Tag Archives: Franschhoek

Categorising towns will be the real tourism game-changer!

Not all towns are tourism towns and some towns will never become tourism towns.  I first mentioned the need for towns to be categorised in “Tourism will never be Helen Zille’s game-changer until there are lots of changes.”  In response to another article where I said Montagu is not a tourist town (because most businesses are closed when tourists are there) some locals said that they don’t want it to be a tourism town like Franschhoek but want it to stay the way it is.  Towns must decide what they want to be and what they want to achieve, and they must be given the appropriate label.

The more I’ve driven around South Africa, the more I’ve realised how badly tourism is structured in most areas — as a public-private partnership, with local government playing its role and the industry playing theirs.  Obvious Tourism Towns like Sutherland in the Northern Cape and Dullstroom in Mpumalanga don’t even have tourism organisations or info offices of any sort.  Sutherland’s municipality does a pretty good job of maintaining the village but, in Dullstroom, a private initiative had to step in because the municipality was not and is not doing its job.

Outstanding examples of Tourism Towns are Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Being categorised as a Tourism Town (or village) should be the most highly sought-after accolade — with demonstrable rewards — there can be.  It must recognise that tourism is second only to education in the importance of national government’s departments, and has the ability to create more jobs, more upward economic mobility, and improve environmental quality better than anything else.

A town can never be a Tourism Town simply because a politician or bureaucrat says so — tourism only happens where everything comes together.

What are the categories that towns can fall under?  Well here are some, but please add your suggestions for others to the comments box below:

  1. Tourism towns — they are the tourism game-changing towns
  2. Getaway towns
  3. Heritage towns
  4. Commercial towns

And in cases where the towns don’t cut the grade but the surrounding region does, one should be able to declare a tourist region.  (An example of this could be the Waterberg in Limpopo, where Vaalwater — the main town — is a rather depressing little place.)

Where a town is declared a Tourism Town, the national & provincial departments of tourism and co-operative governance must work together to help them succeed.

  1. Access to more funding and professional assistance to grow tourism, job creation, etc.
  2. Interventions at the municipality to establish CIDs (city/town improvement districts) when necessary.
  3. Interventions with SANRAL for better signage or treatment of their roads where they pass through Tourism Towns.  (SANRAL must throw away their rule book when it comes to Tourism Towns.)

Becoming a Tourism Town should not be easy:

  1. There must be a tourism organisation, supported financially by the municipality but managed and run by the hospitality industry — yes, it’s not just about accommodation and the organisation must include attractions & activities, F&B, retail, etc.  The town’s businesses must demonstrate their commitment to be a Tourism Town, so 70% (or pick a number) of all town’s hospitality businesses must be paying members of their tourism organisation.
  2. The town must be open when tourists visit.  So if tourists visit primarily over weekends, most businesses must be open over weekends, not just Saturday mornings.  That includes provincial & municipal museums.

And most importantly, the municipality is not the attraction — the town is.

It’s going to be more difficult for cities to follow these suggestions – but these are just suggestions to promote debate, not a roadmap.

Come on Western Cape, why don’t you get the ball rolling.  It’s all about focusing energies and resources, and creating centres of excellence that others will be inspired to follow.

The Most Beautiful Street in South Africa

Tulbagh’s Church Street must be the most beautiful street in South Africa.  Devastated by an earthquake in 1969, it was painstakingly restored and the 32 buildings comprise the largest concentration of National Monuments in a single street in South Africa, all of which are in daily use for you to enjoy.  You can stay, dine or shop in them and experience life in a bygone era.

Rows of Cape Dutch buildings in Tulbagh's Church Street

Rows of Cape Dutch buildings in Tulbagh’s Church Street

Self-catering accommodation, restaurants and shops occupy the upper side of the street while the lower side has the leiwater channel with further heritage buildings and garden erven.

Self-catering accommodation, restaurants and shops occupy the upper side of the street while the lower side has the leiwater channel with further heritage buildings and garden erven.

Walking down this spell-binding road, I wondered why Tulbagh hadn’t become nearly as popular as Franschhoek, for example.  It’s not that much further from Cape Town — 120km (124km if you go via Riebeek Kasteel) vs Franschhoek’s 80km.  (It is the exactly same distance from Cape Town as Hermanus.)  Both towns are, to most intents and purposes, at the end of a road.  Tulbagh has the edge when it comes to heritage architecture and was already home to premier wine brands when Franschhoek was still a sleepy fruit-growing village 30 years ago.

Well Tulbagh didn’t have an Arthur McWilliam Smith and a municipality which grew the attraction and the town’s brand like Franschhoek did.  Yes, the number of really great accommodation establishments in the Tulbagh area has grown (click here for more) and it is a very popular wedding location, but many visitors will spend their entire stay at their farm accommodation because the attraction of the town has not kept pace with what tourists want.

The main road, Van der Stel Street, doesn’t cut it.  It’s far wider than it need be and the lower side — which has some fine old buildings and several eating establishments — has no sidewalk whatsoever!  To walk along this side of the road, you need to zig-zag between parked and parking cars.  It is a lousy pedestrian environment and not at all conducive to retail and hospitality activities.  Witzenberg Municipality gets a #Fail for commonsense and pedestrian safety.

Imagine widening the pavement so that eateries could spill out, creating more buzz, while still allowing pedestrians to walk up and down deciding where to stop next.  How long will it be before the number of eateries along that side of the road will double?  How long before the town of Tulbagh becomes known as a nice place to be, in addition to the attraction of heritage architecture?  This is not rocket science!

For a long time, Tulbagh has focused on the legacy of the earthquake and the restored buildings… but that’s not what people want.  They want food and wine destinations; they want scenic beauty and quality pedestrian environments.

More recently, the area has been branded as the Witzenberg Valley — encouraged by Witzenberg Municipality which comprises the towns of Tulbagh, Wolseley and Ceres — which is not a valley at all since it has the stunning beautiful Michells Pass between Wolseley and Ceres!  The actual Witzenberg Valley stretches north from Ceres.

Wolseley and Ceres are not tourist towns and are not likely to become ones for a long time, although their surrounding areas do have a number of tourist attractions.  Ceres is best known as the Western Cape town to visit to see the snow after heavy snowfalls.

Tulbagh is best placed to become the main tourist town for this region and has the strongest brand by far: it just needs to be developed.  Take a leaf from other areas — Constantia once only included a few estates but Constantia Valley now includes Tokai and rural Bergvliet.  The Franschhoek tourism area now includes estates and tourism businesses which are actually in Groot Drakenstein, Simondium, Paarl and Stellenbosch.

CapeInfo believes it makes more sense to market Tulbagh and Wolseley together — it is a contiguous wine-growing area and offer synergistic and complimentary tourism products.  Yes, they are close to other attractions at Riebeek Kasteel (38km away and en route to Cape Town) and Ceres is a 12km drive over Michells Pass from the Wolseley side of the valley.

What do you think?  What destination branding will benefit this area the most?  (Municipal areas are not destinations — click here for more on that.)  What does the town and region need to do to become an aspirational tourism brand?

Let’s start the debate!


Tourism will never be Helen Zille’s game-changer until there are lots of changes

It’s been an interesting first few days of travels, and one realises how much observations and thoughts are always formed by the experiences that went before.

What I observed in Montagu, my first stop, raised a red flag that was re-inforced throughout the Robertson Wine Valley.  The urgent imperative in SA today is to create meaningful jobs, empower people and give them new skills that will be a doorway to upwards mobility.

The point of the Khulisa “game-changers” programme that MEC Alan Winde has initiated, and that Wesgro is leading, is to identify the changes that can lead to considerable increases in the growth of the tourism industry, and especially the jobs it creates.

Driving between towns – Montagu, Ashton, Robertson, Barrydale and McGregor — gives one lots of time to think.  And I realised that none of these are in fact ‘tourist towns’.  They rely on the attractions of some wine farms (those that are open all weekend) and activities in the mountains and rivers.  Yes, people do go just to chill out, but they’ll stay in a place longer with something more that appeals.  I discovered that many weekenders leave the towns of the Robertson Wine Valley early enough on Sunday to head back to Cape Town via Franschhoek, where there are more places open to have fun and spend their money.  The towns and people in the Langeberg municipality lose out.

Is tourism in Montagu, for example, creating significant numbers of new jobs — more jobs than it did two years ago — in numbers that can be called game-changing numbers?  I don’t think so.  Because my new benchmark for ‘tourism towns’ is the amount of “buzz” there is on the main street.  How many shops — especially coffee shops — are still open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, when most tourists visit?

Accommodation is not the tourism industry; it’s only a small part of that industry.  Only about a third of accommodation establishments are professionally-run businesses and the balance primarily support a lifestyle for the owners.  I’ll never forget a chairperson of a Local Tourism Office (LTO) telling me the only reason she opened an accommodation establishment was for the tax breaks it offered, with a bonus of meeting interesting people.  Most tourism organisations exist to promote and support these vested interests.

Attractions and activities are at the very core of tourism.  And they probably create – or could create — many more jobs than accommodation establishments do.  But are they open when tourists and travellers want to visit?  The majority of Robertson Wine Valley’s estates, hospitality and retail operations are closed from Saturday afternoon for the rest of the weekend.  Have these towns embraced a tourism ethic?  Do they give tourists what they really want?  I don’t think so.

A Real Game-changer — extended trading hours
And then I thought about the implications of extended trading hours, for more days of the week.  That means more staff and maybe even shifts.  Asking around showed that 25% in new work opportunities is a reasonable figure.

So imagine the extra impact: a possible increase in new jobs of 25% in retail and hospitality sectors with no expenditure on infrastructure?

It was Gert Lubbe of Montagu Country Hotel who pressurised Van Loveren Estate into opening seven days a week.  And they should be forever in debt to him – the turnover on the farm increased by 100% (from an already high base) by not closing at 12:30pm on Saturdays and staying open on Sundays.  And why was Van Loveren so successful?  When it comes to meeting the needs of the market, they are dedicated and utterly professional.  (Big kudos to Bonita Malherbe, their marketing manager.)

Small businesses in the attractions and activities sector have the ability to generate far more jobs than the accommodation sector because they outsource more; they rely on others in the community to fill the gaps they need filled to make their businesses work.  They are the real engine of entrepreneurship.  (And I’m starting to accumulate a number of case studies to prove this.)

Few tourism organisations have the ability to implement this because they basically serve only their own interests, and look to municipalities to increase funding of vested interests and the status quo.  How many local tourism offices have a game-changing plan?  But then, equally, how many municipalities have the first inkling on how to really drive tourism?

When the V&A Waterfront started, it heralded the start of extended trading hours for seven days a week for the first time in SA.  Tenants didn’t like it and it was tough on them.  When Victoria Wharf opened, it had the highest number of owner/operators of any major mall, and most succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  And it established the Waterfront as the brightest destination on the African continent — no-one would ever think of going back to the old ways.

What Provincial authorities can do is to establish the hospitality (for all in service industries) training centres similar to those that were established in Kenya and Malawi with enormous success.   People in service industries need to be confident, engaging and understand the need for hard work.  Our tourism industry must be able to deliver world-class service especially if we are going to be successful with the growing Eastern markets, where service is “deeply ingrained in their culture.  It is a sacred duty.” ¹

Isn’t it time to start categorising towns?
If the towns I visited are not really ‘tourist towns’ what are they?

Maybe we should be categorising towns as Heritage towns, Getaway towns and Tourist towns?  And some towns, like Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, could be categorised as all three?  And some towns might only be classified as Business towns – many towns in SA have little attraction and exist primarily to serve mines, industry and as administrative centres.

Some towns don’t want to be, or cannot be, ‘tourist towns’ and tourism promotion is only geared to protecting the vested interests with no real emphasis on creating new jobs.  In McGregor, someone told me they don’t like tourists because they bath too often (rather than shower) and the village runs out of water.  Maybe that was an exaggeration or said in jest, but it portrays an attitude I have encountered before.  Over a dinner in Stanford about two years ago, one of the guests said she didn’t want to village to change at all because the only reason that she had moved there was because of its “sleepy hollow” character.  Can we afford to be that selfish given the inequalities in South Africa?  Can we ignore the real needs in our poorer communities?

Are Municipalities the dog in the manger?
Municipalities need to get clued up.  They need to focus on creating people-friendly spaces and environments, and thinking like shopping centre managers think – about driving the triple bottom line.    They might need creative new municipal bylaws but will definitely have to work in a different way with developers to get more civic and tourism benefit from new developments.  They – representing the public interest – need to decide on their place in the greater scheme of tourism and get the majority of businesses to buy into this.

Should LTOs receive funding to promote vested interests?  Or should they only receive funding from the public purse if they have a strategy to become a real ‘tourist town’?  This needs clear guidelines but the most important is the creation of tourist streets or tourism precincts that are open seven days a week, or at least when most tourists want to visit.

Do municipalities have the skills to tackle this when it’s an engineering mindset that dominates most decisions?  I don’t think so.  Maybe this is where Provincial authorities and organisations like Wesgro need to develop these skills so they can work with the municipalities.

Not every town can be — or wants to be — a Stellenbosch or Franschhoek.  Every town needs to find a realistic place in the scheme of things, but it’s the tourist towns and towns that commit to become tourist towns — with specific and significant job creation targets — that should receive the bulk of all tourism funding.  Towns need game-changing action plans.  There need to be key performance indicators that are measured.

Langeberg Municipality seems to be clueless when it comes to tourism, but it’s not clear whether the malaise lies in the political leadership or the management.  I’d like to know how many people they’ve approached for the tourism job at the Municipality (it’s been several) … and why they’ve never been successful in filling the position.  Are they frightened of someone who will rock the boat?  I was told several times while in the Valley that if you cross the Municipality, you just get closed out.

They are now going to be severely challenged to come up with their game-changing plan to maximise the opportunities of tourism.

So… this is no carefully-crafted strategy or set of proposals, but rather a lot of questions which need to be debated.  So please join the debate!

¹ Interview with Simon Anholt

How Franschhoek became such a successful tourist town

Thirty years ago, Franschhoek was sleepy hollow personified, and very little had changed in the preceding 70 years.  It was a farming dorp which attracted a few city folk on a Sunday drive to escape the city and the only attractions were the Huguenot Museum (which was — unusually for a small country town — open on Sundays after church) and Swiss Farm Excelsior for tea and scones.

Very little of its French heritage remained, apart from place names.  In fact, the French influence of the Huguenot settlers had completed disappeared 100 years after they arrived in 1688.  Today, after a sustained marketing strategy, it’s French roots are inescapable.  Investment in the Valley has been phenomenal.  How did this all happen?  Arthur McWilliam Smith, who was close to the centre of events over the past 30 years, tells the story.

Arthur McWilliam Smith

Arthur McWilliam Smith, a former mayor and one Franschhoek’s primary gamechangers.

When he arrived, Franschhoek had three accommodation places; today it has over 150.  So, he points out right at the start of the interview, “the changes have seen a massive increase in employment.”  So Franschhoek is the model that every aspiring tourism town needs to examine very carefully.

The forerunner of change was the late Michael Trull, a Capetonian who had been an advertising executive in the UK, and erstwhile owner of La Bri Vineyards.  Capitalising on the introduction of the Wine House liquor licence that had been introduced, he opened the restaurant “1688”, taking its cue from opportunities for the town’s imminent tercentary date.  (He also founded Vignerons de Franschhoek at a time when there were very few wineries in the Valley.)

But he couldn’t make the restaurant work with a weekends-only clientele and sold it to Arthur, who bought it for his first wife.  (She was a real food lover and he had offered to buy her a restaurant in Johannesburg where they lived.  Her reply was “anywhere but Johannesburg!”)

So, they settled in Franschhoek with Arthur commuting to Johannesburg on the days he needed to be there.  He had been involved in local politics in Johannesburg so it was inevitable that he would participate fully in the Franschhoek community.

The first burning issue in the town he became involved in was when a proposal to build retirement homes — “like those you find in Hermanus today” — had been approved by the local Council.  (Franschhoek still had its own municipality then and there was no party politics in municipal government.)  It became a big election issue — with a 90% turnout (unheard of in those days) — and Arthur’s Johannesburg experience in local politics saw him being elected to the Council without too much difficulty.

That saw the establishment of an aesthetics committee at the municipality which, with the majority of councillors focused on carefully controlling the town’s development, placed aesthetic and environment issues centre stage.

Another mover in the town was Shirley Parkveldt at the Franschhoek Conservation Trust (who also planted the avenue of trees into the town).  In the late 1980s. with some council funding, Todeschini & Jaffe was appointed to prepare guidelines for conservation and development (which won a Cape Times Centenary Award) and was later extended to cover the whole valley with funding from the Regional Services Council.

Franschhoek - Alleys lead off the main street into leafy courtyards - one could be in the south of France.

Alleys lead off the main street into leafy courtyards – one could be in the south of France.

With aesthetics becoming the winner, the town started attracting people in search of a quality lifestyle.  It was becoming a very sophisticated country village.  Maybe encouraged by Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, a significant number of advertising executives moved to the town along with the beginning of real money, and lots of money.  Of course, this changed what the town had to offer because the demand was growing.

When Arthur sold his restaurant to Susan Huxter after the death of his wife, Le Quartier Francais became one of the places to eat.  It became a destination in its own right.  More and more people flocked to Franschhoek.

Franschhoek’s tourism very successful organisation focused on the valley’s French roots and an annual events calendar targeted a clearly defined audience.  One wonders what the original Huguenots would think of Bastille Day?  The storming of the Bastille in 1789 happened 101 years after they arrived in the Cape!

Part of the town’s charm stems from the fact that it is a narrow valley, and views of the mountains dominate wherever one looks.  The retail form of the main street, with its alleys and courtyards, happened by accident.  The main street was originally lined mainly by residential properties and those building footprints largely determined the retail spaces that followed.

The incorporation of Franschhoek into Stellenbosch Municipality saw the town lose its independence but it also meant more money for the town.  The two towns share similar philosophies, with the same focus on heritage issues and environmental quality, and both have very active (and vocal) citizens.  Franschhoek could have been far worse off.

What led to the success?  Arthur says “it was the right people at the right time… the right leaders.  The village was small enough to make a difference possible.  And there was luck.”

In conclusion, Franschhoek drove its success by focusing on quality — the aesthetics, the environment and the activities offered.  Success attracts further successes, or at least facilitates them.  One can’t overlook the glory that local-boy-turned-chef Reuben Riffel brought to the town with Reuben’s restaurant.  And after selling his restaurant, Arthur turned to accommodation, and Akademie Street Boutique Hotel was voted one of the best in SA.  (He has since sold it.)  The Rupert family, usually associated with Stellenbosch, almost has stronger ties to Franschhoek after the late Dr Anton Rupert bought the first of several farms in the valley in 1969 at L’Ormarins.  He was also the patron of the Franschhoek Conservation Trust.

And, unlike Stellenbosch and Robertson where tourism and wine run parallel marketing organisations, Franschhoek has a single organisation embracing everybody — arguably one of the best around.

Franschhoek - The mountains tower above everything else.

The mountains tower above everything else.  That’s Mont Rochelle at the bottom of the pic — Sir Richard Branson’s South African Hotel & Vineyard.

Sir Richard Branson’s new South African hotel & vineyard

Big investments are not new in Franschhoek, and it’s rumoured that a new foreign owner is spending billions on a property at the other end of Dassenberg Road.  That wasn’t a typo, yes… billions.  Now that’s crazy!

But the old Mont Rochelle has been bought by Virgin’s Limited Edition Group, and that can only be good for Franschhoek, and the Western Cape.  It’s been branded as “Sir Richard Branson’s South African hotel & vineyard”  rather than (or in addition to) Virgin Limited Edition, and that just shows the savviness of the Virgin Group — they are a very professional and cohesive team.

Mont Rochelle panorama

Panoramic view showing one of the three hotel buildings.  (There is still the cellar with its bistro menu.)

View of valley from the hotel

View of the valley from the hotel

The old property has had a make-over and, for a hotel belonging to a corporate group, it is better than most.  It is a place where you will be very comfortable, in a great setting, and will enjoy a stay that will be memorable.  And they are offering specials just after their opening.

The main hotel complex, and Miko Restaurant is some distance away from the wine cellar and its bistro-style restaurant.  That is well worth a visit.

Enjoy the photos.  Click on any one to open the enlarged slide show.