Take a straw poll, Wesgro… you might be surprised

The previous post on this blog expressed our dismay with Wesgro.  In our recent newsletter, we stated that Wesgro (Western Cape destination marketing agency) hadn’t delivered on the good news they promised (and noted key staff losses amid poor ongoing communication).

Judy Lain, Wesgro’s chief marketing officer, responded to the newsletter with the following email.  We think it’s in the public interest to publish Judy’s email and our response.  What do you think?

Dear Carl

“I see Wesgro is still the only news you are reporting, if you would like an update to ensure that you report the facts please let me know I would gladly meet with you.

“In terms of our website, we have had some development issues so instead of launching a website that is not 100%, we have delayed it. This is not unusual in terms of web development. At present there is a website up.

“In terms of what Wesgro has been up to in the past few months.

–          We are in the process of writing the 5 year strategy with DEDAT. We have presented this to each of the regions for feedback and are now in phase 2 of this

–          We are in the process of writing the cycling strategy for the province in collaboration with private and public sector. We have put together a task team of private and public sector

–          In total we would have attended over 6 international trade platforms promoting the province in our source and emerging markets

–          We are holding individual workshops with our regions to help develop plans around driving domestic tourism

–          We are doing weekly social media campaigns on our platforms

–          We have produced 7 videos, one provincial and one for each region to be used on international and domestic platforms to help drive visitor numbers

–          We have signed over 15 JMAs with media, tour operators and other partners to help drive tourism

–          We have sponsored over 27 events in the province

–          We have hosted over 300 tour operators from source and emerging markets in the Western Cape to help promote the region

–          We have won 16 conference bids

–          We have assisted with incentive groups and corporate meetings

–          We have successfully launched on WeChat in China, their biggest social media platform

–          We hold quarterly sessions with our regions to discuss plans going forward and collaboration

–          We have done research in terms of Ebola effect on the Western Cape and engaged with over 3 000 outbound tour operators from our source and emerging markets in terms of this

So is Wesgro delivering? I believe we are if you just look at what we have done in the past few months.

We don’t do big advertising campaigns, like you use to do Carl. We don’t get the funding for it. So we work with partners that ensure high return on investment.

As I’ve said before, I am more than happy to meet with you if you have questions or issues with us to ensure that you do report on the facts.

Kind regards


Dear Judy

I think defensiveness and lack of understanding and accuracy shine through in your email.

“Wesgro is still the only news you are reporting.”  That’s an untruth.  It wasn’t even the lead story in the last newsletter.

“We don’t do big advertising campaigns, like you use to do Carl.”  Please name one big advertising campaign I’ve done, Judy.  There isn’t one.  If anything, I am known for doing more with less.

Keeping busy — as you are at pains to show — means nothing.  What is the Return on Investment?  What was achieved?

I keep thinking of the late Don Titmas’ comment when he opened the first fine-dining restaurant at the Waterfront: “People don’t understand that tourism and the hospitality industries are perishable industries.  If you don’t sell a body in a bed, and bottoms on restaurant or bus or plane seats TODAY, it’s lost forever.  You can’t sell it tomorrow.”

How many bodies in beds, bottoms on restaurant bus and plane seats did Wesgro realise?  Now you’ll probably respond that it’s not your job to do the selling, so let me ask the question another way… what would happen if Wesgro wasn’t there?  I think very little — it would be replaced, where necessity demands it, by more efficient and more effective private sector initiatives.  And all Province needs is a shrewd investment analyser to allocate funding to the best initiatives.

Tourism doesn’t need endless strategies, plans and JMAs that achieve little.  Wesgro has provided poor leadership to the Western Cape’s RTOs and LTOs and I think they are in the weakest position they’ve been in for years.  In Stellenbosch and Robertson, the privately-funded Stellenbosch Wine Route and Robertson Wine Valley have taken the lead from their towns’ LTOs and they are doing far more.  They “do” more than they talk and strategise!

But let’s come to the webite/s.  You’ve been Wesgro’s chief marketing officer for over a year.  You say that the existing site is too bad to be promoted; too bad to drive traffic to.  In May, you said the destination marketing website was going to be launched in June.  And it’s now September.

I’m sorry.  I can’t take you seriously.  A month away from a launch date and you were full of promise of how good the imminent site would be.  And you haven’t been able to address the “development issues” in the ensuing three months?  Come on!  Trying fooling someone else!

It sounds like poor and maybe even incompetent project management.

I’m guessing, but I don’t think Wesgro has met its Service Level Agreement with Province on the website for the entire duration of your tenure.  If I was the Provincial Treasury, I’d reduce Wesgro’s funding until it proves that it can manage a simple thing like developing a website.

Because, in spite of whatever spin you might try to put on it, websites are still a very important element of the marketing mix.

I would never place all blame at your door — because I think you have tremendous energy and enthusiasm —  and I think your CEO, your board of directors, and the Provincial tourism department have contributed to the malaise.  They are the ones who set direction and the tone of the corporate culture.

Is there anyone left at Wesgro with deep knowledge of and insight into the tourism industry?  My experience in dealings with you is that you believe you have all the resources you need (extra funding excepted).  Suggestions intended to be helpful are rebuffed.  And I am luckier than most because some others don’t even get replies.  (See a comment to the previous post.)

This is what happened at the old CTRU, Wesgro’s destination marketing predecessor, where the organisation even rebuffed its own board’s suggestions and requests.  Does the same happen at Wesgro?

I am yet to discover a Wesgro fan club among industry leaders, and I do encounter more criticism than kudos.  Maybe you need more collaboration where you listen more (and a JMA is not, per se, collaboration).  Because, neither you nor the Provincial tourism department have all the answers.

Kind regards

PS.  When will the marvellous new websites be launched?


But what does the wider industry think?  Please have your say.



4 responses to “Take a straw poll, Wesgro… you might be surprised”

  1. Well said Carl.
    Our local economy deserves better. So many businesses and jobs are on the line in this important driver of the local economy. This is the same old story we have come to expect from so called “authorities” who are tasked with driving and supporting this crucial industry – too much talk about strategies and “what is going to happen”, instead of “‘these are the results we are achieving and these are the gains we have made in this past month”.
    A business sage once told me: “the greatest strategy for future success is to be successful in the immediate present”. Wise words indeed. Jack Welsh turn-around king and ex-CEO of GE said it more bluntly: “When it comes to strategy. ponder less and do more”. Doing more is what we need. Results talk, bullshit walks I’m afraid. If Wesgro cannot perform I suggest they take a hike.

  2. Sometimes I despair at the marketing strategy being used to promote our beautiful part of the world. For a start I worry when I see anything about “five year” strategies or plans In my experience in the corporate sector I found that five years plans and strategies were a waste of time because if one looks back after about four years one will inevitably find that the five year strategy at the time was less than 5% accurate in the current climate . The changing business environment is such that it is impossible to plan beyond a few months. I know of any number of big businesses banks that have stopped producing five year plans as a result of my findings.
    The goal is to increase tourism and investment, the strategy needs to be dynamic enough to be able to adapt quickly in terms of always having the most efficient plans to achieve the maximum return on investment. And yes, marketing tourism is not about big advertising campaigns anymore, but rather using far better and cheaper marketing tools.

  3. I seems to me that things started going haywire when tourism was taken in house at Municipalities……now all our tourism offices in Hessequa have been closed……..saying it is the business sectors responsibility to advertise their own businesses. Seasonality is a killer. Staff complications are a nightmare where we live, and our village could be taken better care of. After 15 yrs I am still struggling to get our branding used and promoted. Some people just do not share the vision and then don’t promote it.

    I live in one of the most beautiful villages in the Western Cape, no crime, good fishing and so many whales (82 calves born last year) Sadly not enough people involved in building tourism here. It is left up to a few of us…..

  4. Yes…I believe the locals do it better.

    Here is a perfect example of how it should be done:
    I was in Montagu on Heritage day and was taking an evening stroll around this beautiful village before dinner at the Mimosa Lodge.
    I was pleasantly surprised to find the doors of the Bath Street Tourism / Info office still open at 6.15pm!
    I was welcomed by a smiling staffer who invited me in, offered me their brochure and suggested I take one of their informative walking tour maps of their village.

    What was surprising was that it was after 6.00pm on a public holiday! (I was told this is usual).

    What was even more surprising was when I entered the office area – there were at least 10 locals gathered around in a meeting to strategise and discuss how to make this weekend’s upcoming Makiti Festival a bigger success than it was last year!

    Clearly they are all believers in the importance of local tourism and are prepared to do whatever it takes in order to make Montagu a destination of choice. (A great example of “ponder less, do more”).
    Well done Montagu Tourism!

    Now I wonder if the Wesgro offices were open at all on Wednesday?

    I urge readers to take a trip out to Montagu this weekend – it will be well worth it

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