Montagu is as charming as ever… BUT… tourism authorities need a wake-up!


Montagu is one the the Western Cape’s premier heritage towns and a rock-climber’s haven.  It is a really great place to visit.  But has it really moved forward at all in the past two years as a tourist destination?

Montagu is a wonderful getaway, a special-interest town and an architectural gem, but it’s not a ‘tourist town’.  It is a town I will recommend to anyone with an interest in heritage architecture and pleasing streets, rock climbing, mountain biking, wine estates (in Robertson Wine Valley proper) or just chill at a hotel, B&B, self-catering cottage or campsite (and there are many of those) — because there’s not that much to do in the town.  The biggest attractions in the area are Avalon and Montagu Springs outside the town which attracts a very different kind of market which arguably benefits the town to a limited degree.

From 3pm on a Saturday afternoon the town’s main street closes down.   Kloof Farmstall and the others on the R62 offer a little more but the one on the eastern side of town has just closed down and looks sadly forlorn.  The little neighbouring village of Barrydale up the R62 has much more buzz.

‘Tourism” — if you claim to be a ‘tourist town’ — is about the total package and the focus is on the town, and the attractions and activities the town offers.

The last straw was going to the tourism office on Sunday morning at 11am (see the pic in the gallery).  It advertises that it’s open and I needed to collect a last few bits of information — only to find a locked door.  There were seven other tourists wondering what was going on and I helped one with a map I’d collected the previous day and suggested the others go to the Montagu Country Hotel — always a helpful source of information.

When I posted a pic of and comment about the locked door on my personal Facebook page, the manager of Montagu-Ashton Tourism replied that she would find out why it was closed and would get back to me.  She never did.  I would have expected her to know if the office doesn’t open – the staff member should let someone know.  I would also expect contingency plans because people do get ill.  There should be volunteer backups, or a sign directing them somewhere else.  It is usually a very good office although I was disappointed by the quality of their latest map.

In the discussion that ensued with others on my Facebook page, the manager made much of the fact that her organisation receives a grant of less than R200,000 a year from Langeberg Municipality.  Well… a closed door isn’t going to open any coffers and perennial complaints about the lack of funding isn’t going to achieve anything!  She also made much of the 36,000 visitors who stayed in the town in February and, in conversation with me on Saturday, claimed that this is probably more than Franschhoek gets!  Sigh!  I asked for the breakdown after she said Avalon Springs got 20,000 people staying over and 15,000 day visitors.  Well, I’m not going to hold my breath… undertakings she gave for content I requested in 2012 never materialised.

Both Montagu-Ashton Tourism and Langeberg Municipality need a wake-up call (along with a few other towns that don’t get the tourism imperative) and that will be addressed in another post later today.  Montagu is a great place and deserves better.

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2 responses to “Montagu is as charming as ever… BUT… tourism authorities need a wake-up!”

  1. Dear Carl Momberg, my name is Petrus Jansen and I’m the current chairman of MATA (Montagu-Ashton Tourism Association). I would like to briefly answer your question “But has it really moved forward at all in the past two years as a tourist destination?”.

    In the past two years tourism has indeed moved forward as a tourist destination in Montagu. The amount of tourism related activities increased, many tourism staff have been trained, our festivals increased, we now have more restaurants and some with longer hours, the amount of accommodation establishments increased, membership of MATA increased and there has been many tourism related infrastructure upgrades in town. Other than this we have experienced a sturdy growth in the amount of visitors we receive and our office is filled with articles from various media showcasing our tourism package as a town.

    Not only have we grown as a tourist destination but the general business sector is growing, property sales and prices are healthy, thus all contributing to a growing economy. Hereby I must add, one of our big challenges growing as a tourism destination is growing without selling ourselves out. To be sustainable long-term the character and charm of our town is a priority, thus I was glad to see you say “ Montagu is as charming as ever”. To grow quickly is easy by opening the floodgates to commercialisation, but long-term we will hurt ourselves in my opinion. We are not Barrydale or Franschhoek (with all due respect), we are Montagu with a very individualistic identity (architecture, culture, community etc.), so please do not compare us. Let us rather embrace our differences and take pride in what makes each place such unique destination.

    I would like to end of my comment by a video, simply for your readers interest and enjoyment:
    https://youtu.be/N6JFtDiyxVA

  2. Petrus, That is a cute video but I would classify it as hype. I don’t know how well your stats will stand up to real interrogation and comparison. The majority of Montagu’s visitors go to Montagu & Avalon Springs, and resort guests are known to benefit neighbouring towns less than other tourists. I could go on…
    How can people spend money when almost everything in the town is closed for most of the weekend, which is when most people visit?

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