The bane of Cape Town’s hospitality industry

“I’m such a nasty person,” she said with glee.  One can laugh it off but in Chris von Ulmenstein’s case, it’s become a fact.  And she went on to say how she waits for knocks on the door bearing lawsuits.

But her latest action shows that she is in fact, in her own small way, a threat to democracy.  She convinced her hosting company, Hetzner, to take down another site which they also host.  Hetzner has not responded to CapeInfo’s email so we find hard to believe that the process is fair and, indeed, constitutional.

One prominent Cape Town hotelier called Hetzner to complain about its actions, but Hetzner’s Gunther Breuninger explained that they were instructed by the Internet Service Providers Association to take down the site.  Now if you look at the ISPA’s take-down process, you will see that it’s not the ISPA that issues any instruction, but Hetzner would have decided for itself.  So did Breuninger tell a blatant lie?  One must wonder if Hetzner is a trustworthy company.

Was Hetzner right or wrong?  Vote in our poll on the right.

The site taken down is Martin Hatchuel’s This Tourism Week – a highly-regarded business-to-business publication and an important part of his livelihood.

One tourism organisation official – who prefered not to be identified – had the following take on all of this: “Martin is an excellent journalist and This Tourism Week is one of the better tourism news sites out there. I find it incomprehensible that his website was shut down because of comments from readers to a vitriolic posting by von Ulmenstein. This action by Hetzner does appear unconstitutional.”

You can read the posting here.

Why the anonymous quotes?  Many people are scared of von Ulmenstein and none want the nastiness of her vitriolic attacks that are sure to follow.

Chris von Ulmenstein has become the Julius Malema of the hospitality industry – a loose cannon who always knows better; she’s happy to criticise but balks at any criticism of herself.

Whale Cottage blog tags

The tags say it all. Von Ulmenstein’s writing is purely a promotion of herself and her Whale Cottage Portfolio. From www.whalecottage.com/blog/

I started von Ulmenstein on her blogging career.  She came to me in 2008 when someone had opened a website with the sole aim of criticising her and her business (Whale Cottage Portfolio) after a bad experience at one of her guest houses.  The problem was, if you googled “Chris von Ulmenstein”, this slagging website was at the top of the first page.

So I advised that she makes as much “noise” as possible – using Facebook, social media and other websites and blogs.  And I even offered her a blog on CapeInfo which she started.  The offending website was pushed off Google’s first page fairly quickly.

This is super – I Google’d “Chris von Ulmenstein” last night, and saw it at no. 8 I think, beating the horrid website, which is now at number 10.  I have to get it off the first Google page.” CvU’s email on 29/8/08

Von Ulmenstein took to blogging like a duck in a downpour.  Unfortunately, this was the time when she’d also just been booted out of Fedhasa – her industry association.    So she used the blog to air her personal grievances (something a professional writer never does) and slag off Fedhasa’s leadership.

Now I now that Google spiders CapeInfo very efficiently and it usually takes between three and six minutes before a blog post is indexed on Google.  But the worst was waking to von Ulmenstein’s emails (often written at about 3am), asking if I’d seen her latest post slagging Nils Heckscher or another victim, and how it’s already at number three on Google’s first page for a search on the person’s name.

I hoped that she’d move on and concentrate on providing the insight that she is so good at.  But no, when I said I was unhappy with her direction she opened a new blog – Fedhasa is a Farce, where she really let rip.

So I was forced to set conditions, which she would not meet, and I felt obliged to close her blog on CapeInfo.  There was no outside influence and I took the decision completely on my own.  I cannot allow CapeInfo to be used as a platform for malicious vendettas where integrity is a foreign word.

I’ve known Chris for a long time.  She and her company, Relationship Marketing, became a tenant at the V&A Waterfront in the early 90s.  Then, she was one of those people one rather avoided.  She always knew better and nothing was good enough.

In subsequent years, I had a good relationship with her while she was on Cape Town Tourism’s board, lastly as deputy-chair when the old CTT was disbanded in 2003.

She was a passionate champion for tourism in the days when tourism wasn’t the glamour industry it is today.  But as the old CTT was being closed, after the City Council withheld funding, I had to wonder if she wasn’t too passionate and if there wasn’t an element of surrogacy in her possessive relationship with CTT?  With imminent closure as funds were running dry, von Ulmenstein reportedly handed over a cheque for over R100,000 to keep the organisation going.  They gave the cheque back to her.

She never made it onto the new CTT board so focused her attention on Fedhasa, where she served on the Western Cape exco until tensions with fellow exco members saw her expelled rather publicly – the first time I’m aware anybody has been expelled in that manner.

Is Chris von Ulmenstein a paragon of virtue in the realms of her chosen hospitality industry?  Well, one thing is clear, she is seriously lacking in the karma stakes.  Her nemesis website in Google, dirtywhale.com, is still there and back up to fourth position; her presence in TripAdvisor (which she calls “the bane of the hospitality industry”) and HelloPeter is hardly salutary.

The latest five Tripadvisor posts about Whale Cottage Franshhoek are:
Whale Cottage Franschhoek – a dirty run down dump.
Whale Cottage – a health risk
An agressive owner, no service, no telephone and a dirty pool..not a 4*
A squalid hovel with horrendous staff and owner
A filthy run down and disgusting dump Do…

On HelloPeter.com there is one compliment and five complaints.

If anything is the bane of Cape Town’s hospitality industry, it is von Ulmenstein’s Whale Cottage Blog.  She’s reportedly been banned at scores of restaurants and was forcibly evicted by police from trendy, upmarket Beluga, when she was refused right of admission and refused to leave.

Yet she riles on and on, sparing no-one she disagrees with.  Her page-by-page criticism of Crush magazine is one of the most embarrassing examples of journalism I’ve ever seen.

Von Ulmenstein seems to have one set of rules for herself, but another set for everyone else.  She wrote the following email to me on October 31, 2008:  “It would be most unprofessional for you to attack me, when we are “colleagues”, so to speak. You sound like a self-righteous policeman, and in judgment of things that do not concern you, as you are not part of my business.”

So, if I started Chris von Ulmenstein on her blogging career which has caused so much distress, I must apologise.

But as one of South Africa’s most esteemed professionals said, “One comfort about being attacked by the Whale is that there is such a large ‘old boys/girls club’ of victims.  Sad little person.”

Postscript
It was actually very sad writing this because I was friends with Chris at one time.  If it was not for her malicious and vindictive rabble-rousing, she would be a great blogger.  Her blog was recently nominated in the SA blog awards in the ‘most controversial blog’ category.  One hopes that this doesn’t inspire her to new heights, or should that be “stoop to new lows?”

Postscript #2
The ISPA has drawn my attention to the following:

  1. It is the ISP that decides on a take down and not the ISPA.
  2. the ECT Act is fairly clear on redress:  77(2) Any person who lodges a notification of unlawful activity with a service provider knowing that it materially misrepresents the facts is liable for damages for wrongful take-down.

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24 thoughts on “The bane of Cape Town’s hospitality industry

  1. Samantha Obery

    Rule number one within the Caviar Group is simply “the guest comes first.” The caveat to that rule is to never allow a guest to bully your staff or undermine your business. Chris von Ulmenstein’s behaviour in our establishments has triggered the caveat on every occasion; and as such, she has been banned from all Caviar Restaurants and associated establishments.

    Caviar Marketing Director, Samantha Obery

    Reply
  2. James

    Thank you for this article. The only way that a person of this calibre can be stopped is if we, as the hospitality industry, stand up together. The writer has the courage of conviction a lot of other people lack. We see Chris at blogging events and in our restaurants and painfully tolerate her because of the damage she can do. I believe the time has come for all of us to stand up against the bully and to use her unforgiving action against Martin as the point of solidarity.

    Reply
  3. Mary Tebje

    So many rules get broken in the online world, not least of all the disregard for fair-play and freedom of speech. I would not under estimate the seriousness of this; unless you can back up what you say with hard fact, don’t be fooled into thinking you are somehow ‘safe’ online to say what you want with no come-back. This is a wake-up call!

    Reply
    1. CapeInfo Post author

      Online behaviour should be no different to face-to-face behaviour and those who think they can hide behind a computer monitor are looking for trouble.

      But the real problem with “online” is that everybody with a computer and internet has few barriers to entry. You can claim to be a blogger, writer, web developer, or anything you want to be.

      That doesn’t mean you’re professional, have ethics and integrity, or that you’re even vaguely competent. In 2006, I said to CTT & CTRU, to show they are serious about fostering professional tourism efforts, websites need to be endorsed or not-endorsed by tourism authorities. If you bring the hospitality sector into disrepute, and attract disreputable sites which attack you, you are not acceptable.

      Reply
  4. Nils Heckscher

    Respect and fairness are paramount. Those who know Martin and had dealings with him blogwise will confirm this. To take his site down like this is a serious threat to our hard earned freedom of speech! Many people who were attacked on the whale blogs would have had reason to ask for such action but felt this would have promoted it even further. It is very heartening to see that the old saying of “what goes around comes around” rings true! We operate in such a fragile environment currently that we can really do without such disruptions and destructive behaviour!

    Reply
    1. Martin Hatchuel

      Thanks Nils: it’s clear that you understand that the most important underlying issue here is freedom of speech. There was no due process, no right of reply: the site was simply taken down on the say-so of one disgruntled person. This is serious, and begs deep questions of the service provider, Hetzner (which invoked the weakest and oldest excuse – ‘Just following orders’), and the ISPA, which issued the take-down order that Hetzner was ‘just following.’

      At a time when the ANC is seriously attacking our freedom of speech, the actions of these bodies is extremely worrying, and I am not taking this lightly

      Reply
  5. Susan

    What’s the problem here, so Von Ulmstein has upset a few restaurant owners, so what, who cares, its about time someone put these greedy restaurant owners in their place, I am sick and tired of being ripped off, everyone is entitled to their opinion, read Whale Blog or don’t, your choice, thankfully we still have a choice in this country for now anyway. People setting up fake Twitter accounts to hurl insults is pretty amusing but actually says more about the people who set it up, too much time on your hands.

    Reply
    1. Kiki

      I agree with Susan. What led me here was the outright bullying on Twitter of Von Ulmstein. Whatever she may or may not have done in some peoples minds does not warrant the torrent of abuse she has to put up with every day there. How far should people be allowed to go?There is “Freedom of Speech” and then there is “hate” speech! There IS a big difference!

      I too am sick of being ripped off in Cape Town restaurants, something lacking at the moment all round is taking the customer seriously, at the end of the day we either come back or not.

      I have read Whale blog and often times the complaints/critisisms are not from her but from your customers, take heed at what they say!

      Personally I won’t be frequenting any of the the establishments who are targeting her as they have obviously jumped on the bandwagon instead of looking at the real story!

      Reply
      1. Jane

        You people clearly have not met this [edited], and therefore even though you are welcome to your opinion, it unfortunately isn’t worth much in this case.

        Having had dealings with “The Whale” in the past – I for one agree with the author of this article. I would suggest employing the same tactics that she did, and insist that Hetzner take down her blog too.

        I for one, as one of Hetzner’s larger & longstanding customers, will be writing to them requesting this. I urge everyone else to do the same.

        Chris von Ulmenstein doesn’t deserve our time of day.

        Reply
  6. Jane-Anne Hobbs

    I’m not afraid to put my name to this.

    Blogs, in an ideal world, are places where people who aren’t professional writers or journalists – and who wouldn’t normally stand a chance of being published in mainstream media – can express themselves, build a following, and become online stars (or even superstars). They can say stuff they’d never be allowed to say if they were constrained by the policies of a newspaper or magazine house, and they can speak their minds openly, which is as it should be in any free society that espouses freedom of speech.

    But when blogs – and other social media – become festering hotbeds where feuds are aired, dirty linen is hung out, egos are polished and axes are ground down to blunt weapons, no one really benefits. Not bloggers, not their audience, not the topic at hand (in this case, the Cape tourism and hospitality industry) and certainly not the amazing pool of knowledge and opinion that is the Internet.

    I apologise for the mash-up of metaphors in the paragraph above, and if I sound like I’m pontificating. But I’m sick and tired of the negativity, the character assassination and the low-level bitching going on, particularly in the competitive and often astonishingly nasty Cape Town food/wine/restaurant blogging scene.

    I’d like to see more civility, more constructive criticism, more professionalism and some basic decency. I’d like to see good, informed opinion, excellent writing, lively opinion and thoughtful analysis. I’d like to see every blog post adding something of interest and value to the Internet, so that people who read our posts – and they surely will – in two hundred years’ time will actually glean something useful from what we have to say.

    In short, a little cool-headed respect all round.

    Jane-Anne Hobbs
    http://www.scrumptious.co.za

    Reply
  7. SD

    I am so glad for this article. Because I recently wrote a reply to one of her blogs regarding Sotano (see quote). Merely stating the facts, but she went on to respond to it without actually posting the article as if she was the victim. I felt very frustrated. My concern, is that it is very possible that when people respond to her, she only posts articles that are in favour if her opinion, with a few thrown in to not make it too suspicious. With this in mind, people that accept what she writes are indeed being misled. This must surely be a treated as a threat to our restaurant industry..
    This is my post:
    “Dear Chris
    Before I start, let’s just put it in writing. I do not work for Caveau (to sue as well). I am not a follower of your blog, but merely came across it by googling Sotano. So bravo to you, for actually soliciting some publicity from this. I must indicate that this article contains many inconsistent claims.
    Firstly, you say you have never eaten at Caveau, then later on say you have and was treated badly “went to Caveau in its early days, and experienced some rudeness from the management”. So already in my opinion you have a grudge to bear.
    Secondly, further state that that you went because of Jamie who’s twitter. On his twitter he clearly states that this is a “test drive”.
    Thirdly, you then go on to attack Brendon Crew on his rudeness and unprofessionalism. One only needs to google your name to find a few choice comments on you. Case in point, this is on mybroadband, “Finally the [edited] got what she deserves!!! She is one of the most rudest / unfriendly / unpolite people I have ever dealt with. As I am in the tourism industry – I know Chris all too well. She screams and yells at consultants and at her staff and the managers at her guest houses don’t last more than 2 months. I mean even Pick n Pay in Seapoint opens a special cashier for her when she goes there – because she is too good to stand in a queue like everyone else. Pot calling the kettle black, maybe?
    Lastly, you seem to imply that you care about the tourism industry, thats why you have this blog, so then how do you explain this http://www.whale-cottage.com/. These tourists were so disgusted by your guesthouse that they even opened a website for it. Lady, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Stop picking on hard working successful people, just to garner some publicity off their back. You are ruining the industry, and if more restauranteurs were as brave enough and had courage and faith in their establishment to tell irresponsible bloggers like you where to stuff it, they would be more successful.”

    Reply
  8. Kirstie

    A week ago I was blissfully unaware of Chris von Ulmenstein or her penchant for vitriolic baseless attacks on innocent members of the public on whom her unfavouring gaze came to fall.
    That is, until her attack on the barely opened Sotano, which SD refers to. Having never really read blogs before (and certainly never having responded to any) I found her commentary so personal and unbalanced that I was moved to post a response on her blog. When she in turn posted a reply which was again biased and just factually incorrect, I replied with a further post which highlighted direct contradictions in some of her accounts, which she declined to publish, citing alleged “defamatory” comments (a word which I have soon come to learn she likes to throw about, whilst being ignorant of it’s legal significance). I found this outrageous in a country which (presently at least) still champions the right to free speech..in Chris’s case, however, she appears to only respect the chorus of voices who echo her sentiments, whereas those voices who are strident must apparently be silenced.
    In this vein, I found your article particularly balanced and insightful and I respect the apparent dilemma you faced in writing it, given your personal history with Ms Von Ulmenstein. As a lawyer I am also deeply concerned about the legality or otherwise of the actions which you refer to in your article. How far may a person go before it’s too far?

    Reply
  9. Dieter

    Dieter – your comment has been deleted since it is off the topic of this article and you provided a phoney email address.
    While using nicknames is permitted, providing false information is in violation of the Terms of Use of this website. Violaters are identified by IP address and cookies, and future posts are treated as spam.

    CapeInfo admin

    Reply
  10. James

    I support Jane in writing to Hetzner’s to officially complain about the slander of the Whale’s blog. Can you please post the details of Hetzner here so that I can add my voice to this threat of freedom of speech by the Whale and Hetzner.

    Reply
  11. CapeInfo Post author

    Due to increasing violations of CapeInfo’s Terms of Use with fraudulent emails being provided, we have introduced the requirement that only logged in users may post comments. You need to register on CapeInfo before you can log in. That you do near the top of the page. For help, please click on Frequently Asked Questions under the “Help” navigation tab.

    Where people hide behind fraudulent email addresses, one can assume that they have something to hide and cannot participate in open discussion and debate. We do not censor content although we reserve the right to edit.

    Reply
  12. Susanne

    Thank you for your article, it’s well balanced. Until now I had the attitude: Don’t even bother to ignore her. Why doesn’t Chris von Ulmenstein pull out of our industry? Obviously she is better as a blogger, than as a guest house owner. It is about time to do something against establishments like her whale cottages creating seriously upset visitors and damaging the reputation of our local tourism industry.

    James please see Hetzner’s contact details below:

    Gunther Breuninger
    Hetzner Abuse Department
    Hetzner (Pty) Ltd – Winning awards since 2003
    National Contact Centre: 0861-0861-08
    Fax: 0861-0861-09
    International: +27 21 970 2000
    Web: http://www.hetzner.co.za

    Reply
  13. Martin

    Judging by the number of Janes and Marys who’ve commented, I wonder how many of them really are who they say they are? And judging by how wide off the mark they are, I wonder even more.

    The issue here, people, is freedom of speech – not whether anyone likes anyone else’s restaurant/ guest house / porta-loo,

    It goes to the hard-won human rights we enjoy in this country – but, unless we act vigilantly, won’t enjoy much longer

    Reply
  14. Peter

    the Devil wears Prada
    Christine is always right and I recall a posting where she complained about the parking marshals and did write they where rude to her. I was a witness in Bree Street and it was the other way around, she was at this little restaurant for over an hour, she refused to pay at all, shouted at the poor guy and drove off in her big fat limousine. It is really time that we show her that her behaviour is not acceptable.

    Reply
  15. Kurt

    Yes, she is indeed the bane of the hospitality industry. Saddest person we know. She sits up in the middle of the night searching internet sites to see what is being written about her. It is like a spiral downwards for her. Fact is – she has dug her own grave. Her Camps Bay Guest House is in the market in an effort to recover massive losses. Tourists don’t want to touch the Whale Cottage with a bar-pole because of TripAdvisor and Hello Peter reviews.

    In a way you have to feel sorry for Chris von Ulmenstein. She has alienated herself from everybody that had any kind of sympathy for her. Her so-called friends snigger behind her back. The Hospitality and Tourism industry is closing down on her. It is a question of time.

    Carl, you have been controversial and I haven’t always agreed with you. But I have to give it to you – your reporting has always been about transparency and honesty. Something Von Ulmenstein is lacking severely.

    Reply

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