Does Cape Town tourism need transformation to attract South African tourists?

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The Cape Times yesterday presented an interesting contrast of views of what tourism in Cape Town needs to cope with the tourism crisis, which could only get worse as the world economies continue to wobble.

Most astounding was the admission by Cape Town Routes Unlimited CEO Calvyn Gelfillan that his organisation has been flawed in neglecting the local South African market in attracting tourists to Cape Town and the Western Cape.  Interesting is that Gilfellan writes now that our industry ‘is also beginning to feel the effects of the fallout’ – one wonders where he has been in the past six months, when the worst-ever tourism year has been written about extensively! Now his organisation thinks that targeting ‘black professionals’ from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape will solve the region’s tourism woes, and he proudly proclaims that “Cape Town and the Western Cape are going black”!  Gilfellan mentions that our province is seen to be unfriendly to this target market, that it is expensive as far as food and accommodation go, and that Table Mountain and the N2 are not safe.   In his very ‘hip’ article he does not mention at all what his organisation is doing to attract the newly identified target market (not at the expense of existing source markets, he assures readers), nor does he indicate what his organisation is doing to turn around the negative perceptions about tourism friendliness, pricing and safety.

If one were to be a member of the target market of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, one could be offended, as Gilfellan makes it sound that his organisation is only targeting it because the province’s tourism industry is in crisis!  He describes the new target market as “…the emerging black professional class, the section of society that’s upwardly mobile, an area that advertisers home in on when they launch new cars, glossy magazines, or products. You can’t miss them. They’re almost everywhere.  They are the successful face of the new South Africa. They’re also the future and present of tourism”.  He invites the target market to ‘test us‘, and to see why “you have not tasted South Africa if you’ve not been to Cape Town and the Western Cape”. I wonder if this target market will agree, being quite happy to be living in a province like Gauteng one would imagine, where advancement opportunities alone would be more favourable than in the Cape.

Tony Ehrenreich’s views are always good for a laugh, but one must admire him for his dedication and focus to a theme, which he writes about every few months, being about the discrimination in tourism and its ‘apartheid beneficiaries’.  Interesting about his attack on Cape Town tourism is that he is a Cape Town City Councillor, and should be good at making himself heard inside the hallowed halls of the City, and has been a Board member of Cape Town Routes Unlimited in his capacity as general secretary of trade union federation COSATU.  One does not see that he has made much headway in transforming tourism in both these seats to date.

In his Cape Times article Ehrenreich goes on about his pet hobbyhorse of tourism in Cape Town being a ‘white man’s business’, pointing a finger at the big players and beneficiaries of tourism.  His statement implies both criticism of racism and sexism, but it is on the racial side that his article focuses.  He blames the City of Cape Town for not including the ‘local communities’ into the ‘economic opportunities and plans’ for the city.  He points a finger at the ‘old boy’s network of tourism businesses getting the lion’s share of the local tourism cake’.   Having been in tourism for the last fifteen years, I have not been aware of any such chauvinistic benefits going to any specific groups in our province.  It is the ‘old boys’ who have used their money and connections to raise more money, to invest in hotels, restaurants and vehicles, to offer tourism products and services – not one of these ‘old boys’ have been sleeping well in the past year, given the state of the tourism industry in our city!   Ehrenreich also does not give credit to the ‘old boys’ employing a large number of staff who live in the ‘local communities’, as well as training them, so that they can improve their positions and therefore incomes, nor to the informal sector of beggars and car guards who benefit from tourism too.

Ehrenreich also attacks the R40 million sponsorship of Cape Town Tourism, funded by his City of Cape Town, and benefiting mainly ‘white tourist operators’.  While Ehrenreich and I share a criticism of Cape Town Tourism, it is for different reasons – we have seen wasteful expenditure go to projects of friends of staff of the tourism body. I can however ‘defend’ Cape Town Tourism in that the body accepts membership from all  tourism players, irrespective of their skin colour, and Ehrenreich knows that.  He is also critical of Cape Town Tourism’s participation, by means of funding, of the Table Mountain New7Wonders of Nature vote (this was actually funded by the City of Cape Town itself) and the World Design Capital 2014 (which was also funded  by the City of Cape Town via the Cape Town Partnership), without any transformation linked to these projects, he wrote! These two factual errors show how out of touch Ehrenreich is with what his Council is doing in respect of tourism!  Ehrenreich loses credibility when he continues his rant about ‘white  businesses’ being promoted, at the expense of manufacturing, losing focus in his diatribe!   He is stuck in time, in that he writes about the ‘profiteering from mega-events like the World Cup by overcharging customers’, which is deterring visitors from returning to Cape Town.  If there was one body that did exploit our local tourism industry, then it was FIFA’s MATCH, but no local industry can be held responsible for Ehrenreich’s unfair and unfounded attack.

Ehrenreich attacks the money that went into the development of the Green Point Urban Park, which is open to all and well used by residents of ‘local communities‘, and which was part of the Cape Town Stadium budget agreed to and managed by the City of Cape Town.  He calls instead for other City-owned nature reserves such as Zandvlei, Rondevlei and Princessvlei to be developed, and to employ local unemployed residents of nearby communities as eco-tourism guides, as well as to upgrade the facilties used by local communities at Monwabisi, Mnandi Beach, and Strandfontein Pavilion.   Ehrenreich also challenges his own City’s tourism department to develop new tourism products. Ideally Ehrenreich would like to see support for local ‘black entrepreneurs’ to develop new tourism products to ‘compete with the likes of the V&A Waterfront’.   Clearly what Ehrenreich wants developed will not be what Cape Town Routes Unlimited’s new target market will be wanting to experience when they come to Cape Town.

One would hope that the tourism players in our city and province could co-ordinate their tourism strategies and speak as one voice.  One wonders how the City of Cape Town tolerates and allows Ehrenreich to so openly criticise the work that it is doing – surely there is a code of conduct for City councillors to not denigrate the body on which they serve!  The province’s Economic Development Plan appears to be hanging in mid-air, and the time has come to place all Cape Town and Western Cape marketing bodies into one home, with a co-ordinated and streamlined marketing programme.

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

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