“It’s just a jump to the left… And then a step to the right…”

Recognise that?  It’s from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

It’s astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll…

I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed by the announcements about the closure of Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU) — the Western Cape’s provincial tourism authority — and its incorporation into Wesgro — the provincial trade and investment promotion agency.

CTRU’s last media release on March 30 was a statement by Alan Winde, the provincial tourism minister, that he and the boards of CTRU and Wesgro had decided to incorporate trade, investment and tourism marketing under one roof from April 1.

On April 8, Wesgro issued a media release stating that this “would now be done by a single, ramped up executing agency to increase the province’s national and global competitiveness as a business and leisure destination.”

Why the italics?  Someone has yet to demonstrate how the agency has been “ramped up.”

The decision to disband CTRU is the correct one.  It was a fatally flawed structure from day one in 2003.  It became worse as time went by, and this was illustrated in our 2007 interview with Lynne Brown — then the Western Cape’s tourism minister.

A year before this interview, CTRU’s chairperson had agreed that the organisation’s corporate culture was wholly unsuited to a marketing organisation.  But it was all hunky-dory for Brown, a former schoolteacher, and her CTRU CEO, also a former schoolteacher.  Yet the interfence in the daily running of CTRU by the minister and her tourism department saw a chairperson and board director resign prematurely at various times.

In his comments on the Brown interview, Hugh von Zahn, a prominent businessman, wrote:

“I once wrote an essay on Napoleon the Third called ”A Tragedy of Good Intentions” which is apt when it comes to the organization of tourism marketing and development in our province.

“The real tragedy is that we have been traversing this ground in the same fashion for years, all to no avail.

“In order to understand why this type of failure happens in an organization like the CTRU you have to look at what is called “process” and how it impacts on service delivery. In the strange new world of contemporary SA we have elevated process to the level of a mantra, all to the exclusion of results.

“In the business world you focus on outcomes and results and decide on the shortest path to get there. This is standard business practice. In the weird world of the bureaucracy you follow a process, often to the exclusion of results. As long as you can show that you are following a process all will be well, the results are incidental.

“The real evil of this fixation on process is that bureaucracies create meaningless jobs filled by people who are function-directed rather than being held accountable for results achieved.

“You measure its effectiveness by hits and Rands generated. In the strange world of the bureaucracy everything is introverted. All things point to stasis. It is a form of navel gazing. So we see ”vision”, process writ large, pictures of staff, corporate manifestos, pledges and self-adulation – precious little about results.”

Shortly before publishing this post, I exchanged emails with Hugh and he said that little seems to have changed in the five years since he wrote that.

CTRU’s incorporation into Wesgro at this stage was rather puzzling, because the process to create an over-arching Economic Development Partnership is underway.

It seemed a rushed and stop-gap solution.  When I wrote to Winde’s media liaison person on March 12, asking who I could speak to about the changes, my request was ignored but I received the following bald statement:

  • “The Western Cape Government’s tourism destination marketing functions will move to Wesgro from 01 April 2012.
  • “A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, CTRU and Wesgro, has been signed defining all roles and responsibilities.
  • “A Memorandum of Agreement is currently being finalized which will further give effect the arrangements discussed.
  • “All permanent CRTU staff will be transferred to Wesgro in line with labour regulations.
  • “We look forward to marketing the region under a single brand in a more streamlined and efficient. (sic)”

Little more has been released subsequently, other than the fact that CTRU’s board will continue with quarterly oversight of tourism marketing until various bits of legislation have been changed.  Monthly reporting will be to the Wesgro board.

What happened here contrasted so to the plans given in our November 2011 interview with Andrew Boraine, who is leading the process for the Economic Development Partnership (EDP).  The EDP will be launched as a Section 21 company on April 26, 2012.

All agencies in the economic development, film and tourism spheres that receive any public funding in the Western Cape will be required to be part of this partnership… as a condition for future funding.

The EDP will “lead, coordinate and drive regional economic growth, development and inclusion under a single brand platform through a regional marketing alliance.”  Execution of these plans will still be at the agency level.

So, last month’s sidewideays shift of CTRU was probably just a bit of housekeeping by provincial government — a start at putting all marketing under one roof.  April 1 (appropriately!) is the start of government’s financial year and with CTRU employment contracts coming up for renewal, it made sense to have provincial government’s perennial problem child out of the way before the EDP is launched.

It is a pity the Winde and his PR people haven’t kept the tourism industry better informed.  So what we’re seeing is still an ongoing process rather than any solution.  Winde should acknowledge more openly because, at the end of the day, it’s the people (not the processes) that will make for succesful destination marketing.

I have no doubt that Wesgro will be a better home — for starters, its existence is controlled by the provincial Wesgro Act, and it doesn’t have the same strictures that bound CTRU.

Nils Flaatten, Wesgro CEO

Wesgro is also a far cry from the schoolroom corporate culture of CTRU.  Nils Flaatten, Wesgro’s CEO,  is regarded as a good manager and team leader.  For Province, he must have offered a safe bet to move forward.

But Flaaten must still prove Wesgro’s abilities as far as tourism is concerned, which is very different to trade and investment marketing.  He is concentrating on cross-over benefits to start — of which there are many — and he is sharp enough to grow Wesgro into a more diversified marketing agency.

In Boraine’s interview, he made the point that “fancy mandates and structures will mean nothing if they does not attract the right people — and that is the risk.  It needs a creative environment to achieve that.”

So there are few more jumps to the left, and the right, and some more shuffling before that will happen.  But it is a start in the right direction.

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