Entries tagged with “Camps Bay Accommodation Association”.


Ian Bartes

Chairman: Cape Town Tourism

15 September 2011

Dear Ian

MEMBERSHIP OF CAPE TOWN TOURISM

Thank you for your letter regarding the status of our Whale Cottage Camps Bay membership of Cape Town Tourism, dated 8 September 2011.   In your 9-page letter you request us to motivate why Cape Town Tourism should not terminate our membership due to our Blog, and more specifically, selected comments on it!

I thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight in terms of the allegations you make about our alleged ‘barrage of cyber-criticism’, ‘cyber attacks’, and ‘CTT bashing’ in your letter, and for the challenge to revisit our policy as far as comments on our Whale Cottage Blog goes. As the criticism is about our Blog, I am posting my reply to you on our Blog, so that members of Cape Town Tourism should be informed of your proposed action, and allow them to participate in the debate about Social Media and its responsible use in tourism marketing, being a public interest matter.

For the background, you will no doubt know that my PR company Relationship Marketing previously, and now my Whale Cottage Camps Bay, have been a member of Cape Town Tourism for about 20 years, motivated by our belief that it is the right thing to be a member of one’s local tourism bureau, and we have adopted this policy in the four towns in the Western Cape in which we have Whale Cottages.  In addition, I was a Board member of Cape Town Tourism for a number of years, of its previous (still not yet wound-up) Section 21 company, and was its Deputy Chairman, working closely with then-CEO Sheryl Ozinsky to run the most successful tourism bureau in the country at the time.  Our loyalty towards Cape Town Tourism has been visible to your CEO, in that we assisted her to get her current job, and in that I invited her to address members of our Camps Bay Accommodation association, which I head up, to motivate our members to become members of Cape Town Tourism. In fact, we made it mandatory for members of our association to be members of Cape Town Tourism, until our members regrettably voted against this membership criterion a few months ago, due to their dissatisfaction with the benefits of membership of Cape Town Tourism, leading most Camps Bay guest houses to not renew their membership of your organisation.

You may also know that we have written a WhaleTales newsletter for the past ten years, and it is a tourism newsletter, including general news about tourism in Cape Town and the Western Cape, and news about local restaurants, the wine industry, the film industry, whale watching, and any other news that is related to tourism.  Our Whale Cottage Portfolio Blog was started three years ago, and we publish a daily post about a tourism-related topic.  Our blog is known for its honesty, and achieved the honour of a Top 10 listing of ‘Most Controversial Blog’ in the SA Blog Awards last year.   You will note our blog credo is “independent.incisive.informative”, and we have lived up to this at all times.   Over time, both the newsletter and blog have achieved a substantial readership.  Our writing has not changed over the past ten years, and Cape Town Tourism has been allowed to contribute input and response over the years.  In the past three months (i.e. out of 92 blogposts), we have written nine blogposts about Cape Town Tourism and its marketing activities, and another 21 have referred to Cape Town Tourism in a secondary manner.

It is therefore a surprise that we should receive your letter of allegations relating to our recent writing about Cape Town Tourism, given that it is no more or less in quantity than before.  What has changed in content is that we have become more critical of the Marketing activities (or rather, lack of) by Cape Town Tourism, after it became clear to us that there was no recognition of nor action by your management of the tourism crisis in our city, until we wrote about it on our Blog, and it was then picked up as a front page story by the Cape Argus. In our capacity as a member of Cape Town Tourism, as a ratepayer of Cape Town, and as a writer, it concerned me greatly to hear your CEO answer a question about the positioning of Cape Town at the ‘strategic plan’ presentation at the Baxter Theatre recently, which reflected her obviously uninformed Marketing understanding.  The fact that she had to call in consultants to write the plan, and Australian ones at that, deserved intense debate in the interest of the industry.

Our response to your adverse allegations about our Blog is as follows:

*   No Code of Conduct has ever been sent to us as members, and therefore not signed or agreed to in acceptance.  In the past week your offices have not been able to honour our request to send us such a signed document.

*   Your nine-page letter refers repeatedly to us not treating Cape Town Tourism, its staff, and its representatives with ‘honesty, respect and dignity’, as per the Cape Town Tourism Code of Conduct, in six comments and two blogposts on our Blog, for which you present examples of alleged ‘disrespect’, but no allegations of dishonesty nor loss of dignity are made or substantiated by you.  We reject these allegations with contempt, given that our blogposts and comments have not been designed to prejudice Cape Town Tourism and its agents.

*   You write about the ‘immense volume, intensity and frequency of the criticism’ (clause 5.1.1), ‘frequency and intensity of these cyber-attacks’ (clause 5.1.2), and ‘torrent of criticism’ (clause 5.1.3), and it demonstrates your lack of understanding of Social Media.   None of these alleged criticisms of frequency by yourselves are contrary to any code of conduct nor to Social Media practice, and cannot be linked to an alleged ‘attempt to denigrate CTT (Cape Town Tourism)’, as claimed by you.

*   You refer to “Twitter posts” (the word is ‘Tweets’) as being a problem, yet present no evidence of this!

*   You (mistakenly) refer to a commenter on our blog as a ‘follower’, implying that we have a special relationship with our commenters!  Most commenters are unknown to us, especially as they use false names and/or gmail addresses.  Interesting is how you take one comment out of hundreds on our blog out of context, to support your ‘argument’!  You have not fairly highlighted the numerous replies to comments that I have written, defending our relationship with your CEO, and stating over and over again that nothing that we write is meant personally about her or her colleagues.  We have also expressed over the years our respect for your CEO and the good work that she and her team has done in amalgamating the Visitor Bureaus in Cape Town. This does not mean, however, that some activities by your organisation are not worthy of criticism.

*   Your clause 5.1.3. is devoid of all logic

*   Your clause 5.1.4. alleges ‘CTT bashing’, which you link directly to comments being disallowed on our blog.  As the owner of a blog, one has the right to disallow defamatory, disparaging, and dishonest comments.  Whenever we post a blogpost about Cape Town Tourism, we receive what can be described as ‘hate speech’ towards ourselves, and while they may state their support for Cape Town Tourism, they also ‘bash’, to use your word, myself and my Whale Cottages, which is not what comments are intended for.  A question begging an answer is how you would know that (unpublished) comments have been sent to our blog, given that comments are not visible until I allow them?  Could it be that the sending of comments in support of Cape Town Tourism has been encouraged by your PR department, or dare I allege, even written by Cape Town Tourism, using pseudonyms and gmail accounts?!

*   It is the comment we received from Mavis Wilken (clause 5.2.1) that appears to be at the crux of your letter, as we received a separate letter from your lawyers Webber Wentzel on the same day, threatening legal action if her comment is not removed from our Blog in its entirety.   We had edited the comment soon after it was allowed (30 hours is an extreme exaggeration), to protect your CEO.  The comment was received on the same day as Ms Wilken forwarded an e-mail to us which she had sent to the tourism representatives of the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government, alleging mismanagement by Cape Town Tourism in a number of respects.  Under threat of legal action by yourselves, but not in admission of any wrong-doing, we have removed Ms Wilken’s comment in its entirety.

*   The remark made by Ian Macfarlane, the Australian ‘Strategetic consultant’ of Cape Town Tourism, was written by me in a positive manner, and was expressed by him as a compliment to your CEO in her ability to obtain funds from the City of Cape Town and other sources.  To read an allegation of ‘corruption’ , defamation, and disparagement into this compliment is preposterous, and is disparaging in itself!

*  We have noted a surge in disparaging comments from a small collection of commenters (Marco, Mike, and Jeremy Claasen in the main, the latter sometimes writing the same comment six times a day, in the mistaken belief that it will be published), all in support of Cape Town Tourism, and wildly disparaging towards ourselves, whenever we publish a blogpost about Cape Town Tourism.  We have had to increasingly request these commenters to rewrite their comments by editing out their disparagement, and we delete these comments if they are not rephrased.  It is our Blog, and quite frankly we can write on it what we wish (you appear to have little problem with its content, and more with its comments), and can allow reasonable comments.  For the first time we have edited two commenters’ comments, both of these edits relating to blogposts in which Cape Town Tourism is mentioned, received from Ms Wilken and Maria.  No disparagement was intended nor implied in our reply to Mike’s comment (clauses 5.2.3 and 5.2.4).  To read into our reply to him that Cape Town Tourism ‘…is deserving of no support…’, as alleged by you, and that it is an ‘..attempt on your part to undermine and cause embarrassment to the organisation’ is ludicrous, and is rejected with contempt! Being a member of the tourism industry, it would be ludicrous for me to defame or disparage the good name of an industry association that my company is a member of.

*   The comment we made about your CEO’s lack of support of the Grand Prix in Cape Town was exactly as you stated it, made in ‘jest’ (clause 5.2.5). No allegation was made that your CEO is ‘…not of sound mind and sober senses’, and cannot be deduced from our writing.  We reject your allegation.

*   You appear to be looking for allegations of implied ‘corruption’ in reading our Blog and its comments. The ‘corruption’ link you make to my observation about your Board members Nils Heckscher and Susanne Faussner-Ringer, in their capacity as previous Board members of FEDHASA Cape, and their irresponsible attempts at coercing the accommodation industry to sign with MATCH for the FIFA World Cup last year, is far-fetched and incomprehensible (clause 5.2.6).  It therefore cannot be seen to be ..‘unfounded, unsubstantiated and patently disparaging’, as alleged by you, as the tourism industry knows about the financial loss it suffered as a result of signing with MATCH on the recommendation of these two directors, and it is ironic that the loss suffered included the properties managed by Mr Heckscher and Mrs Faussner-Ringer!  It is also rather obvious that your organisation is using the same threatening technique to terminate our membership, as FEDHASA Cape attempted to two years ago, when we spoke out against MATCH!

*   Your response to our claim that Cape Town Tourism ‘planted’ the ’100 Women 100 Wine’ blogpost comment from ‘Thandiwe Motse’ is factually incorrect, as I did not write that it emanated ‘..from the offices of CTT’, as alleged by you.  Comments can be sent to a blog from any computer, and after hours too (clause 5.2.7).  Cape Town Tourism’s link to this comment is clear, especially given that no Google reference exists for ‘Ms Motse’, that she provided an incorrect e-mail address for herself, very odd for a businessperson, and that her surname was incorrectly spelt in both the comment and Cape Town Tourism Tweets about this event.  ’Ms Motse’ would have been welcome to e-mail and to call me, to express her point of view to me directly, as the owner of the Blog, rather than to complain via her ‘friend’ about our Blog to Cape Town Tourism!  No racial slur was implied, as alleged by you!   We have proof that your PR Manager has directed an (unpublished) comment to our Blog, using a false name.

*  Over and above the specific denials we have made against your allegations, we categorically deny your allegations of ‘bad faith’, ‘malicious intent’, ‘evident satisfaction in what you perceive to be failings…’ , as well as of ‘disparaging, undermining and even defamatory comment and criticism’.

Lastly, comments have become the bane of blogs, and are increasingly disparaging, rude, and even crude, not always aimed at the subject matter of the blogpost, but often at the blog owner too.  Initially our policy was to allow most comments, in the interest of freedom of speech without prejudicing tourism, but soon it became evident that commenters saw our Blog as a means of ‘blog bashing’ us in the main.  As the blog is a voluntary unpaid-for activity we do for the love of it, we see no reason to post such disparaging comments.

We are delighted that you support that ‘..our members are entitled to engage in debate about the direction, strategy and performance of CTT, and that this debate may be ‘robust’. We believe that we have acted within these guidelines, as well as the Freedom of Speech which is ensconced in the Constitution of our country. We feel that your organisation’s CEO may be over-sensitive to Social Media, which spares no one, including myself and my company!

While you and I are debating ‘respect‘ in the main, I believe that respect is a two-way courtesy, and therefore we have the right to demand respect, and that we should not be disparaged or defamed by your organisation, its CEO, and staff too.  Consider the following examples of disrespect which have been shown to ourselves as a member of Cape Town Tourism, and as a blogger listed on your Cape Town Tourism media list:

*   The Re-Tweet in October last year by your PR Manager Skye Grove of a Tweet by Naashon Zalk, of which the content was defamatory to ourselves, making her guilty of defamation too.  A complaint lodged to your CEO about the defamation was rejected, reflecting your CEO’s lack of understanding of the law of defamation.  Another defamatory Tweet by @Lesterkk was also Re-Tweeted by Ms Grove on 22 November 2010.

*   The acceptance by Cape Town Tourism of a complaint lodged against our Whale Cottage Hermanus (not a member of Cape Town Tourism), by Mr Zalk about our warning to our guest house colleagues in Hermanus about an attempt by him and his House & Leisure editor wife Naomi Larkin to defraud us, instead of it being passed on to the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, as would have been the correct procedure. Cape Town Tourism attempted to bring us into disrepute with the provincial Consumer Protector, by passing on Mr Zalk’s complaint to them.  We have never heard from them again about the matter, after explaining Mr Zalk’s alleged fraud attempt against us.

*   Ms Grove attempted to have our website www.whalecottage.com, which was hosted with Hetzner, closed down last year, which led us to move it to an American server, at a cost to ourselves.

*   The accusation on 22 November 2010 by Ms Grove, in a comment posted on the ‘Spaniard in the Works’ blog, that I had ‘unlawful‘(ly) taken down Martin Hatchuel’s website is defamatory.  It was clear, by Mr Hatchuel’s own admission, that his refusal to delete a defamatory comment on his website, leading to a complaint against his site, had led Hetzner to close down the website.  In the same comment, Ms Grove disparages my ‘lack of journalistic quality and substance’!  Further content in her comment to this blogpost, as well as on the Salma Gandi blog, demonstrates the personal issues she has with ourselves, something a ‘professional’ PR Manager should not express of a member of Cape Town Tourism, or any other person for that matter, on a public platform!

*   In the past three months Whale Cottage has made a concerted effort to improve its Facebook presence. Proactive suggestions by Facebook about prospective persons to ‘befriend’ led us to Ms Grove, and so we sent a Facebook Friend request.  The immediate message we received from her questioned why we would want to be a friend.  Ms Grove never accepted the Friend request, as is her right. However, later that day, she Tweeted that she could still taste the vomit in her mouth from the Friend request that she had received earlier that day!

*   Your CEO, new Marketing Manager Velma Corcoran, and PR Manager have blocked us on Twitter, but your CEO reconsidered her action, and unblocked us.  Blocking is a severe sign of disrespect on Twitter.  It is such a shame that your managers should be missing out on my pearls of wisdom contained in my Tweets about Cape Town!

*  We have good reason to believe that Ms Grove is part of the team writing the disparaging, libelous, and defamatory ‘Whalespotter’ Twitter campaign about Whale Cottage and myself.  A Tweet on Monday this week  referred to your letter by implication, which Ms Grove would have inside knowledge of.

*   In the past month your CEO has refused to respond to our e-mails, which have requested information for input to our blogposts, despite an invitation by the City of Cape Town representative on your Board, Ms Mkefa, to direct any question to Mrs Helmbold.  Your CEO Tweeted on 31 August that she would only answer questions from us via the Cape Town Tourism website, and a few days later a detailed justification for the appointment of the Australian Strategetic Consultants was posted on your website.  When one receives no reply to e-mails, the negative inference is that the organisation is trying to hide something.

*  Cape Town Tourism has not reacted to the blogposts that you refer to in your letter, having the opportunity to do so via a comment to each blogpost, as would any other commenter.  In the past we have posted all comments received from your CEO, either in the blogpost, or as a comment.

*  Your City of Cape Town Mayoral Executive Committee member for Tourism, Grant Pascoe, directly responsible for the R40 million allocation of the City’s monies to your organisation, has refused to return our calls or to respond to our e-mails relating to Cape Town Tourism.

No blog forces readership of it on anyone, and therefore your CEO and staff are welcome to save their valuable time and to not read our Whale Cottage Portfolio Blog in such detail, and to rather focus that time on marketing Cape Town, given the severity of the tourism crisis.

It would appear that you hold me solely responsible for criticism of Cape Town Tourism’s performance. However, blogger Carl Momberg recently wrote a critical piece, also questioning your organisation’s ability to market Cape Town.  The Cape Times picked this up and ran with the story, quoting additional tourism players expressing their dissatisfaction with the performance of your organisation.  Will you also be attempting to censor Mr Momberg?

Surely the monies of Cape Town Tourism should more wisely be spent on marketing Cape Town, and not on lawyers’ fees?   Surely your organisation would want to retain members and not lose even more members?  Surely you do not want Cape Town Tourism to be perceived as the ‘big bully’ of tourism media censorship?

Earlier this year your membership officer Mrs Cathy Alberts begged us to rejoin as a member of Cape Town Tourism, and I explained to her my reservations to do so, given the unprofessional behaviour and disrespect I and my company have experienced from Cape Town Tourism and its staff, as detailed above.  We were surprised about Mrs Alberts’ insistence that we rejoin Cape Town Tourism, and it was our ‘patriotism’ to Cape Town, and loyalty to Cape Town Tourism, that made us rejoin.

Given the disrespect which Cape Town Tourism, your CEO Mrs Helmbold, your PR Manager Ms Grove, and you as Chairman with your Board of Directors, through this one-sided disparaging letter, have shown Whale Cottage, coupled with the lack of delivery on the promised Cape Town Tourism membership benefits, we have decided to not renew our membership of Cape Town Tourism, which expired at the end of August 2011, for the next year.  We reserve the right to re-apply for membership in future.  We will continue the debate about the marketing of Cape Town, and will continue to write about the activities of your organisation, as well as any other body handling the marketing of Cape Town.   I am available to share my tourism and marketing experience with your organisation’s management at any time that it is needed, in the interest of our common passion for our beautiful city Cape Town!

Warm whale wishes

Chris von Ulmenstein

Member

Whale Cottage Portfolio cc

POSTSCRIPT 15/9: We have just (11h41) received a follow-up letter from Webber Wentzel, Cape Town Tourism’s lawyers, making a demand that we apologise to Mrs Helmbold for Ms Wilken’s alleged ‘defamatory comment’, promise to “…desist from, in the future, publishing any further such defamatory comments about our clients on the Blog and/or any other cyber-medium used by you to communicate to the public including,but not limited to, Twitter and Facebook”, and provide the ‘correct and full name’ of ‘the so-called Mavis Wilken’, so that they can take ‘steps on behalf of our clients against the author’. We are shocked that Cape Town Tourism could be setting itself as the Tourism information censor!  We await with interest their reaction to our Open Letter!

POSTSCRIPT 18/9:  In an interview with the Cape Argus published today, Cape Town CEO Mrs Helmbold is quoted as saying that Whale Cottage Camps Bay is still a member of Cape Town Tourism, as our membership has not been resigned by letter.  There is no form that we are aware of to complete to resign one’s membership, and one would have thought that the last paragraph to this blogpost, addressed to its Chairperson, motivating why we will not be renewing our long-standing membership, as well as the non-payment of the annual membership fee, for the period 1 September 2011 – August 2012, would have been a clear communication that we have no intention to renew our membership for the next year!   We are considering our legal options regarding a defamatory Tweet sent by Cape Town Tourism on 15 September, and Re-Tweeted by Mrs Helmbold, stating “Whale Cottage Membership Termination“.

POSTSCRIPT 19/9: We have posted our new policy on comments received to blogposts written about Cape Town Tourism today, in the light of the letter we received from the Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, as well as two letters received from the lawyers of Cape Town Tourism.

POSTSCRIPT 23/9:  In response to our lawyer’s letter to Cape Town Tourism, to confirm that our Letter to its Chairman Ian Bartes posted on our Blog above is confirmation of our non-renewal of our membership of Cape Town Tourism for the next year, Cape Town Tourism lawyers Webber Wentzel have sent a three-page lawyer’s letter, accepting our non-renewal, which somehow had not been clear to Cape Town Tourism from our blogpost above!  One wonders why Cape Town Tourism is wasting its scarce financial resources on legal fees against a past member of Cape Town Tourism!

POSTSCRIPT 6/10:  Under pressure from ourselves, Cape Town Tourism has revised its misleading and defamatory statement about our membership of Cape Town Tourism on its website, confirming their acceptance of our communication that we have chosen to not renew our membership for 2011/2012.

The Twelve Apostles Hotel is located at the foot of the mountain with the same name, with a wonderful view on to the Atlantic Ocean, and whales and dolphins can be seen from it on occasion.   Last night it took a step to move closer to Camps Bay, by inviting the Camps Bay Accommodation Association  member guest houses to dinner at its Azure Restaurant.

The impression created throughout, from the time that the guest house members entered the hotel, a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World and voted Best Hotel in Cape Town in 2010 by Travel & Leisure USA, was two-fold:  Belonging to The Red Carnation Hotel Collection South Africa, every member of staff interacting with the public proudly wears a red carnation in his/her shirt/jacket pocket, a very clever touch in creating brand awareness for the hotel group, which has other interests in South Africa, being The Oyster Box and the regularly award-winning Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, in addition to properties in London, Geneva, Guernsey, Florida, and Dorset.  Secondly, each member of staff that we met during our evening at the hotel went out of their way to be friendly, to chat, and to become one of our group, sharing pre-dinner drinks, and seated with us at dinner at Azure.

Horst Frehse is the new GM of the hotel, a doyen of GM’s, and for many years he was “Mr Grande Roche”, followed by Singita. He moved from Asara to the Twelve Apostles in December.  He personally greeted every guest house member, and apologised for not being able to join us for dinner.  He announced that the Spa will close for two months, to undergo a R5 million renovation, whereafter it will be operated by the hotel itself.  Hotel Manager Brett Davidge and his team were present.  A nice touch was that Chef Henrico Grobbelaar flew back from a meeting in Johannesburg especially to prepare the meal, and he chose the guest house group to try out two new starters and two main courses he is including in his new winter menu, to be launched on 1 June.  He personally introduced the menu, and came to us after the meal, to obtain feedback. Chef Henrico told us that he is wanting to focus more on seafood in his new menu, and that he is sourcing ingredients locally and fresh, seafood coming from Hout Bay. Chef Henrico was a FIFA Executive Chef during the World Cup last year, was Sunday Times  Chef of the Year in 2009, and leads the South African team for the Culinary Olympics.

Azure is a very large restaurant room, but divided into two halves via a central table, with big blue and silver vases and lots of candles.  One side has a fireplace, adding atmosphere, and it was cosy and warm in the room, despite the wintry weather outside.   The colour blue given to the name of the restaurant is reflected by day through the lovely seaview from the restaurant, and from Moroccan-style blue lights by night.  Tables have tablecloths, good quality large material serviettes, and were laid with Hepp Exclusive cutlery and good glassware.

The bread basket contained a wonderful selection of home-made breads and rolls, including rye bread, wholewheat bread, and olive bread, as well as bread sticks, impressive in its presentation.   The starter choices were a most delicious Grilled Yellowfin Tuna served with a sweetcorn relish, avocado puree and cilantro vinaigrette.  The tuna looked beautiful on the plate, almost like marrow bones.  The other starter was a salad of roast beetroot, zucchini, parsnip and Fairview goat’s curd with black olive paint.  The tuna starter was by far the most ordered, and was an absolute hit.

The main course choice was lamb loin with stirfried tatsoi, mizuna, julienne vegetables, lentils and spicy peanut sauce, a fusion dish that Frehse had requested of the chef.  The generous portion of pan roasted kingklip with cauliflower white bean truffle puree, mushroom and adzuki with Port miso veal jelly was excellent.  It was nice to see a fish knife for the kingklip. There was no choice of dessert, as Chef Henrico wanted us to try Mrs Bea Tollman’s Lemon cheese cake with Honeycomb ice cream, a special recipe that Chef Henrico described as the one of the best in the country, and which takes three days to make.  

Azure’s current menu is low key in being typed pages bound in a black holder.  Its introduction lists the fynbos that is added to the food preparation, this having been the speciality of previous chef Ricardo de Carvalho.  It states that the Abalone for its main course has been ‘purchased in terms of Section 13 of the Marine Living Resources Act 1998, and is in keeping with Live Aquaculture Abalone harvesting’.  Starters range from R60 for a trio of cold soup, and a chicken noodle soup, to R 175 for Bea’s Eggs Royale, three scrambled eggs served in their shell, with smoked salmon, black caviar and oysters. Main courses start at R110 for mushroom and tofu lasagne, to R 455 for Crispy fried abalone.  Steaks cost around R150.  Desserts cost R70, with Bea’s cheesecake costing R85.

It is clear that The Twelve Apostles hotel group is ultra professional, and all guest houses left with a bag of information about the hotel’s facilities, including the current Azure menu, and about its sister property Bushman’s Kloof.   Thabang Rapotu was an excellent sales executive in encouraging a group of us to book for the “Tea by the Sea” afternoon tea next month.  The guest house guests were invited on a tour around the hotel, and were shown some guest rooms too, the hotel using the opportunity to educate our group about its facilities.  Malusi offered excellent service in looking after the water and wines, and I enjoyed the Rust en Vrede Merlot 2009.  A most generous and enjoyable evening was spent with the Twelve Apostles Hotel team, and the guest houses left the Twelve Apostles feeling that Azure is the best restaurant that Camps Bay has, and that they would recommend it to their guests for fine-dining in future.

POSTSCRIPT 26/5: Thanks to Kurt Ackermann for pointing out an error as to the tuna used in the starter last night.  I must have misheard Chef Henrico, and I called him this evening to check with him, after seeing Kurt’s comment.  He has assured me that he used Yellowfin Tuna, on the Green SASSI list, and I have corrected it above. 

Azure, Twelve Apostles Hotel, Camps Bay.  Tel (021) 437-9000. www.12apostleshotel.com (The website contains the menu but not the winelist.  It is a pity that the Image Gallery does not contain any photographs of the food served at Azure, other than of the seafood platter).

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

An article in the Cape Business News, entitled “Fedhasa to monitor Cape hotel pricing”, echoed a promise of such a survey by FEDHASA Cape Chairman Dirk Elzinga at the recent Tourism Destination Conference.  Elzinga promised that his association would conduct the survey in response to the accusation by Conference speaker and Cape Town Routes Unlimited Chairman Peter Bacon as well as provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde, that Cape Town’s hotels are expensive, and do not reflect the law of supply and demand, which should bring down rates, given poor demand, thereby giving our city a bad reputation, it was alleged. 

Given that FEDHASA Cape still has not conducted the promised survey, I decided to do my own independent survey last week, to get a feel for pricing of the largest and best known Cape Town hotels, asking them for their May rates.  Ellerman House is the most expensive Cape Town hotel by far, starting at R5000 per room, and the Peninsula All Suite Hotel is the least expensive 5-star hotel, at R1570 per room.  The opening offer of R1875 per room at the Queen Victoria Hotel is exceptional, given what it offers.  Interesting too is that a number of 4-star hotels are more expensive than some 5-star hotels.  The survey found that the average rate of the sixteen 5-star hotels surveyed is R2939 per room, just under R1500 per person.   Across all 27 hotels surveyed, the average rate per room is R2419, or just over R1200 per person, not cheap given that it is winter in May, and that there is poor demand. 

It was interesting to hear how the calls were handled, most hotel reservation departments asking careful questions, to identify if the caller was a travel agent/tour operator, single or double, a corporate business client, South African ID book holder, and/or a Protea Hotel Prokard holder, all of which would have affected the rate quoted.  Few hotels called had a rate sheet from which to quote immediately, having to access their computer for the information, costing time.

The rates were checked for 3 – 6 May (or the dates nearest these if one or more dates were fully booked already), per room for 2 adults sharing and inclusive of Breakfast per day, so as to compare the rates fairly.  We added breakfast to the rates where these were quoted separately.   We have ranked the hotel rates from most to least expensive:

Ellerman House, 5 star, R5000 – R15700, Tel (021) 430-3200

Cape Grace Hotel, 5 star, R 4510 – R 5680, Tel (021) 410-7100

One&Only Cape Town, 5 star, R3889 for South Africans – R5990 for non-South Africans. Tel (021) 819-2000

Dock House, 5 star, R3790 (but pay for 2 days, stay for 3 days offer). Tel (021) 421-9334

Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 5 star, R3565.  Tel (021) 430-0500

Table Bay Hotel, 5 star, R3166 for South Africans, R 6000 for non-South Africans, Tel (021) 406-5000

V & A Hotel, 4 star, R3115 (but special 2 days pay for 3 days stay offer), Tel (021) 415-1000

Mount Nelson Hotel, 5 star, R 3000. Tel (021) 483-1000

Westin Grand Arabella Quays, 5 star, R 2960. Tel (021) 412-9999

Twelve Apostles, 5 star, R2865 – R4480.  Tel (021) 437-9000

15 on Orange Hotel, 5 star, R2770 – R2970, Tel (021) 469-8000

The Taj Hotel, 5 star, R2200. Tel (021) 819-2000

Cullinan Hotel, 5 star, R2150.  Tel (021) 415-4000

Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, 5 star, R2120 – R3220.  Tel (021) 525-3888

Ambassador Hotel, 4 star, R1920 (but stay for 3 and pay for 2 nights offer), Tel (021) 439-6176

Queen Victoria Hotel, not graded yet but seeking 5 stars, R1875 special opening rate until July, Tel (021) 418-1466

Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, 4 star, R1750. Tel (021) 409-4000

Victoria Junction Hotel, 4 star, R 1686. Tel (021) 418-1234

Commodore Hotel, 4 star, R1600.  Tel (021) 415-1000

Portswood Hotel, 4 star, R 1600.  tel (021) 415-1000

Bay Hotel, 5 star, R1600 – R2100 for South Africans, R 2590 – R3690 for non-South Africans.  Tel (021) 438-4444

Peninsula All Suite Hotel, 5 star, R 1570.  Tel (021) 430-7777

Cape Sun Hotel, 4 star, R1500.  Tel (021) 488-5100

Winchester Mansions Hotel, 4 star,  R1470 – R1930.  Tel (021) 434-2351

President Hotel, 4 star, R1460 – R1660. Tel (021) 434-8111

Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, no star grading, R 1295 standard, R1665 business rooms. Tel (021) 406-1911 

Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Hotel, 3 star, R 900, Tel (021) 488-2555

To contrast the rates of hotels in the city, a rate survey was also conducted amongst the 24 members of the Camps Bay Accommodation Association, consisting of mainly 4-star guest houses.  The average May rate for the Association members is R766 – R1173 per room, the lowest rate being R500 per room.  The most expensive rate is R1600 for the 5-star Atlantic House.  Guest houses have dropped their winter rates by up to 50 % for many years already, understanding about demand and supply

What is most disturbing is that some hotels are offering South Africans better rates than they would offer international guests, very short-sighted in our opinion, given that it signals to international guests that they are not as desired, and means that they could be staying away from Cape Town and going on holiday elsewhere.  Price discrimination against foreigners is something the provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde should urge FEDHASA Cape to fight against, and to encourage hotels to drop this practice.

POSTSCRIPT 20/4: Rey Franco, Deputy Chairman of FEDHASA Cape, has e-mailed this comment: “Thanks for this, I do need to correct you on one specific comment you have made by saying we have not done the survey. Rema and I are checking the rates daily, on Expedia, booking.com and others. It is important to note that we decided to do the survey over a minimum of 3 months before releasing any information in order to ascertain the actual status of the rates stituation. Something the media forgot to mention. I am sure you would agree that looking at rates for only a few days is certainly not going to show any worthy trend. To show you why this survey must be conducted over a longer period I have attached the rates as displayed this morning under the certain categories for your perusal. You will see how low they are. See what you can get from the Taj! It is also important to note that rates will vary dependant on demand especially where large conferences and events are concerned. Another reason why rates need to be averaged out correctly. I will do the same daily searches on the additional hotels you have tested to ensure a wider trend analysis.”

POSTSCRIPT 24/4:  We received the following e-mail from Dirk Elzinga, Chairman of FEDHASA Cape: thank you for your email/copy of your blog that was passed on to me while I am travelling overseas. It made some interesting reading, and I am sure that we are able to make good use of your suggestions. I trust that the response you received from Rey Franco is clear to you, and that you do understand that we as Fedhasa try to get some 
realy (sic) reliable information about the relative pricing of our hotels in Cape Town. A once off snap shot comparison obviously does not serve this purpose. We definitely will inform our members and the media about our findings of this ongoing survey as soon as we feel that we have collected sufficient data to express an opinion based on facts. As Rey wrote, this will at least take three months or so.”

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

In March accommodation establishments were shocked to receive an onerous set of guidelines for a new grading assessment system to be implemented by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.  It caused such an outcry that the Tourism Grading Council had to delay its implementation of the new grading criteria by four months.  

Input was sought from assessors, who themselves appeared to be unhappy with the greater number and more onerous criteria to be evaluated, and from accommodation establishments, both individually and as representatives of accommodation associations, such as the Camps Bay Accommodation association, which I head up.   The Tourism Grading Council must have been overwhelmed by the response it received from the industry, to such an extent that it had to go back to the drawing board, and delay the implementation of the new assessment criteria to this month.

The new criteria have been implemented, and many accommodation establishments have been in shock, and taken the bold decision to revoke their star grading, not feeling that they will meet the new criteria sufficiently enough to make them retain their previous star grading.   What is surprising is the poor communication by the Tourism Grading Council, in having had feedback that many establishments would withdraw from the voluntary grading assessment system, and that many others were unhappy with the extremely onerous proposed requirements.   The CEO of the Tourism Grading Council was invited to speak to accommodation establishments in Franschhoek, Somerset West and Hermanus, but no one (least of all Cape Town Tourism, who sadly remained silent on the topic) set up an information session with Cape Town based accommodation establishments.

We were critical of a number of new grading assessment criteria which were proposed, but are willing to give the new system a try.  Despite having been assessed by the Tourism Grading Council since its inception about ten years ago,  the new grading systems requires all existing clients of the Tourism Grading Council to be registered from scratch.  When I received the close to 20-page document for registration alone, and knowing that I would have to complete it for four Whale Cottages and not just for one guest house, I was immediately switched off, so switched off in fact that I have not had the energy to complete it yet.  Some of the information that is requested purely for the registration process includes the following: 

*   Company turnover (this should have no relevance to the grading)

*   Number of employees (this should have no relevance to the grading)

*   Number of “visitors handled by your company on an annual basis” – most establishments might know their occupancy, but number of guests per annum is not a standard measurement in an establishment.

*   Bank details are required, with onerous details requested such as date of opening the account, with details of the accountant and insurer too, information which has no relevance to the Tourism Grading Council, in our opinion.   The questionnaire states that bank details are requested in the case of (unspecified) refunds – however, the ‘Schedule of Conditions’ excludes any refunds to be payable “for any reason whatsoever”.  

*   Documentation is required for company registration, provincial/municipal registration, ‘sufficient’ insurance cover from one’s insurer (would they ever say it is sufficient?), BEE scorecard compliance, liquor licence and municipal rezoning.

Ten pages are dedicated to the Tourism Grading Council “Schedule of Conditions”, which include the following:  assessors may “overnight”, and in that instance accommodation, lunch or dinner (specifying that it be a 3-course meal – most guest houses and B&B’s do not offer meals other than breakfasts), one drink, one local call and one breakfast must be provided.  The form on which one has to sign acceptance of these assessor rights differs from the detail provided in the Schedule of Conditions, the former being very vague.  We have seen the ‘overnight’ privilege abused in the past, with assessors bringing partners and using their assessment visits as their annual holiday.   It is also a way in which establishments can ‘influence’ the assessor in terms of the expenditure on the meal and drinks offered, taking the assessment out of the purely professional level.  The time commitment to an “overnighting” assessor is tremendous – instead of a 2 -3 hour assessment visit, one is required to entertain the assessor from late afternoon until check-out the next morning, an extremely onerous time commitment for the owner/manager of the business.

*   fees are payable annually, which is as before – in fact the fees must be paid upfront, so that the assessment can take place. 

*   assessments must be done annually

*   “The TGCSA has the choice of the assessor to be assigned for the annual assessment at its discretion” – this is most contentious, as grading is voluntary in general, and one has always been able to select one’s own assessor.

*    The Tourism Grading Council will award a star grading.

*   One may dispute the grading awarded

*   Graded establishments must maintain their establishments’ standards to comply with the grading awarded, and must display their grading plaque (which has been changed, meaning that each establishment must order a new one).

*   Establishments must promise to not offer “any gratuity/incentive/bribe to any person in order to influence such person…”, clearly referring to the assessors, and to only provide truthful information

*   The Tourism Grading Council excludes its liability for any claims against it caused by any claims which may be lodged against a graded establishment.

*   Should the establishment be sold, it cannot cede or sell with it the current grading, which means that it has to be terminated, and the establishment must be assessed from scratch for the new owners.

All of the above relates to the paperwork purely to be (re)registered with the Tourism Grading Council!  The application form was not offered to the industry for input originally.  We have been told that most of questions are for one to receive government business!

A most pleasant surprise is that the actual assessment has been vastly simplified compared to the initial draft, which ran to 60 pages, and the criteria have been relaxed relative to what was intended in the draft, making most of them little different to the existing assessment criteria.  We highlight the most important ones:

*   The scoring for 4 stars, which was proposed to change to 74 – 88 % in the draft, has been changed back to the current 85 – 94 %

*   The draft document required a security guard, and onerous specified security features.   This caused an outcry due to the cost of the extra staff and features needed.  Now the minimum requirement is for the ‘best possible” safety and security to be offered for one’s guests, including providing emergency information, contact details of staff on 24 hour call, adequate lighting outside and inside the establishment, the “best possible locking devices”, and a safe for valuables (in the draft the safe was specified to be a laptop size one, but this requirement has been dropped, probably out of cost considerations in replacing existing safes).

*  Statutory obligations include being registered as a business; registered with the provincial authority (the exact registration is unclear); having public liability insurance; and complying with local authority fire; and hygiene and building access regulations.

*   The establishment must be open throughout the year, except if seasonal in nature, and if being renovated

*   No discrimination of any kind is allowed, in terms of denying access to any guests

*   Marketing communications must specify the cost of accommodation, meals, refreshments and any extra services, as well as surcharges and levies, and must be quoted inclusive of VAT;  the cancellation policy must be communicated; the “in-house rules” must be visibly communicated; and all facilities and amenities must be “honestly” described

*   Bed linen and towels must be changed every five days – given water shortages and rising electricity costs, the draft requirement of changing towels daily and of changing bed linen every three days having caused an outcry.

*   The bedroom and bathroom size, specified in square meters per accommodation type and star grading in the draft document, has been dropped, the only requirement being that the space “should allow guests to move easily”, with a minimum ceiling height to cater for guests 1,8 m tall, and should provide “freedom of movement”.   The minimum bedroom and bathroom sizes were a very sore point in the draft, and would have disqualified many establishments from retaining their current star grading.

*   Airconditioning is only required of 5-star establishments – the draft required all 4-star and 5-star establishments to have airconditioning, causing an outcry due to the cost of purchase, as well as cost of running in terms of electricity.   A heater or fan must be made available.

*   Colour TV’s are required, but no longer have to be flat-screen, as specified in the draft

*   “Stationary (sic) and writing materials” must be supplied, a new requirement

*   Telephones in guest rooms are optional, and not a requirement

*   One of the biggest issues was the provision of an 18 hour reception service in the draft document – this has mercifully been changed to “reasonable hours during the period that the establishment is open”.

*   the minimum Breakfast requirement is a Continental one.  Breakfast serving time was specified in the draft, and this has been removed.

The Tourism Grading document for Guest Houses contains 38 pages of guidelines of how assessors are likely to score the criteria out of 10 points.  Assessors welcome the new criteria and scoring sheet, saying that it takes the subjectivity out of the assessment.

It is a shame that the Tourism Grading Council communicated the initial draconian draft document, as it frightened many of its existing graded properties from renewing their grading.   The Tourism Grading Council has made no attempt to inform its clients that the initially strict criteria have been greatly relaxed, making it likely that establishments will retain their  existing grading – a PR campaign aimed at existing graded establishments is sorely needed!   One wonders how much of taxpayers’ money was wasted by designing a draft assessment document, utilising consultants, when the Tourism Grading Council has largely reverted back to where it was in March this year!   It needs to address the registration questionnaire, in terms of length and onerous requirements, as this is now the only off-putting part of being assessed.

POSTSCRIPT 28/10:  We believe that this blog post may have led to the Tourism Grading Council sending out an invitation to Cape Town accommodation owners/managers to attend a four hour breakfast presentation at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 3 November.  While we salute this very late attention to Cape Town’s accommodation industry, in trying to obtain buy-in to the new grading assessment criteria, breakfast time is the one time of the day that guest houses and B&B owners cannot be away from their establishments, and certainly not for four hours!    It proves how out of the touch the Tourism Grading Council is with its customers. 

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

Today we celebrate the opening in Hermanus of the first Whale Cottage 14 years ago.   Having an all-women team of staff, it is even more special that our anniversary co-incides with Women’s Day today – I salute my ladies, and thank them for all they do for our guests.   Whale Cottage Hermanus has been heavily booked for the long weekend, and all Whale Cottage guests have been served sparkling wine with their breakfast this weekend, to celebrate our milestone.

Filled with nostalgia, I look back at the early days of running our Whale Cottage Hermanus, then located on Main Road – a great location initially in terms of visibility (we had a blue-and-white striped roof in those days, similar to our Whale Cottage Franschhoek).   Our inspiration for the name came from the Victorian cottage in which we set up our first Whale Cottage in 1996, and in honour of the Southern Right whales that became so popular, and put Hermanus on the map, in offering the best land-based whale watching in the world.

There was no internet in our world of guest housing in those days, and we all only advertised in Portfolio’s Bed & Breakfast Collection, which cost us around R 12000 for a third of a page in those days.  We all hated Portfolio, largely due to its dictatorial and unapproachable owner Liz Westby-Nunn.  Their power was tremendous, as they introduced the first attempt at “grading” our establishments, giving them a yellow, purple or red shield, implying different levels of luxury.   The annual visits for their inspections filled us with fear, and we were not allowed to question their instructions as to what had to be changed.  One dared not speak against the company (even though we were paying advertisers) nor argue their directives, and we parted ways with Portfolio when their greed extended to charging commission for bookings on their website, in addition to the ever-increasing cost of their advertisements.

The internet opened up to us at the same time, and it was a huge relief to see how well we did advertising on the accommodation websites SA Venues and Cape Stay, and the former still holds.  Networking with fellow guest house owners became an important source of business, especially in Camps Bay, where we run the Camps Bay Accommodation Association, and we pass all overflow enquiries to our 24 members.  We also share industry information with each other.

After we opened the seafacing Whale Cottage Camps Bay in 1998, we received feedback from our guests that they were missing a seaview in Hermanus, so we set upon the search for a new property to be set up as a guest house, with a seaview.   We found such a property on Westcliff Drive, on the way to the new Harbour, with a magnificent view of Walker Bay, and opened it in 2002, selling the Main Road property.   Barry Lewis was our long-standing manager, and we are delighted that we have his sister Carole Cessano working with us now, with the faithful Juliette at her side.

From June – December the whales attract visitors to Hermanus, who have not found a place in the world where they can see whales as they can do from the well-developed cliff path, running from the new Harbour to beyond Voelklip, all along the ocean.   But Hermanus has wonderful beaches too, that are warmer than those on the Atlantic Ocean of Cape Town, and also has outstanding wine farms in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley area, including Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Hermanuspietersfontein, and more.

Whale Cottage Franschhoek opened five years ago, and Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay two and a half years ago.   With Whale Cottage Hermanus and Whale Cottage Camps Bay, they make up the unique Whale Cottage Portfolio, welcoming our guests to “a whale of a stay!”.  One of its unique features is the Whale Cottage Loyalty Card, which was introduced from the start in 1996, offering our Whale Cottage guests one night free for every 10 nights that they stay at a Whale Cottage, and this has become a very popular incentive to return to our Whale Cottages.  Nine years ago we introduced our WhaleTales newsletter, which is sent to our Address Book of 25000 every 6 weeks or so, and is written as a tourism newsletter, described by many as the only newsletter which summarises what is happening in the tourism and hospitality industry.  We have never been afraid of being controversial, and of writing the truth.   This policy of independent tourism reporting is also the foundation of this WhaleTales Blog.

We thank our Whale Cottage guests, suppliers, colleagues and friends for their loyal support of our guest houses, and of our WhaleTales newsletters and Blog.

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

The Sweet Service Award goes to Ian Halfon and his team at Balducci restaurant in the V&A Waterfront for so generously hosting the members of the Camps Bay Accommodation Association to a dinner on 14 December.   Not only did they pull out all the stops to introduce the guest house owners to a wide variety of dishes on the extensive Balducci Italian-style menu, but they also presented each guest house with a most beautiful gift box, consisting of a bottle of the Balducci house wine, a packet of biscotti, and a menu for the guest house.

The Sour Service Award goes to Telkom, for not arriving for an appointment, made two months ago, to install a telephone line in an apartment in Stellenbosch on Monday a week ago, as the technician had gone to the wrong block of flats.  Even though he had the contact details of the estate agent waiting to open for him, he did not bother to call when he arrived at the incorrect address.  It has taken another 10 days for him to come to the correct address, and he has now discovered a broken cable between the block and the distribution board, which has to be repaired before the line installation can be completed.

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

Competitive Cooperation: The Story of How 24 Cape Town Guesthouses Came Together…and Won

by Josiah Mackenzie on December 1, 2009

For the past 11 years, Christiane von Ulmenstein, owner of the Whale Cottage Guest Houses in South Africa, has been doing a very interesting experiment. Instead of trying to beat her competitors in Cape Town, she decided to work with them. The following is the story of why she did it, how she did it, and what the results have been.

There are many ideas here you can use, so I hope you enjoy her story…

camps-bay

–

“I came from a big corporate environment where there are competitors, you do competitive intelligence, and you try to defeat your competitors. One does not usually consider working with them.

When we started out with the guesthouse we began doing print advertising, because that was the best way get the word out when you are new then. I decided to call a meeting with other guest house owners — we were about 20 at the time. I said let’s get together and have an informal association, which is now called Camps Bay Accommodation Association. (Camps Bay is a suburb of Cape Town.) And everyone was happy with that. We were all kind of new to the guesthouse industry.

We made a few firm rules for it. One of them was to realize the importance of referrals. We were all receiving inquiries, and if you can’t use it, it would be so wasteful to say “We’re sorry, we are fully booked.” So one of the first rules of our association was that if you were full, you had to refer the inquiry to other guesthouses. Our goal was that Camps Bay – as a whole – should get the business, and the business should be retained there. It did not matter if you had friends with other guesthouses and suburbs close by, you need to keep the business in Camps Bay. And it has worked fantastically.

Our guests are amazed, because they feel we offer incredible service as a suburb. Instead of inquiring through one or two websites, they now can have options at 24 different guesthouses. So they can choose in terms of quality of accommodation, and also a range of prices. So our guests have a far wider choice. They think we’re extremely organized!

Organizing the system

patio-bigThe association began as just a referral network, but as we grew we encountered two situations. The first was long-term bookings, where you could see in advance which rooms you have available. And then there was the very real scenario of someone arriving at your guesthouse when you’re full, and you need to send them somewhere else. The process of contacting 24 other guest houses was very time-consuming.

I drew up a template, where each of the members had to e-mail me their availability for the next five days, and I would put everything together and e-mail it to all the members. That was a lot of work, but I didn’t mind doing it because it helped us all know what was available, and helped the members become more efficient.

And then we decided to set up a website: CampsBayInfo.com. it’s just a general marketing platform for Camps Bay.  The hotels are obviously members, and we have an availability schedule that is now updated automatically. Each member has to update the information on the website using a system we set up.

We have learned how valuable this website is. People are finding out about the area from the website, and it is driving reservations to our member hotels.

How we developed the website

The 24 guesthouses paid for the website ourselves. We did not charge the restaurants or other businesses. We found restaurants are very important part of our guesthouse offering. Every night, the guests want to know a good place to eat, so it’s important to have relationships and recommendations to good restaurants.

Things to do and things to see were provided by the website developer. No one other than the guesthouses paid any money to be included. We don’t accept advertising. It’s purely an informational website, and the content is there to help our potential guests. When people plan to visit Cape Town, we want them to stay in Camps Bay… so this website shows the benefits of our neighborhood. This helps Camps Bay, and it helps each of us individually as well.

How we promoted the website

I’m embarrassed to say we didn’t do any marketing at all at first!  There was a vague attempt to do a blog, but that never materialized for a couple reasons. When we launched the website, blogging was just taking off and none of us really knew what blogging was about.

Now of course, I am very passionate about blogging, but I still find many people in this industry are behind when it comes to social media. So to ask them to write something may have been too much — they would say that they can’t do it.

Since this website is a content website, the large majority of our traffic comes from natural search. When people type in terms related to our area, we tend to rank highly.

Our web designers are a very good company here in South Africa. We chose the best company in the business to design the website so that search engine optimization would be part of the site from the start.

Challenges we had to overcome in launching this.

poolpalm-bigIt’s important to keep it in a tight geographic area. I don’t think I could have done it for all of Cape Town.  But this started off as a suburb which was a quite nice area.

There will always be suspicions. Some guesthouses have one bedroom, some have three, some have five…I’m the largest with 11 rooms. So the level of referrals is not always equal. Guesthouses with one bedroom will not provide the same number of referrals as a larger property. And then there’s always a difference in sophistication of marketing. I am reasonably visible, since I have worked very hard to build my online marketing. So more people find me and I have more to share than the properties that do no marketing. We had to just accept that we would not get an equal level volume from everyone.

You have fixed capacity in a guest house or hotel. You only have so many rooms, and you can’t put them anywhere else. It doesn’t matter if they are your favorite guests that visit you every year… if the dates they want to visit are booked you can’t kick the other guest out. You run the risk of losing referrals if they are happier at another place that they’ve found through the referral system. But that has never stopped us from doing it.

I think the biggest thing is learning to trust each other at the beginning. We all have the same problems, and the same questions. By getting together and discussing things, we can all learn together. People realize how beneficial this is for their business. We’ve become good friends over the course of the past 11 years.

Closing thoughts

For me, it’s a matter of “Give and you will receive.” As with all good things in life, the people that you give to are not always the people that will give back to you. But in the universe there is some power that dictates you will get back for what you give.

So the overflow that you get and pass along to other colleagues benefits everyone. It’s okay to share. It’s okay to give away.

Source: www.hotelmarketingstrategies.com

The Sweet Service Award goes to the Greek Fisherman restaurant in the V & A Waterfront, which generously hosted members of the Camps Bay Accommodation association, as well as other guest house owners, for a dinner earlier this week.   Partnering with Asara wine estate, who sponsored the wines, the restaurant kept a steady flow of Greek specialities such as souvlaki, calamari, mussels, spinach and ricotta ravioli, haloumi cheese, and prawns coming to the tables.   Efaristo!

 

The Sour Service Award goes to the V & A Waterfront, for its lack of customer care.  As if its lack of concern about the regular feedback in newspapers about its high parking fees, and the resultant public declarations from locals that they will not return to the shopping centre, is not enough, it now has a new way to ensure that Capetonians will stay away from the Waterfront for the next month.  An upgrade of its airconditioning, which commenced last week without warning to customers and tenants, is scheduled to last until 16 November.   During this period an operational level of 20 % airconditioning has been promised.   On Sunday evening a customer picked up the incredible heat in the passage near Melissa’s, as if one had entered an oven, and was told by the Melissa’s staff that the airconditioner was broken.  Thereafter the customer bought a movie ticket for the 3,5 hour long ‘Last Night of the Proms’ at the Cinema Nouveau, and was not told by the staff that the airconditioning was not working there too.  The staff referred the cinema-goer to the notice from the Waterfront’s retail management company Lexshell 44 General Trading (Pty) Ltd., which was stuck on each movie house door.   The Manager at Cinema Nouveau, Liziwe Maningjwa,  was not interested in discussing the matter with the cinema-goer, and in fact told the customer to go to the media, as she was not interested in sorting out the problem.   A visit to Belthazar on Wednesday evening was unbearable, in terms of the extreme heat inside the restaurant, despite all efforts by the restaurant to open all its doors to cool things down.  The restaurant’s biggest concern is keeping its customers, but also importantly its large and expensive stock of wines, cool.  A call from the V & A Marketing department expressed surprise that the customer’s message should go to the media, and communicated that a media campaign is to be launched, to explain to customers that there is a problem with the airconditioning, and that the retail center will set up 25 temporary airconditioners for the next month.   These units have yet to be installed!   The aircon problem affects the whole of the “old” section of the shopping centre – i.e. the wing that was developed originally.  This includes the Red Shed, the food court, both the Nu Metro and Cinema Nouveau movie houses, the offices, restaurants such as Belthezar, Cape Town Fish Market, Krugman’s Grill, Haagen-Dasz, San Marco, Sevruga, Santa Ana Spur, Wang Thai, 221 Waterfront, and Ocean Basket, the Post Office, and all the shops in this wing.   Not only is the V & A Waterfront ripping customers off in terms of parking fees (it cost R 30 for the parking fee to see the movie), but now one can also endure a free unwanted sauna in the V & A Waterfront!

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

The Sweet Service Award goes to Murnier and his team at Value Car Hire.  Earlier this week a Whale Cottage Camps Bay guest inadvertently took the room keys with him when he checked out, and called the guest house from the airport.   He tried to find a way to get them back to Camps Bay.   Value Car Hire, with whom Whale Cottage has a long-standing relationship, had staff at the airport, and they kindly met the Whale Cottage guest at the check-in counter, and then delivered the keys back to the guest house.  A whale of a thanks to Value Car Hire!

The Sour Service Award goes to ‘Blonde’ Oscar Kotze of Beluga restaurant, for asking this writer to leave the restaurant when invited for lunch as a member and Chairman of the Camps Bay Accommodation association.    Kotze is a director of the Caviar Group of restaurants, which also owns Sevruga and the Caviar deli, as well as Blonde restaurant, which is to open in February.    The reason for the eviction appears to be that Beluga sister restaurant Sevruga received a Sour Service Award from the WhaleTales blog more than 2 months ago in regard to the poor handling of the Penny Vincenzi launch lunch (see here).      The Marketing Manager Sam Obery was in a state, repeatedly being instructed by Kotze by phone to ask the writer to leave.  The staff ignored the writer, even though she sat at the table with her guest house colleagues, not taking her food order, and not serving her drinks other than water.   Kotze was asked to call the writer, but he refused, and also refused to take the call from the writer.  He instructed his staff to call the police, so that the writer could be evicted by them!   Kotze is short-sighted, as he had a fantastic opportunity to make good the writer’s perception of the Caviar Group of restaurants, which unfortunately has worsened as a result of this incident.   Ms Obery was severely embarrassed, understanding that in marketing one tries to turn things around to the positive, and that her marketing effort to attract business from guest houses in Camps Bay had become a PR flop. A smart restaurant owner would have called the writer, and thanked her for the Sevruga feedback, and asked her to retry the food and service that she had critiqued.   The marketing documentation presented to the guest house owners at the lunch was not adapted to be relevant to the guest house group, it thanking the guest houses for “coming to our fabulous cocktail party… this evening”, when it was a lunch they attended!

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com. Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

POSTSCRIPT 25/1/12: Blogger Shaun Oakes caused a huge furore today, when he blogged that he has been banned from Beluga, due to feedback his girlfriend passed on to Beluga owner Oskar Kotze.  They have been banned from the restaurant as a result, and Kotze has threatened to lay criminal charges against the couple for allegedly swearing at the staff.  Kotze’s reaction reflects the treatment we received from him, and for which we awarded a Sour Service Award.  A link provided to this Sour Service Award, in the Comments section on Oakes’ blog, has led to over 1000 unique views today.

The Sweet Service Award goes to Cape Stay, an accommodation website, for the responsiveness to the members of the Camps Bay Accommodation Association querying the website’s decision to split its Camps Bay advertisers into ‘Camps Bay North’ and ‘Camps Bay South’, without having consulted the current advertisers.   The website owners have decided to recreate one “Camps Bay” accommodation category again, after receiving the feedback.

The Sour Service Award goes to the V & A Waterfront branch of Woolworths.   A customer called to check if the store had multi-packs of muffins in stock, and asked for the Food department of the store specifically.   The request was put to the Woolworths staff member answering the phone , who said that she would check.   She came back to the phone, saying that they do not stock mutton, only lamb!   A senior Manager was able to confirm that they did indeed have muffins in stock.    When the customer went to collect and pay for them, together with some cutlery, in the Homeware department, she had to wait for an unusually long period, and was frustrated about seeing 5 Woolworths staff members in close proximity chatting to each other, while the customers had to queue to pay.  A supervisor refused to take the payment, saying that she did not have the authority to do so.   The help of a manager was requested, and he too was unable to speed things up at all, just saying “But Madam” repeatedly, and did not offer a solution at all.   The cashier was unresponsive to any questions put to her by the customer.

The Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented on the WhaleTales blog every Friday.    Nominations for Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.