George: why municipalities can’t run tourism

I drove into George — the supposed capital of the Garden Route — at lunchtime on a Sunday looking for the information office.  I found the town as dead as a dodo after the irritation of unsynchronised traffic lights in the long main road, York Street.  And the info office was closed.  Unlike neighbouring Mossel Bay, which is open seven days a week, George’s follows municipal hours it seems.

Yes, I did enter the town with some negativity because it seems that Fathima Watney, tourism head at Eden District Municipality (which covers the whole of the Garden Route), can’t answer emails.  She follows me on Twitter so I had asked for her email address, and wrote to her asking for guidance during my stay in the Garden Route.  No reply, so I resent the email asking if she doesn’t answer emails.  No reply… and still no reply 38 days later.

When I got to the George info office on Monday, I learnt that she’s well-known for not replying to emails.  And in subsequent conversations moving up the Garden Route I learnt that the meetings she calls tourism stakeholders to are a complete waste of time.

Does she deserve to be in this job?  Maybe others have stellar examples of her worth…

Then I tried to make contact with Claudine Carelse, acting head of George Tourism.  She was at their Wilderness office so I tried calling her to arrange to meet.  Her cellphone went unanswered and never switched to voicemail so I called the Wilderness landline.  The woman who answered said Claudine was busy with a client but would call me back.  I never heard from her.

Then I learned about how George Municipality took control of the tourism organisation after interfering in how it should be run.  Well that is a kiss of death.  I went to look at their website, which must be one of the most outdated town websites I’ve come across in a long time.  And I decided to compare how the towns compare in terms of global traffic rankings on  George’s website fares abysmally.

Garden Route websites global traffic rankings
How Garden Route websites compare in their global traffic ranking on 24-03-2015

Politicians and bureaucrats need to accept that marketing and destination marketing are not within their competence.  They need to support it and provide municipal services and amenities which support tourism, but they cannot run it.

Politicians and bureaucrats see marketing as telling consumers what they want consumers to hear or see.  Wrong!  Marketing is telling consumers what they want to hear or see.

If George, Wilderness and the Garden Route is looking for a tourism game-changer, it needs to start with restructuring tourism in the region.

Graham, on duty at the George info office on my one visit, was exceptional and a true star.  He would be a credit to any tourism organisation anywhere!  It’s just a pity that when I went in search of the Pacaltsdorp Historic Walk, after he gave me the brochure, I couldn’t find it — I didn’t see any road names in Pacaltsdorp nor was the info office clearly marked.

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