Valentine’s Day is excellent for business in the Cape in February, and this year is no different. Falling on Thursday, it is being celebrated this weekend, with numerous couples taking a romantic break, and weddings galore are taking place, with couples from all over the world saying ‘I do’ in the world’s most beautiful city and winelands.
Previously Franschhoek held the honours of the Wedding Capital of South Africa, and is still popular as a wedding destination. Whilst we had seen a decline in weddings in the gourmet and wine valley in the past two years, we are surprised at the vast number of wedding guests we are accommodating at Whale Cottage Camps Bay currently, attending weddings in Cape Town and in Stellenbosch in particular.
Berlin-based Benjamin Pochhammer and his fiancée Johanna Henning chose to marry in the Cape because Benjamin had studied at UCT. Bringing Julia to Cape Town to show her the beautiful city, they decided to get married in sunny Cape Town instead of in wintry Berlin. More than 100 of their friends flew in from Germany and other countries for the wedding, for which a detailed wedding programme had been prepared for the wedding guests, all concentrated in Camps Bay. So, for example, they played Beach Volleyball followed by drinks and snacks at Café Caprice. The next day a special party was held at The Grand Camps Bay exclusively for the wedding party guests. The wedding was held last Wednesday at Webbersburg in Stellenbosch, to which the guests were bussed to and from Camps Bay. The day after the wedding they guests were invited to an afternoon braai in Camps Bay. All wedding guests were sent a list of suggestions of Camps Bay and Cape Town restaurants and bars, and recommended tourist attractions and outings. Roughly calculated, the wedding will have generated R1 million in income for Camps Bay in the five day wedding period, in addition to the R400000 costs of the wedding event.
Yesterday we welcomed the close family from Austria, Australia, the UK, and Johannesburg of Niki Foreman, originally from the UK, and Tom Dirnberger, originally from Johannesburg, who met in London and now live in Sydney. They have booked seven rooms at Whale Cottage Camps Bay for the next five days, before they move across to Stellenbosch, to the wedding venue at Marianne wine estate. Their wedding party consists of about 60 guests, and their contribution to Camps Bay alone should be in the region of R 500000.
We also accommodated a guest who attended the wedding of her step brother at the Twelve Apostles hotel on Valentine’s Day. Yesterday four American guests arrived, for a wedding of a nephew, which will be held in Paarl. All pre-wedding festivities are being held in Camps Bay. At Whale Cottage Camps Bay we are also hosting the Wolthaus couple from Germany for eight days, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary with us on Monday.
Yesterday the posh wedding of Nathi Mthethwa and Philiswe Buthelezi, with 500 guests, was held at Allée Bleue, the menu having been developed by Chef Reuben Riffel. It was attended by President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, reports the Sunday Times.
Cape Town and the Winelands deserve to be named the ‘Cape of Love’, and this romantic wedding tourism should be heavily promoted, as it benefits the accommodation, restaurant, tourism, wedding venue, wine, and related industries. It is also a feel-good type of tourism, the guests being in a particularly good mood, loving every minute of their stay in Cape Town and the Winelands, and the wedding celebrations they have travelled to from far!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Franschhoek wears the crown of the Gourmet Capital of South Africa, with its Wedding Capital stature growing. The wines of the valley also bring tourists to the area, together with its beauty.
The Eat Out 2009 results may have been an early indicator. After many years with at least two or three restaurants on the Top Ten restaurant list, we only have one restaurant left on the list, and Franschhoek is in danger of losing its status to neighbouring Stellenbosch as the Gourmet Capital of South Africa.
We asked the accommodation establishments to give us feedback on their views of the service levels offered by Franschhoek restaurants to themselves and to their guests. The feedback is offered anonymously, to protect the identity of the brave accommodation establishment owners and managers who provided their feedback, and to ensure that they are not banned from any of the restaurants, as has happened in Franschhoek!
Accommodation establishments are an important source of bookings for restaurants, with most guests relying on the recommendation of their hosts to recommend and book restaurants for them. Only a few guests make their own restaurant bookings before arriving in Franschhoek.
Spontaneous mentions of restaurants the establishments book for their guests for lunch or dinner are Kalfi’s, Allora, Le Bon Vivant, French Connection, Haute Cabriere, Dieu Donne, La Petite Ferme, Laborie in Paarl, Boschendal Le Piqnique and Monneaux.
The restaurants that accommodation establishments send their guests to are the ones from which their guests return happy, with their expectations met or even exceeded, that offer a free collection and drop-off service as do Monneaux and Dieu Donne, that offer a consistent quality of excellent food, excellent service, good ambience, good value for money, being able to make bookings without any problems or errors, being able to expect a positive reply when the guests are asked about their enjoyment of the restaurants, superb setting, personal attention from the staff, being offered a table a day at certain restaurants but released by a certain time of day, and tend to be those at which the owners of the establishments enjoy eating at as well.
Some accommodation establishments do not send business to a specific restaurant, because they do not know it, because they or their guests have had a bad experience there previously, because they are too expensive, because the “booking service is sloppy”, because of poor service recovery when there is a complaint, because of poor service from the waiters, and because of the food not being up to Franschhoek standards. A bad experience reflects badly on the accommodation establishment, in that it recommends the restaurant, and therefore such restaurants quickly fall off the recommendation list.
Sometimes establishment owners are forced to book at other restaurants because their favourites are fully booked or have a closed function.
The accommodation establishment’s owner or manager is likely to recommend the restaurants that are their personal favourites. This places a huge responsibility on them to recommend restaurants that will make their guests happy too. Reasons for a restaurant becoming a favourite include the ambience, the service and food quality.
One self-catering establishment owner no longer recommends restaurants, having received negative feedback from her guests, and therefore she sends the guests to the Tourism Bureau, so that they can look at the menus and book the restaurants there.
Service levels of restaurants were seen to be good and not good enough. Those that laud it, say it is good value for money, and improves all the time, the staff are friendly, and this can often make up for a slip in service delivery. Those that criticize it, say that restaurants say they are fully booked when an accommodation establishment calls, yet take walk-in bookings. They complain about “the emphasis is overwhelmingly â€˜looks-like-French-cuisine’ but it is patently plastic when the entire package is evaluated. Local-is-lekker takes a distinct backseat in Franschhoek”. Service levels are seen to be dropping.
Suggestions to restaurants for improving service levels to accommodation establishments making bookings is to reserve a table per accommodation establishment until a certain time every day, because they are often booked out on the same day. A restaurant map, as the Vignerons one, would be useful, it was suggested. Better staff training, given the high turnover of staff in restaurants, to prevent the staff training on their customers, offering a wider range of wines-by-the-glass, offering wines at better prices, displaying accommodation information in restaurants, much like the accommodation establishments tend to display the menus of the restaurants, to not provide reservation numbers for bookings made, to not confirm bookings to the accommodation establishments, as they have no control over their guests’ actions, and to not request credit card details to secure tables at restaurants.
Restaurants would not be happy with no-shows, when accepting bookings from accommodation establishments, and this could annoy them in dealing with establishments. Accommodation establishments cannot be held responsible for the bad manners and actions of their guests, and make bookings in good faith. The point was made that no restaurant can afford to be unhappy with accommodation establishments making bookings at a restaurant, for whatever reason.
Restaurants tend to not thank the accommodation establishments for the business they receive. “It would be nice with the odd free (or price reduced) meal, even in winter when they are slow. We have never received acknowledgement” said one guest house owner. Another view is that Franschhoek is dependent on its restaurants for its gourmet status, and that no tourists would stay there if we did not have such good restaurants. Also, some guests may think that one has shares in the restaurant, or that one receives commission when one recommends a particular restaurant too strongly! One owner expressed the fact that he has not been to all the restaurants: “As locals we find the cost of “test’ dining at Franschhoek restaurants prohibitive”. He states that his establishment probably therefore does not support the more upmarket restaurants. “A formal thankyou will be nice” said one owner, while another said “restauranteurs do not need to thank you for your businessâ€¦ A general note of thanks is appropriate and good and consistent service is also adequate.”
One exception is Haute Cabriere, the only restaurants that appears to understand the reciprocal relationship that should exist between the parties, in offering accommodation owners and managers a complimentary lunch once a year, just as the new season starts. This enables the restaurant to explain its menu changes, and it gives the accommodation owners a good feel for what is on the menu.
Generally the readiness for 2010 is questioned and the service levels are not seen to meet the challenge of this important sports event. But will 2010 impact Franschhoek at all, a manager asks. Another view is that Franschhoek’s fine dining and wining may not be of interest to a fast-food and beer soccer fan, and it is questioned whether Franschhoek has enough large screen and fast-food type establishments to allow communal viewing for the soccer fans. One owner said Franschhoek’s service levels should be perfect at all times, not just in winter 2010.
An accommodation owner was very vocal about Franschhoek’s businesses not being very welcoming to tourists and residents. He complained about surly supermarket cashiers and shop assistants, beggars in the streets, dirty streets, faded road markings, potholes, tattered flags, bare flag poles, the “scruffy” Post Office, untrimmed street trees, unkempt gardens, unpainted buildings and walls, “scruffy” sidewalks, and “wonky” road signs, all of which create a poor impression of Franschhoek.
This article was first published in The Franshhoek Month, April 2009.
The Franschhoek Wine Valley may soon change its name to the Franschhoek Wedding Valley, if the trend to an increasing number of weddings taking place in and outside Franschhoek continues!
The value of wedding tourism has never been calculated for Franschhoek, but could easily be in the region of R 25 million per year in direct venue and catering income, and double that when expenditure on accommodation, wine, restaurant meals and shopping in Franschhoek before, during and after the wedding is added.
Wedding Tourism has become a vastly important source of revenue for the Western Cape, and for Franschhoek particularly, and the valley will soon be called the Wedding Capital of South Africa, in addition to being the Gourmet Capital already. Between 50 â€“ 100 weddings take place in Franschhoek per month in summer, it is estimated.
Some wine estates have indicated that their revenue or profitability is greater from weddings than it is from their wine production!
How did this all come about?
For the past few years an increasing stream of young South African school leavers have left to do a gap year in London, while university graduates have also sought greener pastures there. Many have opted to stay in London, due to their earning ability. The young South African ladies get engaged to their British beaus, and get to choose the wedding venue back home. Nostalgically, they think of the Cape Winelands, and the Cape Dutch gable buildings on them in particular, even if they did not grow up in the area.
Wedding tourism benefits tourism generally in that 50 – 100 British friends and family will come to South Africa to attend a wedding, and this introduces the country to many first-time visitors, who would not necessarily have chosen this country as a tourism destination.
The value of the Wedding Tourism industry in the Western Cape has been estimated at R 120 million, according to The South African. The United Kingdom is the major source of wedding business, with the bride usually being South African and the groom from the UK. For the price of a wedding and reception in the UK the couple is able to hold a lavish wedding and enjoy their honeymoon in South Africa. Local weddings are attractive as the weather is guaranteed to be better than in the UK, they cost less, and offer a variety of appealing venues in the Winelands and at top restaurants.
While Stellenbosch used to be the premier wedding destination just a few years ago, local tourism players have seen an increasing number of weddings taking place in Franschhoek. The large wine estates surrounding Franschhoek are well placed to cater for large weddings.
Jenny Prinsloo, CEO of the Franschhoek Wine Valley Tourism Association (FWVTA), says Franschhoek is well placed to be the perfect wedding venue for large and smaller weddings, offering an exclusive and personalized service to wedding guests wishing to make the most of their most memorable day. “It is an exotic destination” she added, and well set to provide top quality catering, wines, professional staff and beautiful settings
Has the credit crunch affected the wedding industry in Franschhoek? Most wedding venues state that the number of weddings they have hosted this season, and bookings ahead, show that the number of weddings will remain roughly the same. However, what has changed is a shift in the period in which they are being held, the days of the week on which they are held, and the number of persons attending a wedding.
Karen Minnaar of the N G Church says that the number of bookings for the church for weddings will be down slightly, to 40 this year, from 44 last year, the best year for the church as far as weddings go. She predicts that the number of weddings will not increase next year. Up to 90 % of the weddings taking place at the church are held on Saturdays. Most weddings are with “mixed” couples, a term a number of wedding venues used to describe the South African/UK partnership between bride and groom.
What does a wedding cost? It can range from R 150 000 for a wedding of around 150 guests, up to R 500 000 at the exclusive La Residence, and this includes the wedding venue, food and wine only. All other weddings services such as dÃ©cor, music, special wedding cars, flowers, etc are contracted out and paid for separately.
The largest wedding venues are Allee Bleue, Le Franschhoek Hotel, Boschendal, and Vrede & Lust.
Allee Bleue’s Ashley Whaley, co-GM, says that weddings earn more revenue, and are more profitable at this stage than the estate’s wines. Wedding bookings have increased year on year, and she sees an increasing number of international brides and grooms. The estate prides itself on being the largest wedding venue in the Valley, in that up to 220 wedding guests can be accommodated. The average wedding size is 150 guests. Up to three weddings are hosted per weekend in summer, making it about 10 â€“ 12 per month. The wedding ceremony is conducted in the Conference Room, which is dressed as a chapel, and the reception takes place outside, with a free-form tent catering for less favourable weather conditions. Allee Bleue’s weddings have the benefit that there is no noise control, and that they can carry on late, being located outside Franschhoek.
The Le Franschhoek Hotel is a popular wedding venue, especially as it can accommodate a large number of the wedding guests in its 79 rooms as well, being the largest hotel in the Valley. Sunette Pringle, Head of Banqueting, says the hotel’s wedding business is growing year on year, and the hotel hosts one wedding per weekend. She is not seeing a reduction in wedding business for the season ahead, but does see “international” weddings becoming smaller, with about 30 â€“ 80 guests, while South African wedding groups are around 100 in size. The Hotel has a number of Americans marrying at the venue, in addition to South African and British residents.
Boschendal fits the Cape Dutch gabled building requirements of wedding couples most perfectly, and is steeped in tradition and history. The ceremony is usually held at the nearby St George’s Anglican Church, drinks are served outside under the oak trees, and the reception is held in the restaurant. The wine estate sees itself as a restaurant first and foremost, and does not actively encourage weddings. Its catering offering offers bridal couples less flexibility in that the buffet must be utilised. The estate only hosts one wedding per month with up to 120 guests on average, says Boschendal’s Neil Els.
Vrede & Lust is one of the most sought after venues, and is trendy since Johannesburg socialite and TV personality Gerry Rantseli married her second husband on the estate last year. The wedding was featured in the Sunday Times’ social pages. Wiena Riedel, Hospitality Manager of Vrede & Lust, sees a definite reduction in the size of their weddings this season, down from around 120 guests to about 60 â€“ 70, and attributes this to the global credit crunch. It is one of the most active wedding estates, with an average of six weddings per month, which can increase to 12 in March. The estate is seeing an increase in weddings held on weekdays, due to the 15 % discount it offers for mid-week weddings.
Smaller weddings are held at Grande Provence, Mont Rochelle, Haute Cabriere, Dieu Donne, La Petite Ferme, Rickety Bridge, Le Manoir de Brendel , Franschhoek Country House, and La Petite Dauphine.
Mont Rochelle caters for weddings with an average size of fifty guests, and has seen a trend to smaller and more intimate weddings. They host only one or two weddings a month, so that the hotel operation is not affected. La Petite Ferme also focuses on its restaurant business, and will not accept wedding bookings between November and February. It caters for about two weddings a month in the remaining summer months, with about 60 â€“ 80 wedding guests. If the bridal couple want dancing, they have to book all the accommodation at La Petite Ferme. Wilmari Dippenaar, wedding co-ordinator at La Petite Ferme, says she is satisfied with the number of wedding enquiries she is receiving, and cannot see any change due to the downturn.
Dieu Donne has only been open for a year, but can also see a steady increase in its wedding bookings, with one to two per month and up to 140 guests per wedding. The ceremony is held on the downstairs terrace, with the superb backdrop of the Valley, and the Reception in the restaurant upstairs.
Rickety Bridge Winery can cater for up to 85 guests, and offers an attractive wedding package with accommodation on the estate and at the neighbouring Basse Provence. One wedding is hosted per week, and this booking level continues until April. Cindy Muller says that the Winery offers its wedding clients good value for money. Franschhoek is attractive because of its beauty and proximity to Cape Town, and the village “is steeped in romance”, she says.
Le Manoir de Brendel has its own chapel and spa, and is a popular venue because of this feature. Shirleen Waskis, who co-ordinates the estate’s weddings, says that the last two summer months have been on par with last year as far as wedding bookings go, but sees a decline for this month. She says that the next three summer months will be back in line with the past year. Wedding sizes have reduced, and bridal couples are becoming more demanding, wanting more for less. The property can cater for about 50 guests in the chapel and in-door venue, and can accommodate larger weddings in its gardens.
La Petite Dauphine is one of the newest wedding venues, and caters for small intimate weddings, of round 30 wedding guests, but can accommodate up to 100 guests. Marie-Louise Oosthuizen manages the weddings, and says that her clients are mainly locals, from Cape Town. The venue only hosts day-time weddings, and February and March are particularly good wedding months. She says that for smaller weddings, her guests are likely to book the accommodation over a four day period, and a series of wedding-related activities are planned for the wedding guests. She has also seen a trend of an increasing number of same-gender weddings being held at her venue.
Haute Cabriere is one of the few Franschhoek restaurants focusing on weddings. Nicky Gordon says Franschhoek is a popular wedding venue because of its natural beauty and setting, which makes for good wedding photographs, and it offers a good spread of accommodation, from 5 star indulgence to 3 and 4 star value for money accommodation. The restaurant has 2 â€“ 3 weddings per month from November to mid-year, and is a popular venue for winter weddings, given that it can host the service in the wine cellar, and the reception in the restaurant. An increasing number of foreigners are getting married at Haute Cabriere, with one of the couple being from South Africa originally. Gordon does not see a decline in the wedding business due to the credit crunch, whilst the restaurant is seeing the downturn for meal bookings.
Wedding tourism is a huge contributor to the tourism industry, and Franschhoek benefits from it in the summer months. It is not only the wine and wedding estates that benefit from weddings, but also many other tourist sectors.
In “mixed” international weddings, the South African bride recommends the accommodation, car rental, restaurants, and trips to take before and after the wedding to her wedding guests, thereby making the planning of the trip to South Africa easy. The bridal couple offers more than just a reception, to “compensate” for the far distance the friends and family have travelled, and the money they have spent on the ticket and the trip - often a wedding in Franschhoek will be followed by a picnic at Boschendal the day after, and a sailing trip may precede a wedding whilst the group of guests is in Cape Town prior to the wedding.
Weddings convert tourists to regular visitors, given their surprise and delight at the beauty, value for money, safety and quality they experience in the Winelands.