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Cape Town tourism fights against tough economic times

The tourism sector globally is battling in the face of tough economic times and rapidly changing travel behavior. Cape Town is no exception.

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The tourism sector globally is battling in the face of tough economic times and rapidly changing travel behavior. Cape Town is no exception. As a long-haul destination over-dependent upon markets hit hardest by the global economic recession and with Cape Town still plagued by seasonality, the city’s tourism sector could face a further decline unless decisive action is taken.

Cape Town Tourism cautions against alarmist statements about a tourism crisis. “We are in the middle of winter, traditionally a very tough time for the tourism sector in Cape Town. This is reflected in the low occupancy levels currently experienced by the majority of the industry. The increased supply, decreased demand, and lingering recession add to the challenges the tourism sector faces,” said Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariëtte du-Toit Helmbold, “There are signs of recovery, albeit at a slow rate of 3-4%, which will mean that recovery could take significantly longer than initially anticipated unless we change tactics.

“Much of the commentary around the dip in tourism has been hinged around the notion that the FIFA World Cup™ had no immediate positive economic effect on the tourism sector. It has been proven internationally that an event in itself is not enough to affect a destination’s future economic growth; it is merely a catalyst for growth. We have learned from other long-haul destinations like Sydney (who hosted the Olympics in 2000 and saw a dramatic drop in tourism revenue for five years thereafter) that we cannot be over-reliant on major events to bring about immediate tourism and economic development.

“Cape Town Tourism has always cautioned that the World Cup was not a short-term solution for any of Cape Town’s problems. It was never offered as the golden solution to tourism influx, although, at the time we had hoped for more visitors to the actual event. The World Cup was a facilitator for long-term economic development, a powerful awareness and marketing platform, and it provided an infrastructural legacy that is shaping and changing our city for the future.”

Du Toit-Helmbold cited the improvements to road infrastructure, new pedestrian and cycle routes, upgrades of the Cape Town International Airport and central railway station, as well as the start of a new rapid bus service as developments that have significantly increased the efficiency and liveability of Cape Town.

Significant investments were made to technology and Internet access in the run up to the FIFA World Cup™. The city must now build upon the solid foundation laid and keep up with global trends, with a focus on mobile and smart phone travel applications for Cape Town.

Exposure garnered during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ through international broadcasts is probably one of the biggest benefits to the city. Positive coverage of Cape Town and South Africa has enhanced its image and heightened the country’s awareness, particularly as a travel destination. In addition, the international media were a negative element in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup™ but have since changed their stance. Cape Town Tourism representatives abroad have reported a reversal of the media’s afro-pessimism.

However, from a Cape Town perspective, there was a missed opportunity – the city did not have a consolidated over-arching brand, incorporating business, investment, and tourism that could be leveraged in the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup™. Cape Town Tourism supported and adopted the Host City brand of “Ready to Welcome the World.”

The new Cape Town brand is currently in the closing stages of creation. The World Cup provided great input and material for the development of the brand, specifically in positioning Cape Town as an inspiring urban destination that will have appeal to more diverse audiences.

Concluded Du Toit-Helmbold: “We cannot ignore the real danger the tourism sector faces by reverting to tried, tested, and outdated marketing methods and continuously operating in silos as tourism, business, investment, and government. Neither should we stop investing in our traditional markets, which we depend on for the lion’s share of our visitors and revenue, to focus all our attention on growing domestic and business tourism. Tourism remains one of the biggest business sectors and employers for our region. It needs continued investment and a more balanced approach that will see tourism working together with business, investment, and other sectors under the powerful and consolidated brand positioning of inspiration and within a single minded economic strategy for our region. The World Cup taught us much about communicating better with visitors, alternative source markets, and about focusing on the customer when developing our brand and marketing messages. Cape Town has a long way to go before the majority of our citizens can call it a great place to live, but the World Cup was a good launch pad for the future. We are a better, brighter, more world-friendly city than before, and we have to credit the World Cup with this legacy. Let us build upon this platform created.”

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