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Monday Jun 13, 2011

'Cape Town's brand needs a breath of fresh air'

Cape Town faces a big post-World Cup challenge in building its tourism sector, writes Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold

We were a country whole-heartedly and publicly committed to tourism during 2010, and the first six months of 2011 have called us to heed, more than ever, a pressing need to position tourism as an essential component of our economic survival.

The international tourism industry has struggled hard to battle declines in turnover, as the effects of the global recession linger.

The global financial crisis and the subsequent consumer behavioural change have had a significantly adverse effect on the tourism industry across the world: demand has diminished, visitor spends have steadied and costs have increased.

The tail end of the financial crisis has hit South Africa and the tourism industry hard, perhaps initially diverted in the run-up to the World Cup.

Globally, nationally and provincially, tourism is a major contributor to GDP. Given that at its core rests a disproportionately-sized small and medium enterprise sector, its employment level is significant; its capacity to create sustainable work opportunities, in the short term, is real and its capacity to influence people's attitudes and perceptions is significant.

In Cape Town alone some 298 000 people are directly employed in the industry. Their livelihoods are dependent upon an increasing demand by tourists for the city.

In addition, the visitor economy is worth an estimated R14 billion a year in Cape Town; a significant proportion spent in non-tourism businesses, which incrementally benefit from the sector.

The sobering reality is that at the economy's current slow recovery rate of about 3-4 percent, Cape Town will only reach 2007 tourism visitor and revenue levels again by 2014 - representing a cumulative loss of R1.5bn to the sector over seven years.

Many other sectors are facing similar challenges, but in a region dependent upon tourism for such a large part of its economy and job market, we cannot remain passive and rely on the city to market itself.

Nor can we continue to be perceived purely as a place of natural beauty.

Our urban identity, innovative outlook, entrepreneurial spirit, academic excellence and pioneering medical and science sectors must be added to our market and brand offering in order for us to compete in the domestic and global market for visitors, investment and attention.

With the World Cup having come and gone, we find ourselves in a brand vacuum.

Given the issues raised, and the unique marketing challenges we face, this is a precarious situation to be in.

We cannot depend upon the next big event to give direction to what Cape Town's brand position should be.

Although we are considered one of the new cities of the future to watch for and continue to rake in travel accolades, it is no guarantee for success or economic growth, as many cities such as Sydney have found to their detriment.

International leisure tourism arrivals to Sydney plummeted for five years after hosting the Olympic Games in 2000 after the city decided to limit investment in leisure tourism marketing and city brand differentiation.

They assumed, wrongly, that after the significant investment in the Games, the raised awareness of the city would induce visitors to arrive automatically.

We are unquestionably at a tipclearly distinguished from competitors, resonates with consumer needs, and gains the support of all stakeholders requires persistence, vision, collaboration, and strategic leadership.

We believe that we require an allinclusive strategy that runs much deeper than an attractive logo, advertising theme, or a tagline.

Quite simply, we believe that a successful city brand is constructed around the consumer and their total destination experience - before, during and after their visit.

We are committed to driving and implementing an inspirational brand for Cape Town, rooted in evidence and the complete story of this exceptional and complex city - an inclusive process that incorporates citizens, tourism, business, academia, events, and the knowledge and innovation economies of Cape Town.

Unless a brand is embraced, supported, and given "life" by all stakeholders and partners, it will sink into insignificance and become nothing more than a logo or tagline on a piece of paper.

Delivering a brand strategy requires a public/private sector/media partnership and to this end we have engaged and identified substantial partners interested and willing to invest in delivering a comprehensive brand and a new marketing strategy for Cape Town that goes beyond the tried and tested.

These partnerships are "waiting in the wings" for public sector endorsement of Cape Town Tourism's new 2011/2012 marketing strategy and for the brand execution plan.

In developing the strategy, Cape Town Tourism has undertaken rigorous analysis, investigated world best practice and identified organisations that have the willingness and resources to support its execution.

By following the Australian state of Victoria's highly successful model, building tourist demand for Cape Town will generate demand for surrounding areas and the province generally.

The consolidated Cape Town brand, underpinned by inspiration, is being developed by Cape Town Tourism in partnership with Accelerate Cape Town, the City of Cape Town and other sectors.

By supplementing marketing communications with visitorfocused initiatives, Cape Town will elevate its relevance and generate incremental visitors and spend; thus negating the projected losses, stimulating our stagnant industry and creating jobs.

If we do not act decisively now our industry and the economic wellbeing of our city and people are at great risk.

If we don't proactively engage in a new marketing and branding strategy we run the risk of being positioned nonetheless by our competitors, our critics and the media; and most likely to our disadvantage.

This means business unusual where a focus of our resources and energy will be on the market segments and platforms that will deliver the best results for Cape Town.

Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold is the chief executive of Cape Town Tourism

Cape Argus




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