Tag Archives: Sindiswa Nhlumayo

2010 and a Can of Worms

Good and bad has come out of the whole rooms4u saga and the conundrum of the “official South African accommodation and bookings portal.”

The good was renewing an old aquaintance with Sindiswa Nhlumayo,  the deputy directory-general of tourism.  She brought a bit of clarity to the whole issue.

The ‘bads’ were several.  Firstly, the Department of Tourism’s Head of Communications should be looking for another job.  He provided incorrect information by confirming that rooms4u is the official government and FIFA  bookings portal; he accused me of jealousy because CapeInfo didn’t get the appointment; and refused to put me through to Ms Nhlumayo’s office when I felt I was not getting anywhere.

Secondly, it transpires that rooms4u did try to mislead the public.  They stated clearly on their website “Welcome to the official South African and FIFA site for accommodation bookings for soccer world cup 2010.”  This was echoed in their two mass emailings to potential clients.  To claim this might stem from miscommunication is nonsense.  Before anyone starts making claims of that nature — if you are responsible and honest — you make very sure that there will be no comebacks.

Thirdly, one must question whether the so-called industry representative organisations do in fact represent the whole industry or merely a closed group of interests.  Did they apply their minds to the best solution for the industry at large or was the job just handed over to one of their own who sits on their boards?  It seems that thoughts of a tourism mafia are justified.

Ms Nhlumayo’s written response to CapeInfo sets out the Department of Tourism view of the situation:

There was negative recording about lack of available accommodation in South Africa.  As a Department we undertook an audit of available accommodation in all provinces of South Africa. When we were about the complete the process of collating information, MATCH and FIFA informed us that it would be appropriate to have the database linked to the booking engine so that people who will come to South Africa without booking can access information on available inventory.

As government, we felt that we were not able to run a booking engine. We were of the view that the Industry should agree on what would be the appropriate booking engine for the available inventory. We engaged with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and FEDHASA on the matter, since they were industry associations. We indicated that a booking portal should be something that must be led by the industry. They came back to us and indicated that as an industry association they had a solution to the matter, which was rooms4u.travel. They indicated that it is what the industry had endorsed. Both parties agreed in principle that rooms4u was an industry initiative and was endorsed by the association. The meeting took place at HICA Conference and the industry was represented by Brett Dungan (CEO of FEDHASA) and Mmatsatsi Marobe (CEO of TBCSA). Government was represented by myself and Aneme Malan Chief Director for Tourism Development. We requested both parties to give us a written confirmation.

We wanted confirmation in black and white, which we received. We agreed based on the principle that there are many booking agents out there and we were not going to stop the industry players from choosing whom they should book with. We also understood that there were many smaller players who were not linked to any booking engine. We were of the view that rooms4u was not going to replace other booking engines but will complement what exist and also focus on those that were not linked to any booking engine. We also understood that it was businesses choice to register with any booking engine based on accepting the conditions as provided by the supplier.

If this is problematic for the industry, it means that there is something wrong with how associations are run.

In this regard, I believe that we have done our part to collate data and the industry, through Fedhasa, has done its part to commit to an industry-led booking portal. If this is problematic for the industry, it means that there is something wrong with how associations are run. I am of the view that this matter should be dealt with by the industry and the industry must sort itself out.

As government, we understand that no one is forced to be linked with any particular booking engine, but as a country, we need to make it easier for consumers to access available inventory in South Africa.

The fact that the owner of the website rooms4u represented the whole tourism industry beggars belief and should have raised all sorts of questions!

But then the TBCSA provided CapeInfo with its response where it appears that only Fedhasa, yes, who’s CEO owns rooms4u, is the only organisation that has endorsed the initiative:

“Following recent reports and enquiries about the web portal Rooms4U, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa would like to make it clear that Rooms4U is a private enterprise venture and not a private sector driven initiative as was reported. Prior to its launch, the TBCSA was informed of this initiative, however, the Council did not officially endorse the portal as the Council does not endorse private enterprise initiatives. The Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA), a member association of the TBCSA, has endorsed Rooms 4 U initiative.

“In response to your query about membership and representation within the TBCSA, I would like to highlight that the TBCSA is a member-based organisation and we strive to ensure that through the various sector associations who are our members, we represent the travel and tourism private sector.”

Something is patently not right. There seems to be a difference of opinion between the Department of Tourism and the TBCSA. And the website rooms4u carries the TBCSA logo implying endorsement.

CapeInfo is of the opinion that the so-called representation organisations do not represent the industry nor the interests of the industry as a whole, although we have been supportive of the TBCSA’s efforts to build a representative organisation since it was established in the mid-90s.

CapeInfo is a member of Cape Town Tourism — by far the largest and most successful tourism industry body in South Africa.  Neither CapeInfo nor Cape Town Tourism are members of the TBCSA nor Fedhasa, nor am I aware of any other tourism website that is a member of these bodies.  Nor has CapeInfo ever been approached to become a member of these bodies.  Other tourism representative bodies are also not members of the TBCSA or Fedhasa.

The whole rooms4u saga has undermined the credibility of the Department of Tourism, SA Tourism and TBCSA, not to mention Fedhasa which is left with almost no credibility. Who is going to make things right?

Postscript: Click here for more questions by Travelwires.com

2010, Kortbroek & tourism mafia

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism

Are the Minister of Tourism and his Department (DOT) a bunch of blundering idiots or are they getting into bed with a tourism mafia?  Their latest announcement seems to be ill-conceived and acknowledges that accommodation arrangements for the 2010 World Cup are not as rosy as he claims.

Here are the facts:

It started on Tuesday when we received an email from a website called rooms4u claiming to be the official South African accommodation and bookings portal, accredited by FIFA, and supported by the DOT, SA Tourism, Fedhasa, Tourism Business Council of SA, etc.

Now everybody in the hospitality industry has been subjected to a flood of emails from new websites that promise the world and his wife for 2010, so our first thought was that this is another scam.  And we wrote to the DOT, 2010 Organising Committee, SA Tourism and Fedhasa saying, “What’s going on?”

Website ownership is in the public domain so we looked it up.  rooms4u is owned by Kiara Holdings and its MD is Brett Dungan, who is also the CEO of Fedhasa and the chair of the Tourism Business Council [correction — board member].  Could he have the clout to grab all those bednights that the World Cup needs so badly, and that many others have been working very hard to cater for?

Only the DOT responded to all our emails and it was with a phone call the next day from the Head of Communications.

He confirmed that rooms4u is the new official South African accommodation and bookings portal.  It is accredited by FIFA.  There was no tender or public awareness process because it is a businesswide initiative, he said.

So why is the website owned by a private company?  He didn’t answer that but kept repeating that it’s a businesswide initiative supported by MATCH, SA Tourism, Fedhasa, etc.

Why were provincial and city tourism authorities unaware of all of this, since many have devoted a lot of effort to 2010 and the World Cup?  He sidestepped that one too but said if we have problems with the new portal, we must take it up with our provincial tourism authority.

He promised to email the press release with the announcement several times, as though that would solve all disputes, but it never arrived.

Sorry, this sounds like a scandal in the making.

A week ago, SA Tourism was still discussing mechanisms to link 2010 fans to the existing portals offering online booking, and they were considering a panel of approved websites.

Calvyn Gilfellan, Cape Town Routes Unlimited’s CEO, was surprised when CapeInfo told him about the Minister’s announcement.  “Both SA Tourism and DOT’s position on booking portals was consistently one of not getting involved. They have left it up to the provinces, local tourism organizations and private sector,” he said.  Both Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU) and Cape Town Tourism rely on booking commisions for revenue.

He agreed that the whole thing is irregular because they knew nothing about it, although they are in frequent contact with the DOT and are working on three initiatives with them.

After further enquiries, Gilfellen wrote saying that “SA Tourism has come back to us and suggested that it be an urgent item on the agenda for Friday’s national marketing manager’s forum in Johannesburg.”

The DOT advised CTRU to ignore my questions saying they would respond to them.  We’ve received nothing.  A further email to Sindiswa Nhlumayo, deputy director-general of tourism, also elicited no response.

This has all the makings of another scam and scandal.

rooms4u advertises free listings but there are no terms and conditions. They say an (optional) allocation and booking system will follow in March 2010  and “your world-wide exposure to all travelers and potential customers will commence.

There is no mention of any booking commissions or other fees that might be introduced when the world-wide exposure commences.  Will this official website offer free bookings and exposure or, if MATCH is part of the rooms4u equation, does that mean that the total fee will again be 30–40%?  It’s only good business practice to state this upfront.

And what will happen to rooms4u after the World Cup?  Will it be closed down or will it continue to compete with other websites, as South Africa’s official accommodation and bookings portal? Will government continue to promote it after 2010?

Surely it is the public’s right to see the contract between the Department of Tourism and Kiara Holdings, or are Fedhasa and the Tourism Business Council a front for Kiara Holdings?

The boards of SA Tourism and the Tourism Business Council comprises some heavyweight businesspeople known for their integrity.  One wonders if they were fully informed of the process or has this caught them by surprise too, like the provincial and city tourism authorities?

This sends out all the wrong messages.  It seems to say that if you sit on boards, you can get a slice of the cake.  Surely the Minister must have been aware that the appointment of a single website owned by a high profile businessman would come under public scrutiny?

The old British Tourism Authority had a very clear way of levelling the playing field but still giving website visitors access to online booking.  They published a list of criteria for accredited websites offering online booking.  They linked to all websites that met their criteria and took no commissions.

But if MATCH is there wanting their pound of flesh, that’s not going to happen.

MATCH got things badly wrong in South Africa.  They had to change their usual rules.  SA doesn’t have the stock of graded accommodation they could call upon elsewhere, and they tried to embrace the small accommodation sector that provides the bulk of all rooms in SA.   But they didn’t change their modus operandi to go with it.  They have been bad communicators and tried to impose big hotel practices on more laissez faire establishments.

With this announcement, ‘Kortbroek’ van Schalkwyk seems to have been caught with his pants right down.

Click here for the Minister’s media statement.