Tag Archives: Nils Flaatten

Wesgro… gets a #Fail!

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.

Alexa comparison of websites based on traffic rankings

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!

Rebranding
Wesgro logoWell, it’s essentially just a new logo or set of logos, which set out to establish Wesgro as an agency managing a number of mandates.  It’s an opportunity lost!

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!)

Communication
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.

“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.