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Where municipalities get it so badly wrong

In 2012, I interviewed the local manager of Stanford, part of the Overstrand (Hermanus) municipality.  I never published the interview because it was such an embarrassment.  I did share the content with Overstrand’s mayor — who just sat with her head in her hands and then asked for it in an email, which I did.  I don’t think anything ever came of it.  (Click here for the rest of that story.)

After looking at municipalities around the country, I think it’s time to share that as one of the examples of where municipalities get things badly wrong.

Politicians & bureaucrats are often drowned by their own prejudices & inadequacies
These are some of the points the manager made and comes from my email to the mayor:

  1. The UCT Landscape Architects’ project proposals for the link between Stanford (affluent) and Stanford South (poorer) is a non-starter “because Stanford does not need first world solutions.”
  2. She laments the Anglification of the village and yearns for the boere dorp (Afrikaans farming village) it was.
  3. The 1000 people in Stanford cause more problems than the 7000 in Stanford South, to such a degree that she can’t take proper vacations since no-one else from the Municipality wants to stand in for her.
  4. She’s against a lively street scene with pavement cafes because she doesn’t want people to walk past and look at her “bord kos (plate of food).”
  5. The Napier Farm Stall is such a compelling stop that it has introduced more people to the village than anything else.
    The Napier Farm Stall is such a compelling stop that it has introduced more people to the village than anything else.
    She’s against the owner of Evergrine Farm Stall being encouraged to create a feature at the entrance of the town to attract people to stop, like Napier Farm Stall, “because no self-respecting Afrikaans family would stop with all those goeters (things) hanging outside.”

In another town in 2002 when Keith Jordaan was municipal manager at Cape Agulhas Municipality, he asked me what I thought could be done with Napier’s dreary main road — trees can’t be planted in the sidewalks.  I suggested that, because the village doesn’t have a parking problem, half of every third parking bay should be used to plant an avenue of trees.  I discussed this with David Jack, former Cape Town City Planner and MD of the V&A Waterfront, a close friend who’s opinion I always value and who has a farm just outside Napier.  He thought it was a great idea and asked me to convey to the municipality his offer to pay for the trees.

It never happened because the municipality’s head of services said the leaves would make too much mess.

Politicians and officials are civil servants.  They need to stop being arrogant and start being civil and providing better service.  They are servants of all the people, and not just their political party or prejudices.

Municipalities are just too good at killing the attraction of their town centres
Drive around South Africa and if there is one thing that impresses you — in a negative way — it will be a prevalence of dirt and disrepair in many town and village centres. Many municipalities are doing an appalling job.  Many just don’t realise how bad they actually are.  These politicians and officials are actually stealing their salaries.

In Winterton (Kwazulu-Natal’s Town of the Year in 2013) and Willowmore (Eastern Cape’s new tourism star) the cleaning up of the town centres was initiated by two women who tackled the job and persisted against all the odds.  It is their achievements that is enabling these towns to become tourism towns.  They are the stars that tourism departments and SA Tourism should be applauding and encouraging as role models.  (Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, etc. if you agree!  More about these people and towns will be published soon.)

Municipal officials rarely consult people with real knowledge because they are frightened that their lack of knowledge will be shown up.  Offers of assistance are turned down for the same reason.  Very few towns have professional town planners on their staff and I doubt that many have ever heard of the disciplines of urban design and landscape architecture. The result is town centres which are being damaged for many, many years to come… impacting badly on those towns as tourist destinations.

New premises for informal traders in Cradock
Town centre streets need retail density to be attractive & successful. In Cradock, the municipality’s new premises for informal traders presents a dead facade hundreds of metres long along the town’s main street. Watch the litter pile up alongside the back of those new buildings…

Solutions for managing town centres better will be published soon.

“Tourism is a nice-to-have — not a necessity”.
This usually comes up when budgets are discussed.  The fact that a town might have an unemployment rate of 80% and all that can save it is job creation isn’t at the top of the agenda.  Enabling economic upward mobility can be achieved better through tourism than by anything else.  Do politicians and officials really care about this?

Anyone who says this should be publicly condemned as an idiot.

Tourism is too white; it needs transformation
The people who usually say this drive Audi’s, BMW’s or Mercedes Benz’s.  Shouldn’t they be driving Tata’s or something to show support for other emerging nations?  They usually stay in the most expensive hotels they can get away with.  Shouldn’t they rather be supporting emerging businesses and make real contributions to local economies?

How many people know how Holiday Inn became to be a global brand?  It was because Americans wanted to stay in American hotels wherever they travel abroad.  So it’s understandable that thousands of tourists visit Soweto every month… but they stay in Sandton or Rosebank.  Tourists want their comfort zones and, while they do make short excursions to what is foreign and exotic, they want to go back to being among what is safe and familiar.

If government is so committed to transforming ownership in the tourism sector, why did it allow the sale of Protea Hotels — Africa’s largest hotel group — to foreign owners?  It’s now owned by Mariott from the USA.  Why did it sell the V&A Waterfront — which it once owned — to Dubai World, before local interests bought it back?  Commitments are shallow when money talks.  So when municipalities target small, existing tourism businesses, it shows hypocrisy.

Have all levels of government established a tourism ethic in South Africa?  Surely not, when our renown Blue Train needs armed SAPS police riding shotgun on it to protect it as it travels through stations.  At a Transport Portfolio Committee meeting at Parliament some years back, I heard a member of parliament ask, in all seriousness, why all South Africans can’t travel on the Blue Train after hearing that the train is frequently stoned while passing through stations!

Municipalities are tasked with managing tourism as a local function, and most are failing abysmally.  Most do not have a tourism ethic.  Most don’t have a business plan.

Tourism is a business and it is totally controlled by market forces.  No politician or bureaucrat can change those market forces; but they can kill the business.

Municipal tourism offices promote the attractions they want to promote… not what tourists want
In Bethlehem (Municipality), the tourist brochure covers a whole list of attractions… which are hardly attractions at all.  The town’s biggest attraction is arguably Lionsrock Lodge & Big Cat Sanctuary which is not promoted at all.  This happens all over South Africa.

And then, of course, there’s the stupidity of promoting municipalities as destinations… click here.

Political agendas are the death knell of tourism.

“We need to have a meeting”
Wrong!  Unfortunately, municipal officials believe that their main role is to hold meetings, travel to neighbouring towns, claim transport and subsistence allowances, and give the appearance of being busy… and usually unavailable.

How many are judged by key performance indicators and what was actually achieved, month by month, day by day?

And then every time a new local economic development or tourism manager is appointed, a new business plan needs to be prepared… so nothing is ever implemented and carried through.  More millions wasted.

Municipalities are stealing funds earmarked for tourism and tourism-related organisations
I’ve encountered dozens of municipalities who either ignore funding agreements with tourism organisations and fail to meet their obligations, or receive funding from district municipalities or provincial entities intended for tourism-related organisations, but never pay it over.  It’s time the national tourism and local government ministers did something about this.  Come on Derek Hanekom and Pravin Gordhan!

And there are few places for tourism organisations to turn to for assistance.  Even in the Western Cape.  The new tourism team at Prince Albert, the gem of the Karoo, say they haven’t been able to get to build a relationship with their municipality.  The municipality won’t send a representative to attend their meetings.  Attempts to get help from Wesgro, the provincial tourism authority, met a brick wall.  An agreement to funding was forthcoming but they were then told by Wesgro it was a mistake.  And a meeting with Wesgro’s marketing executive was arranged, but she never arrived.

Want to read about a small town’s tourism organisation with a real tourism plan… and a budget of R51 million for the next three years?  Click here.

Want to read about South Africa’s best mayor?   Click here.  (If you know of a better mayor, please let us know.)

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