Tag Archives: #gamechanger

Municipalities/areas are NOT attractions or destinations!

Municipalities around South Africa are wasting millions of rands promoting themselves and killing tourism in the process.  No-one gives a damn about what municipal area they are visiting – and why should they?

Makana Tourism brochureIf you visit a tourism trade show and see the brochure alongside, would you pick up a brochure for a place called Makana?  I certainly wouldn’t.  But I would if it was for a city called Grahamstown — yet all Grahamstown’s literature is branded as Makana – the name of the municipality.  This is madness.

Makana Municipality’s only claim to fame is that it is technically bankrupt.  And so in arrears in its payments for electricity to Eskom that the electricity supply to the whole town is being turned off in May.

The Makana brand is a non-entity (but rather a liability) compared to the towns it is intending to promote.

In East London – sorry, Buffalo City – Phindile Mbonwa, at the municipality’s department of local economic development & tourism, complained that SA Tourism only markets Cape Town and the Kruger National Park, when they should be marketing Buffalo City too.  Well that’s a little difficult when Buffalo City doesn’t exist on any map, the airport is called East London and so is the Post Office!

She said that the names of East London and all the other towns in the municipal area will be changed to Buffalo City – after the river that runs through East London.  That may be the plan, but marketing a politician or bureaucrat’s say-so is never going to work.

Driving into East London from Port Alfred, I was impressed at the excellent signage to the tourism info office… until I got there.  The prime beachfront offices are now occupied by the department of health’s call centre and tourism had vacated the premises some while ago.  It seems East London, or Buffalo City, have a long way to go before they get their act together.

In Bloemfontein, or is that Mangaung, I got lost because Google Maps doesn’t recognise some of the new street names.  This just emphasises how municipalities don’t give a damn about users… and tourists.  And the Mangaung tourist info office only opens during municipal working hours, rendering it useless for most tourists.  And the map outside the office… still shows the old street names!  I wasn’t able to find a map of Bloemfontein, or Mangaung, anywhere.

So when it comes to tourism Makana, Buffalo City and Mangaung, you are a total failure!  But so are most other municipalities.

It’s time to debate the growth of holiday homes — major #gamechanger

In 2007, driving through Langebaan towards Club Mykonos for the first time in ages, I was horrified by the huge housing estates — many Tuscan — that were primarily second/holiday homes which were empty for a large part of the year.

I’ve seen this over and over again in towns all over South Africa.  Municipalities are keen for new development because it adds to the rates base, but few realise that residential development on its own is not sustainable.  Residential municipal rates are insufficient, in most cases, to cover the cost of maintenance and repairs that will be required.

Those running our municipalities (and other utilities like electricity and water) just don’t understand the imperative of maintenance.  Look at Port St Francis’ roads.  Or look at Eskom’s woes, or the unrest around Thohoyandou in Limpopo over demands for a new municipality.  Much of that stems from inadequate water supplies.  The huge Nandoni dam was built years ago with pipelines to nearby villages.  The pipelines were never maintained and stopped working.  People believe that having their own municipality will resolve their problems when, as far as water is concerned, it’s just a matter of maintaining pipelines.

As more and more homes become self-sufficient for their energy needs (thanks to Eskom’s inability to provide a reliable service), municipalities will lose out even more because the electricity they resell to consumers subsidises all other municipal services.  That means less money to provide basic services.

In towns I’ve visited, like Mossel Bay, Cape St Francis, Port Alfred and many others, I’ve asked about the occupancy of the resorts, golf estates and seaside villages, and it seems that only 16-18% of these areas are occupied by permanent residents.  That has a huge impact on the economy of the towns — providing services services that are only used during peak periods, not to mention a retail and hospitality economy which hardly sustainable and certainly not set for growth.

At Pinnacle Point outside Mossel Bay, looking at all the empty houses on the golf estate, I commented on this challenge to fellow participants of the Point of Human Origins tour.  An Irish visitor responded that, in Ireland, second homes are taxed to hell and back.  And I recalled that I’d just read that Londoners are being prohibited from purchasing weekend properties along the southern English coast because they were pushing property prices up to a level where locals couldn’t afford to buy in their own towns.  (Now that must be a difficult one to implement!)

So… should we be thinking about something similar here?  South Africa is facing massive challenges that needs game-changing plans.

Empty houses contribute little to the economy of a town.

What if second houses were taxed and those taxes were ringfenced to fund growth in tourism and local economic development?  It would be a disaster if this was done at national level but could be implemented very successfully by municipalities — providing those funds were allocated to a private sector-managed/public sector supported Non-Profit Organisations.

And if property owners find the levy a burden, they could always allow agents to let their properties out while they are not there, which would also add to the tourism value of the town.  But more importantly, it could diminish the trend to holidays houses and  encourage South Africans to become tourists again and start travelling.

Much has been made of the minister of tourism’s statement in Parliament about the drop in domestic tourism.  (I’m not entirely convinced that this is true, but I am convinced that most of SA’s national, provincial and local government doesn’t have the first clue about how to drive tourism or what it actually is.  I’ll address that in other posts.)

There is a precedent to achieve this.  City Improvement Districts (CIDs) in the City of Cape Town are funded by a small levy on the property rates account which are ringfenced, and which fund the CID organisations and the work they do.  These organisations are one of the reasons why Cape Town is streets ahead of other SA cities as far as cleanliness and management is concerned.

Tourism is the only way that South Africa will grow environmental quality and better cities, towns and villages… and create large numbers of additional jobs which provide the skills to be upwardly mobile.  And it can do that faster than anything else.

Join the debate!

This is Criminal Incompetence, Pravin Gordhan: do something!

Port Alfred: A word class community centre, fully-equipped, stands empty because a manager hasn't been appointed.

A word-class community centre in Port Alfred, fully-equipped, stands empty and unused because a manager hasn’t been appointed.

Baviaanskloof Interpretive Centre is usually closed.

Baviaanskloof Interpretive Centre at Patensie side. It’s usually closed because there are no staff.   Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism say they are working on a major strategy to seek additional funding, but they can’t fix what they were already given.


Cradock Four memorial

The Cradock Four memorial at Cradock — foreign donor funding gone to waste. Today this memorial is an embarrassing & derelict mess. (2010 file photo)

Sarah Baartman grave & memorial at Hankey

The plaque on the Sarah Baartman commemorative stone at Hankey has either fallen off or been stolen, and was it really planned to to be planted at that angle? The fenced-off grave of her remains is unlocked and anyone can walk inside. Hankey. Eastern Cape.  Good custodianship and care?

Will the multi-million rand Sarah Baartman memorial at Hankey follow in the footsteps of previous Eastern

Will the multi-million rand Sarah Baartman memorial under construction at Hankey follow in the footsteps of previous Eastern Cape memorials?

There are hundreds of millions of Rands of foreign donor funding in these projects.  It should be an embarrassment to every South African.

Dear Pravin Gordhan, please prohibit all Eastern Cape local government institutions from receiving any further foreign donor funding before they give the whole of South Africa a bad name.  They are showing that, in search of ego, self-gratification or simple stupidity, they are criminally incompetent.

Derek Hanekom, you’re the minister of closed attractions.  Are you serious about growing tourism?

Pravin Gordhan is the national minister of local government and Derek Hanekom is the national minister of tourism.

George: why municipalities can’t run tourism

I drove into George — the supposed capital of the Garden Route — at lunchtime on a Sunday looking for the information office.  I found the town as dead as a dodo after the irritation of unsynchronised traffic lights in the long main road, York Street.  And the info office was closed.  Unlike neighbouring Mossel Bay, which is open seven days a week, George’s follows municipal hours it seems.

Yes, I did enter the town with some negativity because it seems that Fathima Watney, tourism head at Eden District Municipality (which covers the whole of the Garden Route), can’t answer emails.  She follows me on Twitter so I had asked for her email address, and wrote to her asking for guidance during my stay in the Garden Route.  No reply, so I resent the email asking if she doesn’t answer emails.  No reply… and still no reply 38 days later.

When I got to the George info office on Monday, I learnt that she’s well-known for not replying to emails.  And in subsequent conversations moving up the Garden Route I learnt that the meetings she calls tourism stakeholders to are a complete waste of time.

Does she deserve to be in this job?  Maybe others have stellar examples of her worth…

Then I tried to make contact with Claudine Carelse, acting head of George Tourism.  She was at their Wilderness office so I tried calling her to arrange to meet.  Her cellphone went unanswered and never switched to voicemail so I called the Wilderness landline.  The woman who answered said Claudine was busy with a client but would call me back.  I never heard from her.

Then I learned about how George Municipality took control of the tourism organisation after interfering in how it should be run.  Well that is a kiss of death.  I went to look at their website, which must be one of the most outdated town websites I’ve come across in a long time.  And I decided to compare how the towns compare in terms of global traffic rankings on Alexa.com.  George’s website fares abysmally.

Garden Route websites global traffic rankings

How Garden Route websites compare in their global traffic ranking on Alexa.com 24-03-2015

Politicians and bureaucrats need to accept that marketing and destination marketing are not within their competence.  They need to support it and provide municipal services and amenities which support tourism, but they cannot run it.

Politicians and bureaucrats see marketing as telling consumers what they want consumers to hear or see.  Wrong!  Marketing is telling consumers what they want to hear or see.

If George, Wilderness and the Garden Route is looking for a tourism game-changer, it needs to start with restructuring tourism in the region.

Graham, on duty at the George info office on my one visit, was exceptional and a true star.  He would be a credit to any tourism organisation anywhere!  It’s just a pity that when I went in search of the Pacaltsdorp Historic Walk, after he gave me the brochure, I couldn’t find it — I didn’t see any road names in Pacaltsdorp nor was the info office clearly marked.

Mossel Bay — a rising tourism star

Standing high above Mossel Bay, the St Blaize lighthouse was first lit in 1864.

Standing high above Mossel Bay, the St Blaize lighthouse was first lit in 1864.  It lets tourism down by not offering tours over weekends as well as less-than-attractive access.

Mossel Bay has been on the up-and-up for some time and tourism numbers to the area have grown steadily.  The town includes more rural areas like Boggomsbaai (where Beezus and I stayed) on the Cape Town side to Herolds Bay on the George side, with Brak river in between.

The tourism office is good and it deserves much of the credit for Mossel Bay’s success in tourism.  Of course they are helped by an enormous range of activities and attractions that will cater for all travellers — click here to download their guide.

The town itself is rather cluttered and it seems that the new Langeberg Mall on its outskirts has affected CBD trading badly.  Maybe this should be the stimulus to revitalise the CBD.  New developments at The Point provide some attraction but much more needs to be done if the Mossel Bay brand is going to grow.  It is a town at the crossroads.  I wonder if the municipality has a clear idea for the road ahead.

While most contemporary architecture is rather mediocre, the town’s saving grace lies in its history — it does have some fine historic architecture and there is a Historic Walk, with a brochure from the Info office.

Standing high above Mossel Bay, the St Blaize lighthouse was first lit in 1864.

St Blaize Terrace, built in 1909 and renovated in 1986.

The museum complex across the road from the info office is definitely worth a visit.  The star of the show must be the replica of the caravelle that brought Bartholomew Diaz to the Bay on February 3, 1488.  The curator told me that funding is down and so are visitor numbers.  Maybe it’s time for a new business model because the Diaz Museum feels a little sparse and unused, along with the whole museum complex.

Mossel Bay Bartholomeu Diaz Caravelle

The replica of the caravelle that brought Bartholomeu Diaz to Mossel Bay in 1488, and which sailed from Portugal to Mossel Bay 500 years later, in 1988.

The highlight of my visit was the Point of Human Origins Experience.  Peter Nilssen’s presentation was much more than just thought-provoking.. it is something that will stay with one forever.  The town should be making much more of this memorable experience, and it needs to be accessible to many more people.  Human Origins tourism should be part of any game-changing plan.  Time for an interpretive centre?  (I will be writing more about this experience.)

The pavilion at Mossel Bay's Santos Beach

The pavilion at Santos Beach c1916– a replica of the Brighton Pierhead after the architect visited the UK.

But for many visitors, Mossel Bay is primarily about a beach holiday and the area has plenty of those.  My favourite beach was Herolds Bay with its seasonal bistro on the parking lot alongside the beach.

Herolds Bay

Herolds Bay with its beachside bistro was a surprise discovery, which happens when you avoid the N2. It’s delightful, just like the other dorps outside Mossel Bay — Boggomsbaai, Groot and Little Brak River.


Mossel Bay: No domestic pets on all Public Open Spaces -- the ultimate dog-unfriendly town?

No domestic pets on all Public Open Spaces — the ultimate dog-unfriendly town?

One of my few gripes was with the municipality.  (Redefining stupidity was the other.)  It is the most pet-unfriendly area I’ve ever encountered — and it says a lot about the mindset of the municipality’s management.

Every beach, every public open space, from Boggomsbaai in the West to Herolds Bay in the East displays the sign shown alongside.  Nowhere do you find signs saying what you may do… I saw no signs saying “this is a place where dogs can be walked on a leash or run free.”  (Knysna showed a refreshing flip side of the coin.)

Surely… Public Open Spaces includes all sidewalks too?

Come on SPCA… animals have rights too.  Surely you can prosecute the municipality in terms of animal rights legislation?

Following the Getaway Show in Cape Town a few weeks ago, there are rumblings that the municipality wants to play a more dominant role in tourism.  If they do, and if they don’t know their place, it will be the kiss of death for tourism in this town.  But there will be more on that in future stories here.  This is a municipality that needs a game-changing plan — the private sector has got it right but local government hasn’t.

A Lesson for all Tourism Offices who whinge about inadequate budgets

Most tourism offices whinge about inadequate budgets without demonstrating that they do provide value for money or create significant numbers of extra jobs with taxpayers’ funding.

Well, Swellendam has turned the “liability” of development on its head and gained itself a cash budget of R11 million a year for the next three years.  And there’s much more in kind.

Brand Swellendam is the winner and it’s a credit to the board of Swellendam Tourism Organisation (STO) and the Municipality that this has been achieved.  And to Peter Gratton for his dedication and perseverance — the submissions to DBSA were rejected twice before a visit to them convinced them of the benefits.

We (that includes Beezus) met Peter Gratton, who drove the project, and Rob Hicks, Swellendam Tourism’s development planner (discovering that we had crossed paths in a previous life) over breakfast at the pet-friendly Grace Walk B&B.  It was a memorable breakfast in every respect… thank you Esther.

Rob Hicks, development consultant, and Peter Gratton, head of Swellendam Tourism

Rob Hicks, development planner, and Peter Gratton, head of Swellendam Tourism

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Robertson’s opportunities lost

The main street through Robertson

The main street through Robertson.  Pity there are more like the solitary tree on the left.

There’s not that much to attract a traveller to stop in the main road that runs through Robertson, especially if you’re driving eastwards.  It’s probably an engineer’s dream road, but it’s hardly inviting.

But driving into Robertson’s residential areas shows some of the most beautiful streets you’ll find anywhere in South Africa.  They are breathtaking and the town’s greatest asset!



So I have to wonder, did Robertson’s main street once look like those residential streets —  streets that invite you to slow down and enjoy the ambiance?  Does anyone have any photos to share of the main street from a previous era before engineers took control of how our spaces look and feel?  Click here to email them and we’ll add them to this story.

Robertson Wine Valley is on the brink of wine tourism, driven largely by excellent festivals, but it hasn’t quite cracked it yet — simply because most estates are closed for most of the weekend.

Van Loveren is the Valley’s biggest success story and the flagbearer for its wine tourism.  Ever since Montagu Country Hotel‘s Gert Lubbe first introduced me to Van Loveren in 2010, I’ve been back there on every visit to the Valley.  It is highly recommended and I will add more about it to this post soon.

Another establishment that cropped up in discussions time and time again was Mo & Rose at Soekershof.  I went to meet Monika & Axel.  And their very chic restaurant and stylish accommodation in Klaasvoogds West.

Monika & Akel at Soekershof -- doing something rather special: the restaurant and accommodation.

Monika & Akel at Soekershof — doing something rather special: the restaurant and accommodation.

I stayed at Paul Kruger 63 — a row of cottages and the converted garages and outbuildings behind them in the centre of town.  The conversion of garages into flats is very cleverly done and, if you’re looking for an affordable base in the town, this is ideal.  All units have a braai!

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

Montagu is as charming as ever… BUT… tourism authorities need a wake-up!

Montagu is one the the Western Cape’s premier heritage towns and a rock-climber’s haven.  It is a really great place to visit.  But has it really moved forward at all in the past two years as a tourist destination?

Montagu is a wonderful getaway, a special-interest town and an architectural gem, but it’s not a ‘tourist town’.  It is a town I will recommend to anyone with an interest in heritage architecture and pleasing streets, rock climbing, mountain biking, wine estates (in Robertson Wine Valley proper) or just chill at a hotel, B&B, self-catering cottage or campsite (and there are many of those) — because there’s not that much to do in the town.  The biggest attractions in the area are Avalon and Montagu Springs outside the town which attracts a very different kind of market which arguably benefits the town to a limited degree.

From 3pm on a Saturday afternoon the town’s main street closes down.   Kloof Farmstall and the others on the R62 offer a little more but the one on the eastern side of town has just closed down and looks sadly forlorn.  The little neighbouring village of Barrydale up the R62 has much more buzz.

‘Tourism” — if you claim to be a ‘tourist town’ — is about the total package and the focus is on the town, and the attractions and activities the town offers.

The last straw was going to the tourism office on Sunday morning at 11am (see the pic in the gallery).  It advertises that it’s open and I needed to collect a last few bits of information — only to find a locked door.  There were seven other tourists wondering what was going on and I helped one with a map I’d collected the previous day and suggested the others go to the Montagu Country Hotel — always a helpful source of information.

When I posted a pic of and comment about the locked door on my personal Facebook page, the manager of Montagu-Ashton Tourism replied that she would find out why it was closed and would get back to me.  She never did.  I would have expected her to know if the office doesn’t open – the staff member should let someone know.  I would also expect contingency plans because people do get ill.  There should be volunteer backups, or a sign directing them somewhere else.  It is usually a very good office although I was disappointed by the quality of their latest map.

In the discussion that ensued with others on my Facebook page, the manager made much of the fact that her organisation receives a grant of less than R200,000 a year from Langeberg Municipality.  Well… a closed door isn’t going to open any coffers and perennial complaints about the lack of funding isn’t going to achieve anything!  She also made much of the 36,000 visitors who stayed in the town in February and, in conversation with me on Saturday, claimed that this is probably more than Franschhoek gets!  Sigh!  I asked for the breakdown after she said Avalon Springs got 20,000 people staying over and 15,000 day visitors.  Well, I’m not going to hold my breath… undertakings she gave for content I requested in 2012 never materialised.

Both Montagu-Ashton Tourism and Langeberg Municipality need a wake-up call (along with a few other towns that don’t get the tourism imperative) and that will be addressed in another post later today.  Montagu is a great place and deserves better.

Click here for more on Montagu.


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.