What sets the Western Cape apart from other provinces — in terms of it’s success in growing tourism — is largely the existence of membership-based, local tourism associations. (These are a rarity in other provinces where control of tourism is more largely vested in bureaucracies with political agendas.) The South African Constitution mandates tourism as a local government responsibility and makes municipalities responsible for making sure that tourism reaches its full potential to the benefit of all citizens.
The Western Cape’s local tourism associations have varied widely in terms of their success — but they have created a forum for local businesses to promote their interests. Not the the politicians and bureaucrats always bothered with what the industry had to say.
The first chinks in a system which has worked well for several years appeared in Plettenberg Bay during 2018. Plettenberg Bay’s Bitou Municipality wanted a new tourism dispensation which sidelined its very successful Plett Tourism. (Read about that here.) A public outcry saw the status quo continue, but without clarity on funding at the end of 2018, Plett Tourism announced that it events programme may be curtailed, and the future of the organisation is at stake.
Apparently, politicians say that funding is available which bureaucrats deny. Bitou Municipality has been through another two municipal managers since our story last year and municipal stability is a fiction. (At one stage during 2018 the municipality wanted to make a new appointment for event management to someone outside the town, with little track record. One can only ask “Why?” Yes, tourism contracts are easy pickings for tenderpreneurs if there is no accountability, and tender processes don’t ensure accountability.)
News just in states that the Bitou municipality has said “the PLETT Wine & Bubbly Festival was not supported by the executive management team and has been withdrawn from the upcoming Mayco” which Plett Tourism had been told would endorse the event.
While there is no support for a growing industry like wine, nor support a festival which is gaining traction, it continues to set up a parallel tourism” structure — just publishing a tender for R50k for someone to write a history festival brief. When you have a successful PLETT Tourism across the way …. Is this another R50k wasted that will be written off?
Plett Tourism is prepared to go it alone, and seems to have the local industry’s support to do this. Which makes a mockery of a municipality mandated to support and grow tourism.
Then there was the palace revolt in Knysna, and their tourism association had only been surviving at the whim of a municipality-without-a-plan. The DA mayor was ousted after an internal revolt and the mayoral committee was changed. The personal agendas of troublemakers saw municipal support for the Knysna Tourism end. The Tourism Association, however, remained intact and the municipality owes its members money for funding the municipal info office when it stopped its funding!
Following a request from the provincial Department of Economic Development & Tourism and Knysna Municipality, and several months of consultation, Wesgro initiated a pilot project to take over the mandate for local tourism promotion on the 1st November 2018 under the name “Visit Knysna”.
The mandate is conferred to Wesgro and governed by a Service Level Agreement (SLA) signed with the municipality. This SLA requires that the initial plan for tourism promotion is presented to Council at the end of January 2019.
In response to queries from CapeInfo, Wesgro says that — since the start date — the following action steps have been taken:
- ensured a smooth handover for the office and its staff
- an acting GM has been put in place
- called for applications for full-time GM, short listed and completed interviews
- signed an MOU with Knysna Tourism Association (which is made up of Knysna Tourism and Knysna Accommodation Association) to ensure that tourism promotion is delivered in conjunction with the local tourism industry
- hosted an industry engagement with Wesgro, Minister Winde and the Mayor
- ensured that the office is up and running for season with additional staff and maps etc (there were no maps when we took over)
- ensured IT, admin, operations, staff contracts, etc were in place
- held a marketing strategy session with the Business-led steering committee
- held a first round meeting with industry around the plan for the Knysna Oyster Festival
- met with Sedgefield Ratepayers to discuss the local tourism office in Sedgefield
- began drawing up RFPs for website and Sedgefield tourism office management
- held multiple one on one meetings with the tourism industry in Knysna
- attended Vakansiebeurs in the Netherlands
CapeInfo spoke to the chair and vice-chair of the new Knysna Tourism Association. Both said that it’s still early days and any real progress can only be evaluated in six months time. Both were optimistic about the potential as long as everyone works together.
In conversation several months ago, Tim Harris spoke about their commitment to doing this really well, as a pilot project that could be rolled out elsewhere. Knysna probably got lucky because this is Alan Winde’s home town, and he was Minister for Economic Opportunity when this started. There’s no doubt that other towns would appreciate the same attention.
CapeInfo helped focus public attention on Ladismith Tourism at the end of 2017, when municipal funding was just not forthcoming. At the end of last week, we received the following from Ladismith Tourism: “As you are well aware, we have had running battles with the municipality in Ladismith for the last several years. The issue of no-funding and lack of support was an ongoing battle we faced annually. Finally I think it became even too much for them and on 6th November 2018 they formally revoked all support. Hence we officially closed our physical doors at the start of December 2018: right at the start of crucial tourist season. Online services though continued, and social media. But there was and still is nothing for walk-in visitors.
“HOWEVER…. there is a bistro-gin bar-deli opening in the next 3 weeks or so and a visitor centre will see the light there. We feel it is crucial and absolutely essential to have a presence and relationship with tourists. This will be a completely independent and non-funded service: the bistro will shoulder all relevant costs but the service will be there for the community at large. Ladismith needs it, deserves it. We have fought too long and hard to get it on the map to give up now.”
Swellendam & Barrydale
Swellendam Tourism Organisation (STO) grabbed everybody’s attention when it announced an innovative way to grow tourism and empower grass roots tourism development. Read about that here. We’ve never managed to find out exactly how that initiative unfolded as the management at STO seemed to face one crisis after another, with one manager replacing another.
Then at the end of last year, we received a communication from Swellendam’s municipal manager, Anton Groenewald, saying that STO and the tourism office had been closed down. It was very peculiar, to say the least. You can read it below.
Toerisme brief final Swellendam
I wrote to Anton Groenwald, the municipal manager, and asked him, “Swellendam’s decisions seem to have been taken without a presented and canvassed vision for what the old system will be replaced with? What happens to the old membership organisation? Was the appointment of Destinate put out to tender as required by the Auditor General?”
We received the following response:
Tourism statement by Municipal Manager, Swellendam
So, the old STO had become dysfunctional with no members, but in my original email I asked about “a presented and canvassed vision for what the old system will be replaced with.” In his statement, he said “A report is currently out for comment”. I asked for that. Anton sent the methodology, which is a summary of the three phases of work that is to be done by Destinate, and the feedback report.
Swellendam Tourism Research Proposal and Methodology
Click here for the feedback report shared by Swellendam Tourism after the first round of engagements with industry. (You can also comment on it.) A second round of engagements will follow in February and a detailed market research report should be ready by mid-March which Mariette du Toit-Helmbold says should make for really interesting reading.
What can one make of all of this? Groenewald says, “This has been a very sensitive time as it is clear that certain elements in tourism were being misled with misinformation.” I think closing STO without a clear path ahead was a big mistake. Destinate’s work should have started in May 2018 and the new strategy should have presented before STO was closed. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty, and shows bad leadership.
And the methodology comes out of the old and tired textbook. Is it going to deliver anything new, in line with Groenewald’s expectations? I’ll be surprised if it does. I keep thinking of the way Apple’s Steve Jobs scoffed at focus group research. “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said. Innovation and the next big idea rarely comes out of research. The feedback report is reminiscent of Cape Town Tourism’s brand-building workshops, which delivered very little new. And much of the brand identity it delivered was replaced soon after Mariette left CTT.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the people involved. Is the Swellendam Municipality a good client who knows what it wants? And is it employing the right people to deliver the goods?
Anton Groenewald resigned from the City of Cape Town under a cloud in 2014, after the City had suffered a financial loss of some R30 million as a result of the disastrous staging of a soccer tournament touted as the Cape Town Cup. He wasn’t solely responsible for the fiasco but he drove it. I admire him for taking responsibility. I’ve known him for over 15 years and I believe he is one of the most dynamic local government bureaucrats around, and I don’t hold arrogance against anybody, as long as they deliver… beyond expectation. I think Groenewald could pull the rabbit out of the hat and what Swellendam does is worth watching.
Mariette du Toit-Helmbold founded Destinate — a destination marketing company — after she resigned as CEO of Cape Town Tourism, where she worked with Groenewald. I’ve known her since she started her career and I can only echo what one industry CEO said about her: “I love Mariette dearly. Her only problem is that she believes all her own hype.” Destinate works to a set formula, and relies heavily on tired textbook methodology. If she chucks that aside, she is capable of pulling another rabbit out of the hat.
Once again, Swellendam is worth watching. Will it be a consultants’ smorgasbord or will it deliver real innovation?
Langeberg Municipality — Robertson, Montagu, McGregor & Bonnievale
Compared to tourism structures in other areas, the towns in the Langeberg Municipality seem to be plodding on as normal. But there are big plans afoot… if only the tourism industry could get to discuss these with the municipal manager! There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm in the industry for the changes, as well as words of caution that it won’t happen quickly.
Essentially, it comprises a tourism levy, which would be collected by the municipality and ring-fenced for tourism promotion & marketing. It requires a wide buy-in from all sectors that benefit from tourism. There are precedents for this — there are 39 City Improvement Districts (CID) in Cape Town (with two more about to be launched). Their successes have been enormous. This was how the Cape Town Partnership was established in 1999 and the first of the CIDs was established in 2000.
Tourism funding is always an issue and, in Montagu for example, a big chunk of the tourism office’s municipal funding is spent on office rent to the municipality!
The equitable share of tourism funding between tourism offices is another issue. CapeInfo was surprised to learn that, based on the municipality’s tourism figures, Montagu accounts for 79% of all visitors in the municipal area. And yes, Montagu is used as a base for visiting other areas because the town itself offers relatively little. (See Tourism will never be Helen Zille’s game-changer until there are lots of changes
||Tourism Office Walk-ins
||Sky diving, Birds paradise, Viljoendrift River Cruises
||Protea Tractor Trips, Montagu Museum. Avalon Springs Day Visitors
||Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail, Eseltjiesrus
If tourism gets a CID-type structure going in the Langeberg area, it will be a very, very interesting development. CIDs have been a Western Cape success story.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”
What benefit do municipalities and taxpayers receive from their financial support for tourism? Who benefits from tourism? These are some of the questions that municipalities are asking when they pay over many millions each year to tourism bodies.
While companies like the V&A Waterfront and Cape Town International Conference Centre can tell us exactly what their contribution to the local economy is, the tourism industry cannot and does not. Phrases like “job creation” are meaningless.
Why hasn’t Wesgro introduced decent and meaningful statistics? Maybe the answer lies in the confusion over Wesgro’s role. CapeInfo asked Tim Harris, Wesgro’s CEO, if they have any view on the events playing out in Swellendam. The answer was, “No, local tourism is the responsibility of the municipality and therefore this is their decision.” Surely, if one has oversight of provincial tourism marketing, one should have a view at grassroots level too?
We also asked about the accreditation of tourism organisations, which used to be a requirement for municipal funding and was Wesgro’s oversight of local offices. Do they still accredit? “No, when CTRU was merged into Wesgro, this function fell away. Today Wesgro works with all official regional and local tourism offices across the Western Cape.” That function stems from the Western Cape’s Tourism Act and one wonders why this function just “fell away”. It’s time for the province’s Tourism Act to be completely revised.