Tag Archives: V&A Waterfront

If dams go dry – what it means for tourism in Cape Town

The latest forecast for Cape Town’s rainfall in June, July and August is that it will be 40% below annual averages.  And there are predictions that this drought could last at least two years.  Cape Town could become the first world city to simply run out of water due to bad management and too much wishful thinking.  And that’s something CapeTalk radio has been emphasizing for months.

Listening to the Kieno Kammies show on CapeTalk last week and the on-air spat about the water crisis between City of Cape Town (CoCT) Mayco member responsible for water, Xanthea Limberg and Tony Ehrenreich (Cosatu), one couldn’t help but feel that politicians put party politics and point-scoring above the interests of the city.  It was a spat that made a mockery of the mayor’s call the night before for everybody to work together! Continue reading

Why Cape Town is surfing the crest of a wave

In 1990, while I was part of the V&A Waterfront team, I bought an international travel magazine. There was a story on Barcelona’s renaissance after the end of Spain’s dictatorship. With events then starting to unfold in South Africa, I wondered if the same could happen in Cape Town.

Although there have been scores of accolades for the city since democracy in 1994, most of these have been from the city’s traditional markets with limited global awareness. Probably one of the most important accolades came from Parliament itself with this note from the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete: “On 25 October 2007, the National Assembly of South Africa agreed to a motion, noting that Cape Town was ranked the best city out of the country’s 283 municipalities.
The House further noted that the city won this award because of the way in which the municipality dealt with poverty, the level of access to basic services, its economic activity and infrastructure and because its citizens are well qualified.
The House recalled that in July [2006] Cape Town was ranked by USA’s Travel & Leisure magazine as the number one city in Africa and the Middle East and claimed tenth spot in the “best city in the world” category.
The National Assembly congratulates both the city administration and the residents of Cape Town on making it a world class city and a top tourist destination.”

TripAdvisor Traveller's ChoiceCape Town’s international profile received a major boost when, in 1997, it bid for the 2004 Olympics and made it through to the final three cities. Here, and with events like the Argus Cycle Tour, the city has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity and capability.

But it was TripAdvisor’s World’s Best Destination 2011 that almost took everybody by surprise. Was this one of the benefits of hosting the 2010 World Cup? Will it remain in the top 5 or was this a fluke showing? Cape Town’s ranking next year will be an indication.

World Design Capital 2014The latest achievement, and the first since the Olympic Bid to demonstrate a wider footprint that embraces Cape Town’s poorer areas, was making the three-city shortlist out of the 54 entries from 27 countries for World Design Capital 2014. (Read the full story here.) This is also, as far as I know, the first international bid out of South Africa where the Mandela-factor hasn’t been a trump card.

So what are the reasons for Cape Town’s success — accepting that God-given natural beauty isn’t the only reason? What does Cape Town owe its renaissance to? One of the reasons for the V&A Waterfront’s success has always been given as timing – the end of apartheid and SA’s isolation.

Institutional interventions
Timing must again be one of the reasons, but institutional interventions without bureaucratic control must surely be another? It is these institutions that have contributed more to Cape Town’s heritage and vitality than anything else. One of the first, if not the first, is the Cape Town Heritage Trust, established in 1987.

Cape Town Heritage Trust

The Cape Town Heritage Trust is an independent, private-sector, non-profit organisation which conserves the architectural, cultural and natural heritage of Cape Town and environs for the benefit of the inhabitants of the City and of the nation at large. The Trust was established in 1987 by the Cape Town City Council with the backing of the Cape Provincial Administration. A number of buildings in Shortmarket and Hout Streets, originally acquired for road-widening purposes, were donated to the Trust.


Cape Information Technology Initiative, a non-profit organisation established in 1998, develops & supports the information & communications technology cluster in the Western Cape.

There have been many initiatives — too many to mention here — some driven by local government but most by the private sector with local government support. This is a major reason for the growth and strength of Cape Town’s knowledge economy.

Those agencies that still kowtow to the politicians — like the provincial tourism agency — have never enjoyed the same level of success.

Looking at the reasons for Cape Town’s success, deputy mayor Ian Neilson, quotes Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?, who lists five required success factors:

  • aesthetics
  • civic leadership
  • safety – physical & economic
  • acceptance of diversity
  • effective legislation

“These factors define the cities that people want to live in,” he says, “and I think Cape Town does fairly well in all respects. We’ve concentrated on creating platforms for effective institutions and enabling effective legislation — to facilitate rather than control.”

Desirable cities and towns always attract the most creative and entrepreneurial people.

There’s little doubt that Helen Zille’s award as World’s Best Mayor in 2008 helps the city’s credibility. In a competition where public comments and votes do count, Capetonians made themselves heard.

Cape Town Partnership

The Cape Town Partnership, launched in 1999, is a collaboration between the public & private sectors working together to develop, promote & manage Cape Town Central City.

Consumer activism

Theodore Yach, who chairs the Cape Town Heritage Trust and is a member of the Central City Improvement District, says consumer activism is one of the reasons for Cape Town’s success. “People have started realising that it’s not just the city administration that needs to take responsibility. There are now about 40 City Improvement Districts (CIDs) around the city, and what’s happening there is a fantastic story. In the CBD alone, there’s been an explosion in value of ten times since 2000! That’s unheard of!”

While the CTP and its CIDs are excellent examples of consumer activism, a much earlier example needs to be mentioned. Gabriel Fagan and the late Victor Holloway conceived the idea for the redevelopment of the V&A Waterfront in 1970s and, after Holloway’s death in 1983, Fagan continued lobbying for this.

Creative Cape Town - Imagine City Hall

Creative Cape Town, a programme of the Cape Town Partnership established in 2006, communicates, supports and facilitates the development of the creative & knowledge economy in the Central City of Cape Town. Imagine City Hall is a citizen activation programme: its aim is to draw support for the development of the Cape Town City Hall as a dedicated cultural venue.

Then a group of waterfront enthusiasts, supported by then-mayor Sol Kreiner, managed to get permission from the port authorities to host the Pierhead Festival in 1985 – the first time widespread public access was allowed to the docks since the Suez Crisis in the 1960s! It was a resounding success and organising committee chair, Harold Gorvy, asked for a meeting with the ministers of transport and tourism to ask for the redevelopment of the area. They agreed and a committee under the chairmanship of Arie Burggraaf was announced the following year, resulting in the formation of the V&A Waterfront company. (I bumped into Hendrik Schoeman, the transport minister who took the decision, at the Waterfront in the mid-1990s just before his suicide. He remarked, sadly, that no-one would remember the roles played by the early lobbyists — consumer activists? — or the breakthrough decision he took to get it all started.)

Victor Holloway must also be credited with saving the Lutheran Church complex at the top of Strand Street. While arts editor of Die Burger, he published a superimposed photo of the area showing the proposed elevated freeway. The proposal was dropped after a public outcry. Cape Town is renown for its vocal citizens.

  • Citizen and consumer activism — taking action and responsibility — is the lifeblood of successful cities and towns.

Character of Capetonians
And then there is the character of Capetonians – more educated, creative, entrepreneurial and lifestyle-focused than citizens of most other cities.

Capetonians take ownership of their city more than one finds elsewhere in South Africa. Mornings and evenings, streets are filled with people walking (with or without dogs), jogging or cycling. That’s a rarity in other metropolitan areas.

Except for the brief period under Nomaindia Mfeketo’s mayoralty, when the city council approached a total meltdown, Cape Town has had strong and effective local government. Equally strong were the media and bodies like the Cape Institute of Architects, which engaged the council rigorously.

When the late Revel Fox (a prominent architect) was elected city councillor after the first democratic local government elections, he became chair of the important Town Planning Committee. Every meeting started an hour earlier for rookie councillors, when Revel took them through the agenda and the implications of the decisions they would be required to make.

Cape Town has grown up. Through recent projects as diverse as the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and the Cape Town Jazz Festival — and their capable management — it has shown that it competes on a world stage. The city’s hotels, restaurants and airport are all top-ranked in the world. Democracy did open the doors and the new constitution ended the era of conservativism. So, looking back, Cape Town did follow in Barcelona’s footsteps.

But is everything rosy? Not quite. The acclaimed Cape Town Partnership and its CIDs are not a solution for all Capetonians. Their mission still reads “for the central city” although there is now a CID in Athlone’s regional centre — the CID model only works where there is commercial property management who can afford to top up the municipality’s expenditure and efforts. It only works in affluent areas so it’s not a city-wide solution.

(Unfortunately, Andrew Boraine — CTP’s CEO — is as bad at returning phone calls as he’s always been… since his time as city manager, so I couldn’t get his comments on this or on Cape Town’s renaissance.)

And the city’s marketing is still trying to catch up with its mandate. Cape Town Tourism (CTT) has been talking about the Cape Town brand for five years and it’s three years since it was mandated by the City as custodian of Cape Town’s brand. The process has followed a long road of consultation and inclusiveness, rather than inspired and inspiring leadership. If one follows Twitter, the ‘eats’ at the last meeting were outstanding, as was the enthusiasm for something which can only be described as a clone of Pick n Pay’s tagline. (CTT previously appropriated New York City’s famous signature I ♥ NY for its Facebook page, I ♥ Cape Town. As veteran marketing commentator Chris Moerdyk remarked during the preparation of a related story*, anyone who uses NY’s signature phrase will always be regarded as a copycat.)

CTT has announced that its new brand positioning of Inspiration rolls out from July 1 with new creatives, images and productions on the Discovery and National Geographic channels for example. But will this address the domestic market — the mainstay of all tourism?

After extensive research, the national department of tourism has found that they will get far more bang for their buck by growing domestic tourism, and this is where they and all their agencies are focussing their attention.

Cape Town desperately needs to change perceptions nationally that it is not an enclave of white privilege and that it is welcoming to all visitors. Surely the DA needs that too for further gains at the polls.

Related content: Why is Cape Town special?

More on the CID model
Since its establishment in November 2000, the CCID has become an internationally acclaimed model of public-private partnership between property owners and businesses, supported by the City Council. The formation of the CCID was a significant event for Cape Town, because it was the first major city in South Africa to implement a fully constituted, legally bound Improvement District covering the entire core of the Central City. Property owners have contributed more than R150 million to the rejuvenation of the Central City during the past eight years.

A Central Improvement District (CID) is a precisely defined geographical area, approved by the City Council in terms of the Municipal Property Rates Act, Section 22 (Special Rates Area) and the CID bylaw – to provide complementary services in that area.

To address the stated requirements of property owners, 51% of the CCID’s annual budget is spent on security, approximately 22% on cleansing, 3% on social development and 11% on communications and marketing. The remainder of the budget goes towards operational and administrative costs of the CCID.

The CCID offers safety and security, urban management, social development and marketing services.

* The comment was published on CapeInfo along with the most successful destination brands to have come out of the city. I’m trying to find it in the archives which weren’t transferred to the new content management system.

SA Destination Awards – How it all began

I’ve spent two years exploring South Africa and have never ceased to be amazed at the enormous disparity between towns as “Destinations.”

De Rust's "Donkie Texsie" - sometimes the smallest things leave the most indelible memories.

Take tiny De Rust near Meiringspoort in the Western Cape as an example. It has far greater attraction than Mokopane — 200 times larger — on the edge of the Waterberg in Limpopo. De Rust has a welcoming main street and a lively café scene. Mokopane hardly encourages a stop yet, digging deeper, it has so much unused potential — from adjacent mountains and Makapan’s World Heritage Site to the Nyl River.

Mokopane has a very attractive golf course — which the municipality swapped with the mine for water infrastructure. But then one looks at Phalaborwa, also in Limpopo, where the mine sold its golf course to a developer and, today, Hans Merensky Estate is to Phalaborwa what the V&A Waterfront is to Cape Town.

Thinking of the spectacular views from Rotary Way which runs along the mountaintop above Hermanus, I didn’t discover a single road onto Mokopane’s mountain!

I also visited Mosesetjane, one of Mokopane’s more rural townships on tribal land (where the only municipal service seems to be a water tanker for funeral parties). But it was clean, friendly and there was an evident sense of pride in spite of poverty. It has more sense of place than Mokopane town.

Looking at the success of towns, it all boils down to two (or maybe three) things:

  • The competence of municipal government to understand that their responsibility goes far beyond service delivery — they must also create attractive places where entrepreneurship flourishes.
  • Citizens who expect and demand more of their local government.

And then there is the third item:

  • Mines and other non-sustainable industries are, in most cases, a kiss of death for any town. They tend to “take ownership” of towns, they stifle entrepreneurship and lower expectations for environmental quality. (Yes, there are exceptions and I refer to one below. But mining towns are essentially utilitarian and lacking in whimsy and delight.)

Turning towns around

The failure of many towns to provide a “sense of place” or adequate framework for entrepreneurial growth stems from a lack of a meaningful Urban Design Frameworks. Few municipalities understand the complexity of developing urban places that work, let alone entice, enthrall and are enjoyed.

Mthatha in the Eastern Cape is just one example of a totally and utterly dysfunctional town. East London’s CBD has no attraction value at all.

Catalysts for change

Many towns owe their renewal, to a lesser or greater extent, to one or more catalysts. There’s always value to understanding this and looking for potential new catalysts.

In Cape Town, the pedestrianisation of St George’s Street and the development of the V&A Waterfront played an important role.

The high level of urban management within the V&A Waterfront led for calls for this to be replicated in Cape Town’s CBD, which led to the establishment of the Cape Town Partnership — a very successful private-public partnership that ensures the city is one of the most desirable destinations in the world.

In Napier, like many small towns in the Western Cape, an influx of city folk saw buildings being sensitively restored and a new community vitality.

In Graaff-Reinet, the purchase and restoration of historical buildings by the late Dr Anton Rupert’s Historical Homes of SA saw a resurgence of town pride and home-owners came to the party.

Die Tuishuise in Cradock

In Cradock, Sandra Antrobus, a farmer’s wife, got into antiques and then building restoration, and ended up buying and restoring a whole street — Die Tuishuise — which has become the face of “Destination Cradock”.

In Phalaborwa, Rio Tinto looking forward to the time when mining will cease, endowed the town with R176 million and the Palabora Foundation. The outcome is that local learners outperform others in Limpopo province and a wide range of skills training for adults is provided. The Foundation also funds the local tourism office, arguably the best tourism office in the province not funded and managed by Limopo Tourism itself. What is tangible is the pride in Phalaborwa. Other mining towns wish their mining companies would emulate Rio Tinto’s lead.

And then there is the example of two catalysts for change that don’t achieve the leverage they could:

Shark cage diving at Gansbaai is big business and attracts the most remarkable stream of international celebrities. But they are bussed in and bussed out in a day and the spin-off for the town is nowehere as great as it could be.

The Western Cape’s Route 62 should be a money-spinner (job creator, etc) for the 11 — 14 towns along the route, which is only 70km longer than the notoriously dangerous N1, with three towns along its route. But the failure of Western Cape Government and SANRAL to effectively promote the alternative prevents Route 62 from reaching its full potential.

The awards programme needs to achieve a few things. It needs to:

  • Help local government discover how to create “People Places” that nurture entrepreneurship;
  • Involve citizens and past visitors so that they engage with local government and destination marketing organisations to identify what works and what can work better;
  • Identify catalysts for change and encourage other catalysts to emerge.

I’m grateful to Mariette du Toit-Helmbold for this definition of a destination by the Communication Group: “At its simplest a destination is a place where people want to be. It is a special place, it is more than just bricks and mortar; it is a place whose greatest assets and experiences occupy people’s minds and hearts.

Surprises & Fresh eyes

The last time I travelled on a train in South Africa was over 40 years ago. I have travelled on trains in France and Switzerland and I am a firm believer in train travel. But taking a suburban train into Cape Town raised all sorts of concerns – I’ve seen what’s been written on CapeInfo and local media about our trains (quite horrifying!) and seeing graffiti-ridden trains and trains with no windows parked at stations hasn’t helped.

The train ride from Somerset West to Cape Town was a pleasant surprise. A first class one-way ticket was R12.00! The train was on time and ran like clockwork – the journey was 1.5 hours which is not bad at all. It was clean; the ride was smooth. Security on the train was evident and one did feel safe. I was surprised… just a pity that the rolling stock is so badly designed.

It would be so easy to upgrade our suburban rail service to match the quality and experience of the Swiss and French trains – just change Metrorail’s management. They may have made headway, but they just don’t understand how to attract customers who have a choice of transport modes.

Cape Town station was a disaster. It was due to be redeveloped 20 years ago, nothing happened and it’s more of a mess than ever before. It’s a disgrace to Cape Town.

Celebrating the City
I haven’t been to the Waterfront for over a year so an early morning meeting at City Lodge started an interesting day.

I arrived early and noticed an old building outside the Waterfront which had a very large red circle attached to the window with the message “This building is Good”. It was an initiative by the Institute of Architects. Well done! Now wouldn’t it be great if they published a list the public can refer to. We challenge them to let us have a list to add here.

The canal at the entrance to the Waterfront looked a bit of a cesspool – what a disappointment!  Across the road, Auto Atlantic has become an Audi dealership and the building is getting some corporate branding.  So gone are the days of buildings that try to respond to a Waterfront architectural ethic.  Crass commercialism rules; architectural good  neighbours do not exist!

The meeting was with CMH, a listed auto retail group with an annual turnover of almost R9 billion!  It was to discuss a marketing partnership and new ways of reaching appropriate audiences.  They are a refreshing company to deal with.

Delights of a Working Harbour



It’s probably what’s on the water that delights most for any visit to the Waterfront.  This visit was no exception.  Parked, ermm… moored… in front of Cape Grace was the Tatoosh.  Rumoured to belong to one of Microsoft’s co-founders, Paul Allen – one of three “yachts” he owns.  One of the others was in Cape Town earlier this year when Bill Gates addressed a conference.

Yes, that is two helicopters on top of this 303-foot “yacht”.  It also has a real yacht and an array of other water toys on board.

So it was a delight to meet Phillip Couvaras, new GM at the Table Bay Hotel the next day and discover his enthusiasm for what gives the Waterfront its unique attraction.  He’s truly fascinated by all the maritime comings and goings and shares it with the hotel’s guests.  A poster in the lobby about a tall ship moored in front of the hotel resulted in more visitors to the ship than they had in any other port!  Well done Phillip.

Joy, Delight and… Uniqueness

My office was behind the right hand window of the top floor in 1989!  When we moved in, it was occupied by pigeons.  What joy and delight to see this beautiful old building coming into its own.  In the 1870’s it was the port manager’s home and office.  Neil Markovitz of Newmark Hotels was the client who knew exactly what he was doing, with architect Gawie Fagan and interior designer Francois du Plessis.

Dock House



A new – a very fitting – lease on life for the historic Dock House – the most exclusive accommodation at the V&A Waterfront.  Newmark Hotels also owns the V&A Hotel, the Waterfront’s first hotel.

BMW Mausoleum

The next stop was the BMW Pavilion.  Oh gasp and shudder… where have all the people gone… long time passing….  Memories of queues for IMAX, the buzzing Bistro and 500,000 visitors a year are just a memory.  There are a few nice cars and for the rest it looks like a new and used motorbike lot.  Even the Minis have gone.

This does nothing for the Waterfront and certainly nothing for the BMW brand.   Being stopped at the door by two Waterfront security guards was hardly a warm welcome.

Victoria Wharf

I’d heard bits about the new fashion mall that was added to the front of Victoria Wharf so I was keen to discover what the hype was all about.  Entering Victoria Wharf from the old parking area is probably the most unwelcoming entrance I have ever experienced.

You feel as though you are about to be churned into the belly of a monster.  Yes, it’s much the same as the old entrance, but the “Argie boys” (newspaper sellers) and flower sellers are gone.  It’s a bleak combination of wind lobby and giant revolving door with a touch of inhumanity.  That’s so easy to change.

Upstairs, the once busy Playa had two tables.  It was never like this before at 10:30 in the morning.  And the new mall must be cause for concern.  There was not a single soul in sight… a completely empty mall! Nor were there any stores to excite nothing unique to Cape Town.

Of even more concern was the lack of friendliness.  The Woolworths security officer lolling at their front door didn’t bother to return a greeting and this seemed to repeated over and over again.  What sort of warmth are we offering as 2010 approaches?

Tourism numbers are down in the economic crisis but a more commen lament from old friends was that the Waterfront’s management has been virtually absent since David Jack’s retirement.  All the hype about new developments by the new owners was just that… hype.  Wasn’t R3 billion of new development before 2010 mentioned?

The last stop was the Cape Grace Hotel.  It was always a fountain of friendliness and peace in a bustling Waterfront.  It carries memories of a remarkable family that built it – Charles, Chippy and Cynthia Brand – and its remarkable first GM – Euan McGlashan.  Alas, that is just a memory.  Gone is the friendly greeting at the front door, although at least one staff member there is the same.  Inside, staff friendliness seems to have disappeared too… not a single greeting!  The building is in the final stages of a makeover where understated elegance has made way for mirrored pillars and mirrors wherever else there is an empty wall.  It’s not the same.

ICONIC CAPE TOWN – have your say!

This is where you get to have your say – click on the comment link directly above and/or vote in the right hand column.  At the end of the day, it’s your opinion that counts.

It’s not often that one comes across a truly great idea and this just has to be one of those times.  Mel Miller’s concept for Iconic Cape Town really hits the nail right on the head.  No single phrase captures the essence of Cape Town better.

“Cape Town is the brand,” says Mel. “What Cape Town represents – what it has to offer and what it is known for – needs to be communicated instantly and effectively. The brand message needs to do that.

“We have so many memorable, recognisable and revered icons, it makes complete sense to capitalise on them. As a collective then, we can make one crisp, concise promise – ICONIC CAPE TOWN.” (The issue is not about logos, slogans or complex strategies.) It’s about simplicity of communication – “iconic” being the language and experience of our customers. (Operators at the rock face of tourism confirm this to be true. It’s the conversation they have with visitors daily.)

To South Africans outside Cape Town who ask, “how can a strong Brand Cape Town benefit me?”, the answer is simple.  Do you think Sydney’s strong brand benefits Australia, or London’s strong brand benefits Britain?  Of course they do!

  • CapeInfo set about testing the brand message by updating its “Introduction to Cape Town” page. ICONIC CAPE TOWN is a powerful statement, a promise and, when one explores it fully, has the legs to carry Cape Town to its unique position on the world stage. It works at a generic and a product level.  Do visit the new, surprising and inspiring “Introduction to Cape Town” page.  It says it all but can grow to encompass much more.
  • And if you want to read about how the concept came about and why it’s being launched like this, click here.

What does ‘Iconic’ mean?
Of, relating to, or having the character of an icon (an adjective)
What is the definition of ‘Icon’ (also i·kon):

  • An image; a representation.
  • An important and enduring symbol: “Table Mountain is one of the world’s global icons.”
  • One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol
  • Landmark moments in time, eg, iconic moments – public and personal: “Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his first speech from City Hall; the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur hospital.”

“Iconic” is rich with meaning, not just visual. One of Cape Town’s greatest icons is not primarily visual at all. Robben Island should be deeply ingrained in Cape Town’s brand message with its iconic symbolism of “a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil, a triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness.”

Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, said: “It was clear that although Cape Town ranks among the top city destinations of the world, its brand image is fragmented, misunderstood and diluted.

“Countries, regions, states and cities, like large corporations, have begun rising to the challenge of communicating with power and persuasiveness. Furthermore, famous and successful cities are usually associated in people’s minds with a single quality, promise, attribute or story. The competition amongst travel destinations is tougher than ever before. We cannot afford not to put out a confident and powerful brand message out to the world.”

Getting the public involved in the branding debate has been enthusiastically received by Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of Cape Town Tourism:

“I love Iconic Cape Town. It is simple, but powerful and tells the story of our city. Iconic Cape Town captures the diversity, richness, beauty, history and complexity of Cape Town. But for a brand message to be trully effective and real, it must be embraced, shared and lived by the people of the city. If not, it is reduced to a meaningless strap line without soul. Cape Town Tourism looks forward to being part of the process and hearing what our fellow Capetonians have to say.”

Comments from outside Cape Town are as important – that’s where the brand really has to work.