Wesgro, the Western Cape’s trade and investment agency absorbed the province’s beleaguered destination marketing agency (Cape Town Routes Unlimited – CTRU) in April 2012. I attended Wesgro’s AGM in October 2012 and left unimpressed. It was all about ticking the boxes with little vision apparent. As a slick presentation, it was a flop, relying largely on videos. We could have watched it from home and been spared the uncomfortable presence on the stage.
I met with CEO Nils Flaatten and COO Howard Gabriels in January 2013 to discover what progress had been made. In May 2014, I met with Nils and Judy Lain, who had been appointed Chief Marketing Officer in August 2013.
At both meetings, after hearing what they had achieved and planned to do, Nils asked me to rate Wesgro, “How would you score us,” he asked.
Thinking back on it now, I would give Wesgro a score of 30-40%.
I had declined at the first meeting because I was uncomfortable with the rigid process-driven approach he had outlined. I needed to absorb it and see what it delivered.
I had been hoping for good news at this month’s meeting and was taken on a tour of Wesgro’s new offices over four floors in the Reserve Bank Building. That in itself was a strange choice. It’s probably one of the least efficient, least “green” buildings in Cape Town; a national keypoint – which deters casual visitors. This was so different to the vision tourism minister Alan Winde had spelled out a few years ago – all economic promotion and tourism agencies sharing the same high-profile building with easy access. And Wesgro’s new offices (and the activities observed) just screamed “bureaucracy”.
Before meeting with Nils and Judy, I had shared with them my concerns about the performance of their websites and the rebranding which had taken place a few months earlier. In 2012, destination marketing had its website upgraded and revamped, and Nils was expecting great things from it.
It hasn’t performed as one can see from the publicly-available Alexa.com rankings. It trails behind Gauteng Tourism and KZN Tourism.
The most recent rankings show Wesgro trade & investment’s global rank is #918,454, Wesgro’s destination marketing website is at #599,327, KZN Tourism is #473,131 and Gauteng Tourism is #415,060. (For comparison, Cape Town Tourism stands at #98,351.)
Of even more concern, if one looks on the Western Cape Treasury’s website at Wesgro’s Quarterly Performance Reports, the destination marketing website only achieved between 22.9% and 25.5% of traffic targets for the first three quarters of the financial year. Remedial action should have been taken a long time ago! Tourism is a perishable industry – bodies in beds and bottoms on restaurant seats not sold today are lost forever.
(Wesgro seems to be behind in supplying validated reports to the Treasury and some other stats there raise questions too. Click here for that report.)
The good news is the Destination Marketing gets a new website in June 2014, Trade & Investment gets a new one in July 2014 and a new Cape to Namibia Route website comes out in August 2014. Whether they deliver the goods remains to be seen.
The new destination marketing website also gets a new URL (address) which is bound to attract a lot of debate. But we’ll leave it to Wesgro to announce the details in due course. We can’t see it being favoured by search engines though – it does a terrific job of hiding the brand!
Until one reads the tagline, one might wonder if Wesgro is similar to Seagro (a fertiliser) or if it’s a garden shop. It is confusing. Wesgro needs to live and be the brand it markets – a name change is overdue. When Wesgro was established some 25 years ago, the local “Cape” brand wasn’t nearly as strong globally as it is now.
I think it’s also unfortunate that Wesgro has decided to main separate websites, because there are such synergies between trade, investment and tourism. You’re not talking to different markets in effect; but you do need to package information differently. More investment flows out of tourism than any other way. Former Wesgro CEO David Bridgman pointed that out to me in 1997 and Nils concedes that it’s still a fact today.
Judy defends the decisions taken and I’m still waiting for her narrative around the new logo. We’ll save that for another time, for more in-depth discussion.
Judy has only been on the job for about 10 months. She is a marketer, is capable and works very hard. But she has no tourism/trade & investment background and she doesn’t have the benefit of anyone else in Wesgro with any real destination marketing expertise. And, coming from the private sector, being part of a local government agency needs a significant paradigm shift.
Wesgro has been successful in working more closely, and working differently, with the regional and local tourism offices. (That comes through very strongly from the tourism offices I’ve spoken to.) And there’s a blog Judy writes to keep those offices informed – click here. (Have a look and then come back to add a comment saying if the new branding works for you!)
I only received the link to Judy’s blog after I complained about the lack of news and communication from Wesgro over the past year. I used to be on all their mailing lists. Nils and Judy conceded that this is a valid criticism.
And then a week after our meeting, wow! … I receive a media release. It was quite a good one so I used it, only to discover that it was stale news, lifted from another website, and had been published in several other places six weeks earlier. Now that kills all credibility and trust in Wesgro’s Communications Officer! Judy responded to my complaint saying it was “shocking”, and that processes would be put in place to prevent it happening again. That calls into question the calibre of staff appointed at Wesgro.
Another week goes by and I receive my first-ever CEO’s newsletter titled “New year, new home, fresh start”. New year… with the winter equinox just a few weeks away? That’s a *Fail* Wesgro!
Yes I know Wesgro has a number of mandates – conventions, film, trade, investment, Saldanha EPZ, etc. – and a limited budget and limited resources. But destination marketing is what will make or break the organisation. And it’s time Wesgro started sharing big ideas, big visions and demonstrable successes.