I am always astounded about how our local tourism authorities make comments to the media without foundation. 

Cape Town Tourism’s latest statement refers to a nonsensical “better than average” tourist season which the Cape has just experienced over the festive season, according to the tourism body.  The CEO Of Cape Town Tourism, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, has been at her holiday home in Pringle Bay over the festive season, according to her Tweets on Twitter, and no formal survey has been conducted amongst its accommodation, restaurant and product owner members to come to such a conclusion. 

In a report in the Cape Times, the festive season was described by Mrs Helmbold as “We have had a better than average holiday season with many accommodation establishments recording ‘higher than expected’ occupancy rates”.   It is unclear exactly how good or bad this is meant to be,  the newspaper interpreting her comments in its headline as “Cape Town had good ‘first summer season’, an exaggeration.   She described the Cape’s summer season as consisting of two parts:

*   “a domestic high point during December (and the school holidays)” – Mrs Helmbold has no clue of the reality of the tourism pattern in this quote, in that the festive season period is made up of a mix of international (German and UK in the main) and domestic visitors, who only arrive in the Cape in any large numbers from 26 December onwards, and who largely left the Cape to return home this past weekend, making it a very short festive season of two weeks.   South African visitors to the Cape were more likely to be staying with friends and family than in accommodation establishments.

*   “an international season that peaks between mid-January and the end of February” – once again, Mrs Helmbold is out of touch, in that a tourism vacuum started yesterday, and lasts for two weeks before things pick up again, and then the season will run through until Easter.    February looks well-booked ahead already, mainly by British visitors, and those attending weddings.

The Times  crows today “Hospitality industry coins it”, overexaggerating as it likes to do, but refers extensively to Durban.  The article also quotes one-month holidaying CEO of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, Calvyn Gilfellan, in stating that tourism to Cape Town increased by 3 % over an unspecified period, and that occupancy increased to 65%.  No research source for Gilfellan’s statistics is mentioned.  Gilfellan expresses his satisfaction with the occupancy rate he quotes, but the industry would not be, given that this is the prime period in which it makes its money to survive the bleak winter months.

The exceptionally strong Rand, and the increase to 20 % in the VAT rate in the UK, have been prime deterrents to the UK tourists visiting the Cape, and are the region’s largest source of international tourism.   Its decline has been extremely noticeable this summer season.   However, the extremely severe winter weather experienced in the UK and in Europe has encouraged many tourists to come to the Cape in search of warmth and sun, which they would have had to the extreme last week, when Cape temperatures rose up to 42°C in Franschhoek, for example, Cape Town not being much cooler.   The extreme heat has caused the Franschhoek water supply to be severely depleted, and citizens of the village and its visitors have been encouraged to reduce their water usage by 50 %, ironic in that the village has the largest dam in the Western Cape on its outskirts.

A blow at the start of the festive season was the snow-stuck UK visitors, who could not fly out for three or four days, costing hospitality establishments lost bookings.   Seaside towns such as Plettenberg Bay and Hermanus experienced far lower visitor numbers than in previous years, Johannesburg visitors noticeably absent in the Garden Route town for the second year running.  Last year the Johannesburgers were staying home to save money to renovate their homes for the World Cup, a dream which came true for a small minority only.  Inland towns such as Franschhoek had lots of day visitors, but reduced numbers of guests staying over in accommodation.

It has been a different type of visitor coming to the Cape this festive season, and the domestic visitors in particular appeared to be more demanding, and in some instances dishonourable in cancelling bookings in the last minute, after the rooms have been held for them for many months, without adhering to the cancellation policy, more so than in previous years.   In part this was due to the endless days of a gale-force southeaster blowing over 100 km/hr in Camps Bay, for example, followed by two days of rain over New Year, which led to some guests departing early.  

POSTSCRIPT 20/1: Following our feedback to Cape Town Tourism in this blogpost, Mrs Helmbold has adjusted her definition of the second summer peak to “our international peak tourism season is from end-January until the end of March ” (Ms Helmbold had it as running from mid-January – end February in her December media release), in the newsletter which was sent to members today.  We are delighted that we could be of service to Cape Town Tourism, whose CEO seems severely out of touch with the reality of tourism in the city she is meant to handle the marketing of!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage