I could not believe what I was told about the storm which is brewing in Hermanus tourism circles about the unfair dismissal of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau Manager Storm Kreusch about two months ago, and how this has become a political issue, given the municipal elections on 18 May.

The first I had heard was an e-mail sent to members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, stating that one should not believe everything one had heard about the dismissal, and that more information would be supplied.  In heavy legalese its Chairman Charl de Kock wrote the following under his first name only:  “We have become aware that certain unfounded & unsubstantiated rumours and slanderous information may have been initiated & circulated, as if they were facts, by members and non-members alike; following the Conciliation meeting with Ms G D (“Storm”) Kreusch, on 05 May 2011.  Kindly be advised that certain matters & issues, arising from the dismissal of Ms Kreusch, remain unfinalised, and that we shall issue an official statement in this regards (sic) as soon as the matter has, in fact, been finalized. We therefore call on Members of Hermanus Tourism to be patient, in the meantime, until the real and accurate facts have, in fact, been published. Lastly, we place on record that the contents of certain malicious and unfounded correspondences have been noted, and that we reserve the right to respond thereto / comment in full thereon, at a later stage, and in the proper forum. Note that all the rights of the Author hereof, Hermanus Tourism Bureau and any of its Directors are, and remain, fully reserved herein. Any response given in the content of this correspondence shall therefore be deemed to have been given without prejudice of any of the said rights”.

To date such information has not been sent to members, but immediately the rumour machine in Hermanus got going, and of course it has created a huge intrigue in this whale village. 

I was interested in the story from one perspective, and that is that the Lerm family appears to be in the midst of this controversy.   I have written about them before  on this blog, and we face a R1,3 million defamation claim from them as a result!   It is no surprise that Hermanus will soon be renamed Lermanus, it is said as a joke, if Maxie Lerm (second left, schmoozing the previous mayor Theo Beyleveldt) wins the election on behalf of the Democratic Alliance in Ward 3 in the Overstrand municipality.  Her son Clinton (second from right) already is Chairman of the Destination Marketing Organisation and Vice Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, and both mother and son serve on the Executive Committees of both these bodies, mother Maxie Lerm handles the Public Relations portfolio for the Destination Marketing organisation.  

Someone who thinks that Maxie Lerm won’t win is John Williams, the Chairman of Cope, who is based in Stanford, in ward 11 of the Overstrand.  He has observed what the Lerm family is doing to tourism, and how the family, which owns the Misty Waves Hotel, has used its influence and positions to benefit its own business, directly and indirectly.  Father Henri Lerm (right) and his son Clinton have created a new Hermanus Sakekamer/Chamber of Commerce.  The Hermanus Tourism Bureau recently became a member of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut Employers’ Organisation, making some Hermanus tourism players suspect that the Lerms want to amalgamate the business and tourism interests in the town, as they have attempted before, so that this time the amalgamated body will fall under their power and control.  Mother Maxie’s success in the municipal election would be the crowning glory to this scenario, controlling the tourism interests of the Overstrand Municipality, the Destination Marketing Organisation, and of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau!  Williams does not mince his words about his political opponent, and he says Mother Maxie is allegedly ‘loathed and despised’ in the region.  Williams has been involved in tourism, and wants to head up the Overstrand municipal tourism portfolio.

The outcome of a conciliatory meeting, called by the Commissioner of the CCMA, was settlement in favour of the Manager of the Tourism Bureau, whereby the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, under the chairmanship of Charl de Kock and mandated by his committee, admitted to a faulty procedure and unfair action in the dismissal process, and agreed to pay her a monetary settlement in full and final settlement of her case of appeal.  Clinton Lerm allegedly stated in a meeting held at the Tourism Bureau that he, as Vice Chairman, would resign should they have been found to not have followed the correct procedure with her dismissal, and he believed that the rest of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau committee should follow suit, but this resignation has not yet been forthcoming.  

The members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau are furious about the suspension of their manager, who was dedicated to tourism for over five years.  A number of the members of the management committee of the Bureau have resigned in the past few months, given the treatment of the Manager by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman.  

Further anger stems from a proposed Memorandum of Agreement which the Destination Marketing Organisation is requesting the tourism bureaus in the Overstrand municipal area to sign.   Disputed is the inclusion of a proposed clause accepting that the Destination Marketing Organisation will hire and fire staff of all the Tourism Bureaus under the Overstrand municipal control.  Also, a promise in September last year by the Destination Marketing Organisation, after a previous furore about the organisation, that members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau and those of the Cape Whale Coast would automatically become members of the Destination Marketing Organisation without paying extra membership fees, has not yet been honoured.  It appears that in the past seven months the Destination Marketing Organisation has not yet called a General Meeting to obtain member approval for this constitutional change regarding membership.  

Concentration of power, by a family having a strong private and commercial interest in tourism, is dangerous for any town, and should be stopped in Hermanus at all costs.  What we said almost 18 months ago, more and more Hermanus tourism players are now seeing, and they appear to have reached the end of their tolerance of this blatant abuse of power.

POSTSCRIPT 11/5:  I have been informed that there was similar politicking in Bloemfontein, where the Lerms previously lived, and Maxie Lerm stood for the ANC, amongst others.  They appeared to change their political allegiance regularly.  

POSTSCRIPT 11/5:  It has been discovered that a number of Directors of the Destination Marketing Organisation had their personal businesses represented on the Cape Whale Coast stand at Indaba over the past weekend, including Southern Stroll Marketing and Shark Diving Unlimited.   It is alleged that members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau and other tourism bureaux in the Overstrand Were not offered an opportunity to participate in this stand. 

POSTSCRIPT 15/5: The following serves as further input to the above debate, written by John Williams on his blog “Truth about Hermanus“:

The ‘Wonders that never cease’ on the Cape Whale Route are the damaging shenanigans that continue to rock the foundations of the organisation mandated to market this outstanding destination (Hermanus and the Overstrand coastal region) commonly known as the Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) and the Hermanus Tourism Bureau (HTB).

Stormy seas ahead for the Lerm’s!

’The DMO has, in my opinion, made a right mess of things for the tourism industry. They have wasted our money and they have, as far as I can see, only one ambition – and that is to turn Hermanus into the glitziest, cheapest, nastiest destination in the Cape’. ..a comment made recently by a leading tourism personality in Hermanus.

If you didn’t know, Storm Kreusch, manager of Hermanus Tourism Bureau was unfairly suspended and was then subsequently “dismissed” after she has resigned! by the Hermanus Tourism Bureau of which Clinton Lerm (DMO chairman) is vice Chairman (Clinton, having stepped down to position of vice chair of HTB, earlier this year when it became obvious that a conflict of interest was present between his governance of both bodies) Ms Kreusch went to the CCMA and apparently after a conciliation meeting came out as the victor and was awarded compensation!

A very well done Storm! The whole town supports you (except the Lerm family) but now here is the nub. At a volunteer’s meeting at the HTB,Clinton had said that he would resign from the HTB Committee and believes that the rest of the Committee should also resign – (his mother serves on that committee as well as the DMO) should it be proven that the incorrect procedure was followed regarding Storm’s suspension. Rumour has it that Maxie Lerm has already or will now resign due, not to this statement by her son, but due to her DA candidature. Will it be from both HTB and DMO committees we wonder.

So, indeed, we are now waiting for the re-election of the HTB and the DMO committee’s, at a special meeting which will need to be called as soon as possible! 

Background to the formation of the DMO in 2007/8. This marketing body was put in place to, among other duties (and not necessarily in order) to undertake as follows:

1. Advertise the Cape Whale Coast generically in whatever media possible; 

2. Administer the grant from the Overstrand Municipality (OM) and any funds generated to the local Whale Coast Tourism Bureau’s via the management committee of each bureau, thereby maintaining (not managing) effective tourism bureaus; 

3. Be nominated and be represented on the management committees of the various Bureau’s.

N.B. All businesses who paid rates and taxes/previous business levy/ were eligible to be members of the DMO (2007/8 constitution

Background to the DMO the HTB feud over membership and Info Kiosk

The Hermanus Tourism Bureau had been lobbying for at least 5 years to have a satellite information kiosk on the seafront. This kiosk would also act as a shelter for the Whale crier during the rainy months. The Kiosk was granted to HTB by Mayor Beyleveldt in Sept 2009 at the AGM. In Dec 2009 the DMO hi jacked the kiosk from HTB, for DMO use and membership, thus generating income for the DMO. At this stage Clinton Lerm and his mother Maxie Lerm were serving on both committees and Clinton was Chairman of both. There was an outcry by many members regarding the loss of the kiosk. Most members showed a lethargy regarding the kiosk as they felt it was a battle HTB would never win against the DMO. (little did they realize the tide inevitably changes)

Clinton Lerm seemingly resigned as Chairman of HTB, when it was evident that there was a conflict of interest being chairman of both committees and that DMO had used their powers to “take” the kiosk. A very heated HTB AGM in Sept 2010 ensued and it was agreed that DMO was to return the Kiosk to HTB as soon as possible.

A formal announcement was then made in the Hermanus Times, by means of a letter from DMO, written by Lerm, that the DMO was to hand over the Kiosk, back to HTB in due course.

But what then followed was an extended idiotic squabble – all in very poor taste (astoundingly small minded and uncharitable behaviour by the DMO) when they continued to trade the Kiosk through the peak season and according to Lerm the criteria for membership of DMO had changed, constitutionally.

It became evident to the whole Whale Coast that the kiosk was only going to serve a “select few” – The DMO had pronounced that in order to get bookings via the Kiosk, HTB members now had to join and pay for membership to the DMO. In a nutshell – two memberships to partake in two “official” municipally funded Information Offices. One office trading on the doorstep of the other.

Progress to resolve conflict between DMO and HTB

It must now be understood that Clinton Lerm had promised in September 2010 in the same article in the HermanusTimes to take the issue of membership of the DMO to his committee and get the membership criteria changed to include all TB members of the Whale Coast. Apparently council had approved this change. It is now mid May 2011 and the membership issue has not yet been put in place. He once again made mention earlier this year that a special general meeting was to be called possibly in April to put the matter right and get approval from his small database of DMO members to change the constitution before taking on the Tourism Bureau members of the Whale Coast. Nothing has been affected to date!

The Kiosk was returned to the HTB during March/April and the HTB has been crisis managed by the committee ever since Ms Kreusch’s resignation, much to the member’s disgust.

There’s talk the Lerm clan is under siege and will finally realise that ‘vested interest’ actually disqualifies them from holding multiple posts in these tourism and marketing organisations.TheIr track record proves this to be the case (see below for some ‘hand to hand’ combat with the accommodation industry.” 

POSTSCRIPT 18/5: Today the Hermanus Tourism Bureau Chairman Charl de Kock has sent an e-mail regarding the ‘Storm”-saga, and has stated that they have received a written apology – Joan-Anne Harris has demanded one from ourselves (see Comments to this blogpost), but we have not sent one.  The final laugh is that Charl encourages members of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau to vote today – we all know that Maxie Lerm is the DA candidate for Ward 3 in the Overstrand, and her connection to the tourism bodies in Hermanus is documented above!  The e-mail is not correct in stating that the CCMA process has not been concluded.  The Hermanus Tourism Bureau representatives signed a document that admits that their dismissal process was ‘fatally flawed’ and that the dismissal procedure was ‘unfair’.  They have reneged on the payment of the R 10000 settlement to Storm Kreusch by the agreed deadline of 12 May 2011.

“Dear Hermanus Tourism Members

We can understand the concerns expressed by members as to what has been happening lately with regards to Storm. 

 A word of thanks to everyone who has indicated that they trust the HT Committee to handle the process correctly and fairly – and allow it to run its course. We would appreciate it if NO ONE will draw conclusions or spread unfounded rumours as it is (sic) only to the detriment of our town.

 Please note that the CCMA case re the Hermanus Tourism Manager is still in process!

As soon as the verdict is confirmed and the case is concluded we will inform all our HT members of the outcome.

The HT Committee has tried to halt the unfounded rumours; however the ongoing personal slander and unsubstantiated accusations continue and have even resulted in a written apology.

Please let us all work together towards a better future for the hospitality industry of this town and assist the committee and personnel in delivering the service excellence that they have aiming for.

The Hermanus Tourism personnel are currently visiting accommodation establishments to get to know your property and everything that you have to offer your guests. This is the first step in the Product Knowledge training that we are implementing to ensure they can market our beautiful area and superb products / companies. 

Yours in tourism:

Charl de Kock and the Hermanus Tourism Committee       

 

POSTSCRIPT 23/5:I have received a copy of the CCMA Settlement Agreement signed between Storm Kreusch and the Hermanus Tourism Bureau representative Charl de Kock, in which R10000 was due to have been paid into Ms Kreusch’s bank account by 12 May.  In an unusual addition, but probably requested by Ms Kreusch’s attorney, the following was added under “Other”: “The employer admits that the process resulting in the dismissal of the employee was fatally flawed and that her dismissal was consequently procedurally unfair.  This agreement settles all or any dispute that had or may arise from the employment relationship between the parties”. 

POSTSCRIPT 30/5:  The Hermanus Tourism members were excited to see the new June issue of Getaway, which has a nine-page spread on its village.  This quickly changed to shock when they saw that the editorial content, guided by the Cape Whale Coast DMO, contained the following errors:

*   The Whale Season is stated as being from May to September, when it fact it stretches until the beginning of December 

*   The article also recommends that visitors to the Cape Whale Coast route that hate crowds should rather stay away – the only crowded period is during the Hermanus Whale Festival, falling around the 24 September public holiday.  Many other options are offered in the other villages along the Cape Whale Coast route, but these are not mentioned.

*   The article says that visitors to the Cape Whale Coast Route should expect to pay more during the whale watching period – this is utter nonsense, as rates are set by season and not be whale activity.  Most guest houses and restaurants have good winter offers until August, then have a spring rate in September, and charge summer rates from October.  Due to supply and demand, the Whale Festival weekend period may have higher rates for the 3 – 4 day duration.

*   Only 4- and 5-star accommodation was allowed to participate in a promotion in July, according to the rules of the Marketing Project co-ordinator of the Cape Whale Coast DMO, Joan-Anne Harris.  Tourism Bureau members were given very short notice to participate in the advertising. 

*   The article does not contain a pay-off line for Hermanus or the Cape Whale Coast (“Best land-based whale watching in the world”).  The editorial does not refer to the Whale Crier, the unique icon for Hermanus.  No Cape Whale Coast branding is visible. 

*   The article contains a number of typing errors relating to e-mail and website addresses, and it would appear that no DMO representative (Joan-Anne Harris of Southern Stroll Marketing is the DMO Marketing co-ordinator) proofread the article. 

Getaway has been contacted by some members, and it appears that no proofreading of the article was done by the DMO nor by the magazine (one wonders who supplied the information to journalist Fatima Jakoet, for it to contain so many errors)! Getaway has promised a correction in its August issue. 

POSTSCRIPT 5/6: The CCMA Settlement Agreement was ‘cancelled’ by Dan Acker, of Holwill Bosman Acker & Associates, writing on behalf of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, and a Director of the Cape Whale Coast DMO, on 6 May: ”our client shall, with immediate effect, withdraw completely from the said ‘settlement agreement’ and shall hereafter deem said agreement to be null and void”,supposedly justifying why they did not pay Ms Kreusch the settlement of R10000 by the agreed date of 12 May.  This bullying ‘cancellation’ is motivated by a number of points, including that Ms Kreusch ‘breached the clearly expressed confidentiality, purpose and spirit of the said Conciliation discussions and subsequent agreement’ . We have seen the CCMA Settlement Agreement, and it does not contain any confidentiality clause by which the Hermanus Tourism Bureau can give itself the power to cancel the Settlement Agreement!

POSTSCRIPT 8/6: Charl de Kock, Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, wrote a rather strange letter to members of a “Petition Group”, who had signed a petition calling for a Special General Meeting, yesterday afternoon, just before this Group was due to meet.  He reinforces that he acted correctly in respect of Ms Kreusch’s disciplinary hearing, subsequent termination, and CCMA hearing, and blatantly accuses her of deceit: “It is now common knowledge that I was ‘conned’ and that Storm, her lawyer end (sic)Storm’s possible financial backers had no intention of keeping this document (the CCMA Settlement Agreement) confidential. I really believed I was signing an honourable agreement and that Storm wanted ‘to get on with her life’!  He does invite all members of the Group to view the documents, and does agree that the Mayor should ‘call for an impartial meeting where all the facts can be addressed and laid bare for all to see’.   

POSTSCRIPT 8/6:A Top Billing feature on Hermanus appears to include more DMO Director properties.  Once we have seen the detail, we will add it.

POSTSCRIPT 9/6:  At a DA Ward 3 Councillor’s meeting held without announcement to the Ward constituency last night, headed by new DA councillor Maxie Lerm, her husband Henri Lerm and DMO Board member Dan Acker were elected onto the Ward committee, the two ‘gentlemen’ nominating each other!

POSTSCRIPT 10/6: A highly defamatory Comment was sent by the Cape Whale Coast DMO to this blog, in reaction to this blogpost, as well as to our radio interview on Whale Coast FM earlier today.   Clinton Lerm, the Chairman of the Cape Whale Coast DMO, was invited to be interviewed, but refused to participate if he was on the same program as ourselves, based on legal advice.  Hermanus Tourism Bureau Chairman Charl de Kock did participate.  Joan-Anne Harris, a Director of the DMO, tried a number of times to get the topic of the radio programme stopped earlier this week.  We will not yet publish the defamatory comment, and will use it for possible legal action.

POSTSCRIPT 16/6: We believe that it is in the interest of transparency that the Cape Whale Coast Comment sent to this blog be published.  We have been challenged to do so by Joan-Anne Harris’ partner David Snoek :

anonymous
info@whalecoast.info | 198.54.202.210

I think you will all find that HTB is running smoothly, receiving positive feedback from Tourists, and NOT FIGHTING AMONGST EACH OTHER. Chris, however, feels the need to fight with everyone she comes into contact with! Why is this? Is she unhappy? – Or does she fancy herself as a bit of a ‘celebrity’ with all the comments on her blogs? I cannot see that she is any kind of ambassadeur (sic) for Hermanus, what with the amount of bad publicity she attracts. I say out with her! She’s a stirrer, a trouble-maker and horrible person!

POSTSCRIPT 30 June: Noseweek  was alerted to this blogpost, and its July issue contains an excellent article about the Lerm family, and its litigious approach to dealing with criticism!

POSTSCRIPT 10/8: We received the following apology from Fabio Lenci, Vice-Chairman of the new Hermanus Tourism Bureau committee, about the insulting blogpost which came from the now-defunct DMO : “The following is written on behalf of Hermanus Tourism of which we have all agreed and I have been mandated as vice chairperson by the new committee to send you a letter of apology.  Please note that we have exhausted every avenue and to confirm that we cannot trace the individual who used the terminal as it could have been anyone. It is with regret that I have to write you this letter of apology on behalf of the previous dispensation and also the new dispensation would like to extend their sincere apologies for the undesirable comments made on your blog dated May 2011.  We wish to inform you that we have begun with various encouraging motions in the right direction to get HTB and all its members on track in a positive frame of mind and rest assured that we have the backing of the whole of Hermanus. We look forward to a prosperous future with all the positive support while achieving our goals one at a time for the good of Hermanus & all its citizens”.

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