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"I’ll be doing more listening than talking"

Sheryl Ozinsky starts her new job as CEO of Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU) on January 10, 2007.  She plans to spend a day a week in the CTRU offices until then, as well as going on holiday to Thailand.  Then, "I fully intend to hit the ground running".

Ozinsky made her name in tourism while at the former Cape Town Tourism (CTT).  She took over as manager of a rather down-at-heel tourism office in 1998 above the railway station.  Moving to new offices, she transformed the organisation into a world-class visitor centre and Cape Town Tourism enjoyed a respect it had never achieved before.

Sheryl Ozinsky

More important was the way she transformed the perception of tourism among all Capetonians.  "Tourism" was not just a "touristy" thing... it was about how a city lives and works.  When mess and litter in the city centre became an issue, she donned gumboots and lead a team of people on a well-publicised cleanup.  City Council took the hint.

Ozinsky has always enjoyed a great media profile and some (usually politicians) accused her of being too accessible to the media – calling her "dial-a-quote".  Her public support was huge... one City Council staffer told us at the time that she would "toyi-toyi topless" in support of Ozinsky if need be!

What's most remarkable now, though, is her comeback to tourism.  The demise of the old Cape Town Tourism in the lead-up to the Destination Marketing Organisation (and CTRU) was a bruising, highly emotive process.

What makes Ozinsky ideal for the job is the enormous energy and hard work she devotes to any task, the thought she puts into things and the fact that she has no sacred cows.  She is very, very focused and does not beat around the bush – she calls a spade a spade, yet her ability to see the bigger picture is one of her greatest strengths.  Whereas the previous CEO's background was as a consultant, Ozinsky is far more hands on – driving revenues, fine-tuning responses, building a brand.

Responding to our question about confusion between the "Cape Town & Western Cape" brand and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, she replied: "It may well be that there is confusion, and it’s absolutely my job to find out if there is, and if necessary, take a long hard look at the branding.  Initially, I will have to spend some time setting urgent priorities which both my team and I believe will give the organisation the means and the credibility to deliver to and beyond expectations.  That means an honest period of prioritisation.  Branding and the perception of the brand are right up there, but they are one of many."

"Anything that gets in the way of that, has to be my problem to help solve."

She has never shied away from facing issues and her response on crime is equally to the point.  "Let’s be blunt here.  Anyone who thinks that crime is just another problem and that it doesn’t affect ALL of us is in denial.  Crime is a huge problem, of form, substance and perception.  This is not specifically a tourism issue; it’s a South African issue.  Having said that, my job is to market the destination.  Anything that gets in the way of that has to be my problem to help solve.

"It’s clear that CTRU is not a law enforcement agency, but we can and will give whatever input, expertise, co-operation and any other assistance we can to make sure that crime starts to receive the serious attention it should.  There are already encouraging signs from government, and in particular, big business has made its voice extremely well heard over the past month or so.  That’s a good sign, but it’s only the beginning.  All South Africans, no matter who they are or where they live, have to work together and jointly agree that the only solution to crime is zero tolerance.   Full stop.

"I’m going to be looking at this whole crime and tourism issue very, very closely.  I’ve been outspoken on the subject before – passionately so – and I feel no differently now."

While there were many trying times and huge challenges at CTT, Ozinsky no doubt had a lot of fun there.  She had a supportive board and an almost fanatically supportive membership.  As a membership-driven organisation, the core stakeholders were the members.  CTRU is a very different kind of animal as a statutory organisation.  There is an independent board of directors but ownership rests securely between provincial and city governments.

The "tensions" between the ANC-controlled provincial government and DA-led multiparty government at the city is an advantage – the era of steamrolled political decisions is over, for the moment at any rate.

Ozinsky's two years as her own boss – starting a plastics recycling company and consulting on a variety of projects – have mellowed her and she is also all too aware of the challenges at her new job.

She sidesteps some of our questions noting that she's not in the job yet, being diplomatic and empasizing rather that "this is not a one-person job and it is going to require my getting the whole team at CTRU to pull together.  My job is to deliver, and that is precisely what I intend to do."

What were those questions?  They have all been raised on CapeInfo before.

Shouldn't the CTT head office be part of the CTRU establishment (if really effective marketing is to take place)?  CapeInfo has raised the point before that Cape Town has no dedicated marketing.  CTT has no marketing mandate and CTRU only markets "Cape Town & Western Cape".  All Ozinsky offered was that "there’s little question that good co-operation between us is going to be critical."

The City accounts for over 70% of the Province's population.  Do you believe that this should also be the ratio of focus for CTRU's efforts since CTRU's management seem to be usually busy in country areas.  "It’s really rather pointless (and self-defeating) to try and pretend that Cape Town is anything less than the gateway to the rest of the province and if I have my way, increasingly to the rest of SA.  We are the proverbial shopping centre anchor tenant.  But it’s equally silly not to put considerable effort into what we offer beyond the City and there are all sorts of good reasons why this should be the case.  For one, this extends the length of stay and increases tourism spend - resulting in higher yielding visits and ideally, repeat visits to explore the destination further."

Corporate culture
"I think that there should be four key values that infuse the people and the work of Cape Town Routes Unlimited:

We value excellence
Whether its serving visitors, writing a media release, evaluating the criteria for assistance for a major event, bidding for an international conference, drafting a strategic marketing plan, concluding a deal with an inbound operator, conducting a performance appraisal...  we do it the best way we know how and at the same time we continually strive to learn how to do it better and better.
We share our expertise and ideas with others, treating all with respect, dignity and honesty in our interactions.
We spend time listening to and encouraging our stakeholders such that we instill a sense of passion and excellence in the marketing of Cape Town and the Western Cape.
We value our heritage and our diversity
We embrace the rich diversity of culture, language, history, perspectives and expertise across the region.  This releases our creative energy, creates a sense of ownership amongst all citizens and helps us to nurture and build successful brands that reflect the personality of Cape Town and beyond.
We seek every opportunity to create work, entrepreneurship opportunities and hope for communities for whom tourism may well be a lifeline.  We are committed to addressing the social injustices of the past.  We do this through training and product development, purchasing from local, small businesses and our employment equity programmes.
Subscribing to triple-bottom line business principles and encouraging our stakeholders to do so, we seek at all times to implement actions which are environmentally and socially sustainable, in recognition of our huge responsibility to current and future generations.

These values are fundamental to everything we do and should guide the way CTRU meets the needs of the tourism industry, the public sector and communities with whom we interact."

CTRU's communication has been criticised in the past and Ozinsky says, "It is something I give an extremely high priority to.  There’s no excuse for bad communication and there is even less excuse to be inaccessible or sloppy in delivery.  I will give this whole issue of communication very careful consideration that I assure you."

CTRU has also been criticised for its silence on 2010. "2010 is a priority, no question.  To date, I’m told that together with the Provincial Government, City of Cape Town, Cape Film Commission and Wesgro, CTRU is playing an active role in tourism planning for 2010, by determining tourism requirements, planning budgets and compiling project plans especially with respect to attracting new markets to this destination from countries such as Brazil and Argentina.  But much more needs to be done, and you can certainly expect me to elevate CTRU’s profile with respect to 2010.  Anything less would be irresponsible."

"What I can tell you is that one of my first priorities will be to try and find out, qualitatively and quantitatively, exactly what our customer base thinks and more importantly, precisely what they expect of us.  Although I think I know this instinctively or even intuitively, I do believe I have to go to the effort to find out empirically – that way all involved in tourism will know where we’re headed and why, because I certainly won’t hide the results.

"Remember that I’m only starting this job in January and that it will have to take me some time to settle in and start setting priorities.  So while I fully intend to hit the ground running, the expectation should be that from day one, I’ll be doing more listening than talking.  It is wonderful that a whole lot of people have opinions about tourism, and I want to hear exactly what it is that is on their minds."

October 2006

Curriculum vitae – Sheryl Ozinsky


  • Past President, Rotary Club of Groote Schuur
    Currently serves as a Board member of the following organisations:
  • Table Mountain National Park Steering Committee
  • Community Chest of the Western Cape
  • Fair Trade in Tourism SA
  • Mosaic - Training Service and Healing Centre for Women (since 1995)
  • GrandWest Cape Culture & Heritage Foundation
  • Iziko Museums of Cape Town;
  • Zip Zap Children's Circus (since 1994)
  • Fairest Cape Association


    1985   University of Cape Town:   BSc (Hons) Marine Biology
    1979–1982   Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel:   BSc (Environmental Biology)
    1979   School for Overseas Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem:   Preparatory Study – Science Field
    1978   Herzlia High School, Cape Town


    JULY 2004 – CURRENT :  Ishabi Tourism Development
    Sheryl is currently a Director of Ishabi Tourism Development, a new BEE tourism development company, whose vision is to plan and develop tourism and leisure experiences that fully celebrate the beauty, magic and majesty of southern Africa, and the richness of its people. Ishabi is currently involved in six community tourism investment projects in four provinces for the Working for Tourism programme of the Department of Environment and Tourism. The company was involved in developing a business model for the Look Out Hill project in Khayelitsha, and will be implementing a community tourism initiative for the Presidential Urban Renewal nodes of Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain. Ishabi also conceptualised and implemented specialist tours for the ICLEI World Congress held in Cape Town in March 2006.

    Ishabi is involved in projects that are transformative, make a difference to communities and create real empowerment opportunities. The Company provides an integrated service to investors, business people, state agencies and developmental organizations.

    In her personal capacity, Sheryl was appointed as the Project Manager for the Proudly South African Homegrown Awards and conceptualized and implemented the initiative for two years running, raising some R3m. Sheryl is currently developing a visitor services and e-business strategy for the Johannesburg Tourism Company, was involved in the conceptualization of a seasonal marketing campaign and mentorship initiative for the tourism staff of the Cape Winelands District Municipality and is MD of a Plastics Recycling Company, trading as PETCO, set up by the plastics industry. She is also involved in a business plan competition conceptualized by an entrepreneur support agency, Enablis.

    Sheryl has recently been appointed as the CEO of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the destination marketing organization for Cape Town and the Western Cape. She will take up office in January 2007.

    AUG 1998 – JUNE 2004:  Cape Town Tourism (CAPTOUR) – Manager
    A fierce and impassioned promoter of Cape Town, Sheryl oversaw the exponential growth of tourism in the city for six years. Together with her colleagues, she helped to build the Cape Town brand into one of the world travel markets most recognized. Over the period, Cape Town has become globally recognized as one of the leading long-haul destinations in the world, winning numerous international travel awards and accolades.

    Achievements for Cape Town Tourism have included the creation of world class and highly regarded Visitor Information Centres, building brand Cape Town as one of the top visitor destinations in the world and increasing turnover at Cape Town Tourism from R2.5-million to R6.5-million per annum. Membership numbers increased in the period from 500 to 1300 due to increased marketing benefits; and the income from membership fees was multiplied 5 times.

    Never afraid of tackling relevant and controversial tourism issues and addressing difficult issues head on, Sheryl was successful in creating an awareness of sustainable tourism development and the ways in which industry can play its part in implementing responsible tourism actions. Sheryl raised significant income for Cape Town Tourism from the corporate sector; she also put together a revenue generation plan which meant that Cape Town Tourism generated a significant amount of its own income, some 70%, through commissions on bookings, sales of merchandise and the conceptualizing of events. She is very well networked, not only in the tourism sector, but also in the manufacturing; financial services; and information technology sectors.

    DEC 1996 – JAN 1998:   Robben Island Museum – Marketing & Business Development Manager
    Served on the interim management of the Robben Island Museum which administered Robben Island on behalf of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology until permanent staff were appointed. The Island was declared a cultural institution and opened to the public on 1 January 1997. Sheryl was responsible for the development and implementation of the Robben Island Museum business plan. She was also successful in raising a significant amount of money for the Museum from the private sector.

    SEP – DEC 1995:  Cape Town Symphony Orchestra – Fundraiser
    Sheryl was Instrumental in rescuing the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra from closure when they lost their Local Government funding. Contracted in September 1995 with a December 1995 deadline to raise R11 million, Sheryl developed a fundraising strategy involving the 3 tiers of government (national, provincial and local), corporate and individual sponsorship, and raised R22 million in the time period.

    SEPT 1994 – JUL 1995:  Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town – Marketing Manager
    This multi-faceted position required active input in numerous critical areas such as marketing, fund-raising, educational development, strategy implementation, promotions, staffing, community participation, corporate imaging, positioning and revenue enhancement. Sheryl set and achieved the target of attracting 1 million visitors in the first year of operation. To help pay for the capital costs of building the Aquarium, Sheryl offered companies the naming rights to various exhibitions within the Aquarium and was able to raise R5m over two years.

    1991 – SEPT 1994:  Victoria & Alfred Waterfront – Education & Fundraising Co-ordinator
    The primary function of this challenging position was to ensure that the newly built Victoria and Alfred Waterfront attracted large numbers of people in order to sustain the commercial viability of the facility. The position encompassed marketing, event planning, education, extensive public relations, fund-raising and, at a later stage, comprehensive involvement in the planning and fund-raising for the proposed Aquarium (see above). Sheryl raised a significant amount of money from Agfa who funded the open air Agfa Auditorium at the Waterfront.

    1987 – 1990:  South African Museum – Public Relations Officer
    Sheryl was appointed as the SA Museum's first Public Relations Officer, developing and expanding the position. She substantially enhanced the public image of the Museum. This was achieved by conceptualising, fundraising for and implementing many public relations, marketing campaigns and education programmes aimed at all sectors of the community.

    1986 – 1987:   South African Museum – Marine Biologist
    Sheryl started her career as a junior scientist, in the Marine Biology Department with responsibility for curation and research in the invertebrate section.