Cape Town Tourism: delivery time!

Cape Town Tourism's key statisticsWith a drop in market share of 16% over the last five years, one can understand that Cape Town’s tourism industry is licking its wounds and looking for salvation.  A drop in market share has less to do with the recession than other destinations doing things smarter or reaping fortuitous benefits.

Where does accountability lie?  Is it the Destination Marketing Organisation (in this case Cape Town Tourism [CTT] and Cape Town Routes Unlimited [CTRU] — the provincial agency) or the industry itself?   Cape Town Tourism’s CEO, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, says plainly that it’s not her organisation’s job to make conversions – getting the bodies on the planes or in hotel beds, its job is to create awareness and demand.  But with the 16% drop in market share (and no growth) during her tenure as CEO, it’s seems that the demand isn’t there.

Yes, the industry needs to do more and get behind CTT, calling it to account more often, but it’s also a fact that few in the hospitality industry are marketing experts (well, some think they are, but…) and they look to CTT for marketing expertise and guidance.

My first question when I saw this figure was, “How can this be?  After all the awards and accolades, how can Cape Town fare so poorly?”  Mariette’s response was: “Destination awards and accolades are great to get and does contribute to general destination awareness. It does not however automatically translate to increased arrivals and economic growth especially in tough economic times when the consumer mind-set is not necessarily conducive to making travel decisions.”

So when I get a media release from CTT a day later saying that Cape Town Tourism’s leadership in the e-marketing discipline has been confirmed as the world’s thirteenth Most Influential Tourist Board and Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) online by Influencers in Travel, I realise how little this accolade actually means – other than to remind and reassure politicians why they back tourism.  Surely increased arrivals and economic growth are the only bottom line?

If CTT wasn’t the best DMO in Africa, something would be seriously wrong and, if accolades meant anything, it should be in the top ten worldwide.  There isn’t another city in Africa that has the same allure, is as well run or has as much going for it – notably the entrepreneurial spirit and capability of its citizens.

After reading her presentation on Cape Town’s new marketing plan (click here to see it), I put some questions to her:

Which destinations have grown their market share at Cape Town’s expense?

Mariette: “We are seeing statistics broken down for Cape Town for the first time, which give a more accurate indication of our ‘real’ market share, i.e. not bloated by local travel.

“The growth in travel has been limited to the East, predominantly linked to intra-regional travel.  There has also  been an uptake in domestic or regional travel in Europe, with many of our traditional travellers opting for shorter and closer breaks from home.“


This begs the question: Is Cape Town doing enough to grow domestic and regional tourism like the other successful destinations, especially given the recession in the city’s traditional markets?

Would it be reasonable to associate loss of market share (but not the lack of growth, since others will experience the same) with the failure of CTT’s marketing actions over the last five years?

Mariette:  “Cape Town Tourism’s marketing actions have been informed by global and local trends, input from experts and the industry. We have been flexible, open and honest in developing and sharing the plans we have, never afraid to adapt when the market conditions dictate change (which is evident from the latest plans shared). We have never proclaimed to have all the answers, but we are certainly committed to remain relevant and dynamic.

“Cape Town Tourism has done ground-breaking work over the last 5 years, despite tough conditions, limited funding and a short-term annual mandate.”

One expects leaders to have more answers, more quickly and provide more leadership than CTT has displayed.  This is a criticism I have made directly to CTT on a number of occasions relating to a number of issues.  CTT consults more than it acts; it has more strategies than action plans.


Did CTT have a plan and put any marketing actions into effect to mitigate the expected drop in tourism that follows every mega event?

Mariette: “Our marketing strategy and activities pre, during and post- World Cup were aimed at long-term growth.  CTT was always very vocal about the need to have realistic expectations and focus on using the WC and the obvious benefits related to investment in infrastructure and awareness, as a springboard for long-term economic growth.”

In other words, CTT did nothing to directly mitigate against or counter the impact of a post-World Cup slump.  Surely, safeguarding jobs today is far more important that long-term strategies alone?

How should ratepayers and CTT members measure the benefit they receive from CTT’s funding?

Mariette refers to the Memorandum of Agreement and the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that exists between the City and CTT.  But neither evaluate value for money or bang for the buck: whether CTT gets R4 million or R40 million in funding makes little difference to these agreements. Mariette didn’t answer the question of how CTT members or the tourism industry should evaluate CTT’s performance.

Could you provide the percentage breakdown of total international versus domestic tourist numbers and your source for these statistics?

This question was asked since Mariette’s presentation contained the following slide which we dispute – it shows domestic tourism accounting for less than 30% of total arrivals.

Statistics for Cape Town's tourism arrivals and spend

She answered with some actual figures for 2010:

International 41.6% 1,251,215
Domestic 58.4% 1,755,000
Total 3,006,215

Just as the tourist arrivals graphic is misleading, I’m pretty sure the visitor spend graphic is equally misleading.  Cape Town Routes Unlimited estimates tourism to the Western Cape is 75% domestic and 25% international in origin.

Before chasing international business, one should bear in mind Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus’ view that local consumer spending will underpin SA’s economy during the global recession.  The national Department of Tourism conducted research that showed a far higher return – bang for the buck – on domestic tourism marketing at present, and that’s where their priority currently lies.  Is CTT prioritising its focus on a diminishing market?

In the UK, it has taken a terrible recession to fuel the domestic industry – which is currently doing very well and has proved to be the saviour.  Are there lessons there?

The City of Cape Town – the main funder & client

How does the City view all of this?  I asked Grant Pascoe, mayoral exco member for tourism, “how you measure the success of your ‘investments’ or funding.”  I also included the questions I had asked Mariette.

He was on the phone before the email read receipt arrived, thanking me for asking the questions.  “This has been worrying me,” he said, “but whenever I try to get answers, I’m faced with a blank wall.  My job is on the line if CTT doesn’t deliver.”  He went on to say that if they don’t, their R40 million grant is on the line.

Nombulelo Mfeka, the City’s director of tourism and an ex officio member of CTT’s board, provided a more detailed response:

“The City manages performance by monitoring indicators – visitor arrivals and deliverables in the SLA.

2007-8 year on year         9.32% positive growth
2008-9 year on year        -9.72 negative growth
2009-10 year on year      -1.76 negative growth

“The 2010 figures included the SWC 2010 tournament that inflated arrivals.

“Since their appointment their performance can be seen against a very successful SWC 2010 tournament with resulting accolades, and a good visitor experience.”   Was CTT’s role in this visitor experience really that great, or was it due Cape Town’s citizens and hospitality industry?

“Yes, we haven’t taken up the opportunities that the “2010 glow” afforded as effectively as we could have but some things have been done.”  But was it enough?

“Cape Town Tourism has responded to what was happening to the industry not only the drop off period but the impact of the global economic crisis that hit our source markets.”   How, she doesn’t say.

“We use the international arrivals at Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) as the barometer … because our international visitor spend is much greater than domestic tourism spend.”

Surely this is beyond short-sighted? Using international arrival statistics from CTIA alone (while large numbers of visitors arrive from Johannesburg) rather than total bed-nights, and excluding domestic travel – which accounts for up to 75% of all travel – present such a distorted picture that it’s almost useless.

If CTT and its funding are being driven by a poorly informed client, that’s where criticism should be ultimately directed.  Should the CTT board be more informed, visionary and decisive?  Well, that’s another whole story!

I can understand Councillor Pascoe feeling that he meets a blank wall – his staff and the City’s representative on CTT’s board are doing a questionable job!  I haven’t been impressed by the City’s tourism department for the past ten years – maybe it needs a complete review?  Hopefully that will come with (or prior to, given the urgency) the establishment of the new Economic Development Agency.

A Marketing Plan for Cape Town

I wasn’t able to attend the presentations on August 10 & 11 by Ian Macfarlane, CTT’s Australian/expatriate consultant, and Mariette but CapeInfo was represented at one presentation by Mel Miller.  I wanted to interview Ian Macfarlane, whose presentation was unanimously applauded, about his experiences internationally and his perceptions of Cape Town.  Mariette initially facilitated this by introducing Ian and I, but then reversed her decision saying that he isn’t a spokesperson for CTT and I should put questions for him in writing to her first!

I also phoned and emailed around to get broader comments from a wider range of people, and here they are:

The plaudits

  • It has taken forever, but the manner in which they have done this is positive.   They’ve had a long, thorough and robust process in building and formulating this strategy, and have presented it.  So, I think they have their act together now.
  • There is an action plan and a detailed schedule of the activities and actions that are being taken.
  • CTT is retaining its foothold in the overseas source markets and not listening to the calls to rush off to developing markets to spend even more money starting from scratch.
  • I love their new focus on the urban tourist but we did not get any real meat on what the joint city marketing (CT, Jhb, Dbn & SA Tourism) will do.


The critics

  • There nothing in Mariette’s presentation that can be measured and what people want to see now are results.
  • I expected to see the glue, or nuts ‘n bolts, that will bind this house of cards.
  • There are no action plans – not the high-level, big-picture stuff but rather measurable marketing plans, segmentation, media, travel trade, online, etc.
  • I’m concerned that the focus on “inspiration” is far too airy-fairy in relation to the very real challenges the average consumer is dealing with today.
  • Much will depend on Ian Macfarlane’s on-going role at CTT – he comes across as incisive, informed, dynamic and as gets the job done – the complete opposite of most of our public sector DMO’s
  • CTT uses too many consultants who have twisted reality without any need to be accountable for end results, which are sales, bums and beds and tourists – be they local or international.
  • A lot of new things on the table but we’re still trying to deal with the past issues which have not been accounted for.
  • Managing communications to the travel trade is their single biggest challenge and something they need to effectively do on a continual basis…  The new marketing manager (who joins on September 1) is a case in point – to address the speculation, they should announce who this is to instil confidence!   Instead, the silence does them no favours….

I also watched what appeared on Twitter from the presentations and was filled with a sense of despair.  It all sounds good but either lacks substance or has been said before (without the goods being delivered).  It reminded me of an interview with the MD of the old Garlicks department store in the mid-80s, which was becoming very run-down.  “We’re about to start competing with Woolworths on garment and food quality,” was the action plan he gave me.  “And how will you achieve that, without the technical resources that Woolworths has and gets from Marks & Spencer?” I asked.  “Oh, we’ll develop those too,” was his reply.  The store closed a year later.

Here are a few tweets:

  • Cape Town Tourism launches plan to propel the city to world prominence.
  • We are working on an urban tourism marketing campaign with Johannesburg and Durban – showcasing the live-ability of our cities.
  • We will position CT as ideal ‘short-break’ city in the domestic market especially during winter & shoulder seasons.
  • We will put significant effort into addressing the domestic market’s perception of CT as unwelcoming, racist and expensive.

I’d love to read concrete action plans for the last item…  Some time back I tried to address perceptions that Cape Town is unfriendly, which some CTT staff argued was a false perception.

The trend to and perceptions of elitism is one of the greatest challenges Cape Town faces.  I’d like to see as much dedicated effort put into reversing this as has been put into the city’s bid as World Design capital.  As someone wrote recently, “CT is becoming elitist and too ‘in thrall’ with creative, foodie, tourism rankings stuff.  The Design Bid, whilst commendable, I think is a step too far in the elitist direction.  I have heard sentiments of elitism too from national tourism people – they don’t like Cape Town, I think they are threatened by its success.”

CTT’s strength is the big picture but it spends a lot of time putting out fires and being reactive.  Sometimes it’s overwhelmed with requests it cannot service.  This is all the more reason for solid planning and implementation, with a clearer focus with measurable outcomes (and the ability to say “no, we can’t do that”).

I wonder if CTT’s marketing manager shouldn’t in fact be a Joint CEO, because CTT is a marketing organisation and needs to focus on the nuts and bolts of the ‘now & today’.  Strategizing needs to be secondary or run parallel to accountability and results, and delivering the goods is CTT’s big challenge ahead.

But then I’m reminded of something Liz Westby-Nunn said to me after the appointment of Noki Dube as CTRU CEO: “Since when have you heard of a consultant being able to run a company?”    CTT’s new marketing manager, Velma Corcoran, comes from a successful consulting background but still has to prove herself at the coalface of bottom-line accountability for a city and industry.  I really wish her well and I’m always ready to be supportive wherever possible.

Everybody needs to realise that the hospitality industry is a perishable industry, something the late Don Titmas pointed out to me many years ago:  “Bodies in beds and bottoms on restaurant seats not sold today, can’t be sold tomorrow.”

There is a need for urgency.  As Winston Churchill said, “Action this day!”

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3 responses to “Cape Town Tourism: delivery time!”

  1. Carl

    you quote Wincston Churchill, was it not him who said:”Do not believe a single statistic unless you falsified it yourself!”? The biggest issue here is still the figures on which we base all the complaining! Even as a Nation we still have not a uniform and agreed upon set of standards with regard to collecting and collating data. Let us start there! After all we soon would love to hear how much better we are in comparison to this year!?

    We had an amazing run until 2008/9 as an industry in Cape Town. Whose doing was that? Who did the right thing then? I agree with you that we need new and fresh ideas, we need to take bold steps. What I miss in your spaniards tale is some meaty suggestions and clear comparisons to what maybe should have been done and how!

    As a Capetonian tourism player I appreciate your continued committment. Now let’s get constructive.

    • Thanks Nils

      I’m not sure that it’s CapeInfo’s job to provide suggestions but rather to stimulate debate and discussion.

      I do think, however, that three of the comments made in the blog post are relevant – getting real about statistics (“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”), the need to concentrate more on less-glamourous domestic tourism, and overcoming some perceptions of Cape Town as elitist and expensive.

  2. My opinion is that all arguments about tourism market share that use head counts as the measure are based on a wonky premise. It is Rands per footfall that should be counted, which is a much better indicator of the health or otherwise of the industry. Most of the world’s best tourism destinations get dumbded down to a level of banal commonality through pursuing volume instead of value.

    The above applies right the way down to the simplest of home-stays, where less tourists for more money is in every sense a better proposition than the other way around. Instead of this, the typical pattern that develops in chasing head counts is for charters to be brought in to bolster the numbers, which results in more people spending less that in turn necessitates a drop in standards. The drop in standards coupled with overcrowding drives the big spenders away and a spiral sets in from which there is no recovery.

    Some will say I am suggesting Cape Town should be elitist in its approach. Indeed and why not? Value for money does not necessarily mean cheap. This city is a rare global icon especially attractive to a particular market segment both locally and internationally. This is its unique sales proposition and to change that simply for the sake of attracting more numbers rather than more Rands must be crazy.

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