long enough to make a difference… I will be interviewing her next week so come back for more.

This was a conference where Gauteng came to the table to say we are the Gateway; we are the major roleplayer in tourism.   Or we can be if all the stakeholders come to the table.

SA Tourism was there in a show of force, along with TBCSA and Gauteng politicos and bureaucrats.  Some Gauteng local government speakers did impress; some less.  One figure staggered me — tourism’s contribution to Gauteng’s GDP and jobs is 4.5%.  Wake up guys!  You’re way below the world average and even in the Western Cape it’s 12.5%.  You are not delivering!

Given the nature and goals of this conference, Cape Town played a surprising role.    Mariette du Toit-Helmbold (former Cape Town Tourism CEO) and Judy Lain (Chief Marketing Officer at Wesgro) led two of the breakaway sessions.  Other Capetonians were also there to make their contribution.

Cape Town’s global gateway status was made by guest speaker, Chris Buckingham — former Melbourne Tourism CEO –  when he referred to that city as a “soft landing” for travellers intimidated by perceptions of Africa.  He urged other provinces and regions to grasp the opportunities this presents.  (Nothing demonstrates CapeInfo’s role over the last 17 years better!)

What are the main items which need addressing to make SA’s gateway fly as a tourism destination?

A single destination brand was one.  Who cares about the province?  Johannesburg is South Africa’s gateway.  Growing any other brand to match the Joburg brand is little more than fool’s thinking.  What province or state is London, New York or Paris in?

World class Transport was the other. For me, Gauteng and Johannesburg still epitomise a pre-1980s mindset: throw money at problems.  The Gauteng Road Improvement Project is a disaster.  You find tailbacks at 10am on the brand-new N1!  What will happen in 3 years’ time?  Far too little emphasis is placed on management and maintenance.

Having said that, someone I would love to engage with more is Ismail Vadi, Gauteng’s transport MEC.  He is pragmatic and engaging which leaves me with the question, “Are Gautengers somewhat pathetic consumers?”

So… visit http://www.sasummit.net/ for more.

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Here’s a question mainly for people in the SA tourism industry – which should mean all South Africans!

Having visited many tourism offices around SA, one can’t help wondering, “Are they just info offices, or do they actively market to a far wider audience?”  Do they match the expectations of paying members?  Do they give a return on local government funding or is that just a feel-good grant?

So we asked Alan Winde, the Western Cape’s MEC for Finance & Tourism: “Should Local Tourism Ofiices (LTOs) receive municipal funding without proper, annual business & marketing plans?”

His answer was “No, they must be able to show plans and report after the year end. It’s public money.”

How many LTOs and municipalities comply with this fully?  You may find rudimentary plans submitted, but are they worth the paper they are written on?  And how many submit the required annual reports that show what was achieved?  It’s not just about accounting for money spent, but showing that it was effectively spent and that it did produce returns, measured year-against-year.

Now the real problem lies with the municipalities who provide the annual grants.  Are they failing in their duty?  Are they competent to assess business and marketing plans, and do they demand the annual reports showing what was achieved?

Maybe provincial authorities like Wesgro (for the Western Cape) or independent assessment organisations need to be tasked with endorsing plans and reports – because most municipalities don’t have the expertise.  And this could provide the opportunity to raise the bar in destination marketing everywhere.

The question:  Do you think your local tourism office meets these requirements & your expectations?  (Do they share their annual business & marketing plans, and annual reports, with you?)

Please vote in our poll and you can also add further comments below:

{jvotesystem poll=|3|}

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Does anybody know what region London, New York, Paris or Sydney are in?  Does anyone care?   The same goes for San Tropez, Santorini and Timbuktu.

So why – in South Africa – do we make such a big deal of region and route marketing, often with names which are unknown brands?  Is it because our destination marketing is dominated by local government politicians and bureaucrats?  And they don’t appreciate the fundamental imperative of all marketing: “It’s not what you want to say, it’s what your customer wants to hear.”

There are examples of strong route and regional brands, but none of them were created by bureaucrats.  For example, the Stellenbosch Wine Route – where a group of product owners banded together to reinforce their offering… using and enhancing the strong Stellenbosch brand.  And there’s the Garden Route, Swartberg and Waterberg, but those have existed as brands long before any destination marketing came into play.

Cities, towns and villages are the ultimate (and very competitive) brands.  Anything that dilutes these as brands damages destination marketing.

As an example, take the relatively new Whale Coast Route being marketed by Overstrand Municipality.  Wouldn’t they get more bang for their buck by rather boosting their already-recognised brands?  What’s it going to cost to elevate Whale Coast Route to the same level of regional, national and global recognition as Hermanus and Gansbaai?  The bottom line is… Overstrand can’t afford it.

To make matters worse, most visitors to this area visit when there isn’t a whale in sight!  Is this a brand promise that can’t be met for most visitors?

As municipalities around South Africa try to up their role in destination marketing, the nonsense grows worse.  Municipalities usually embrace several towns and, because each doesn’t want the other to have dominance, new and meaningless brands are being created.  Does the West Coast Peninsula mean anything to you?  (I bet Paternoster, Langebaan and Saldanha do!)  This epitomises bureaucrats’ need for political solutions, aligned to political structures, rather than marketing solutions.

In Gauteng it’s particularly confusing since many accommodation establishments in Ekuhuleni (East Rand) still claim to be part of Johannesburg.  And in the Eastern Cape, Port Elizabeth and East London mean much more than Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City.

Please vote in the poll below.

{jvotesystem poll=|2|}

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CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold has announced that she will be leaving Cape Town Tourism at the end of July 2013 but will continue to support the organisation until after its AGM in October.

She will, however, continue working on tourism and marketing strategy initiatives, nationally and internationally, as an independent tourism and marketing strategist.

She was appointed CEO of the new Cape Town Tourism in 2004 and had the difficult job of bringing the various tourism bodies together when several local authorities were amalgamated into the new City of Cape Town.

Few will argue the point that she led CTT to become the best destination marketing organisation in South Africa.

CapeInfo appreciates the relationship we’ve always had with her, and we’re sure this will continue as she starts on her new chapter.

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Oops, and there I’ve caught myself out with the title!  There are not many info office marketers — they mainly just hand out information.

But here’s the important lesson, told to me many years ago by the late Don Titmas, just after he opened the first fine-dining restaurant at the V&A Waterfront:

“The hospitality industry is a perishable industry.

“If you don’t sell bodies into beds and bottoms onto restaurant seats today, you can’t catch up tomorrow or ever after.  They are lost for good!”

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