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Monday Sep 19, 2011

Cape Town villa owner accused of blog bashing

Cape Town Tourism has threatened to suspend the 20-year-long membership of the Whale Cottage guest house in Camps Bay after accusing it of defamation and "a barrage of repeated cyber-criticism".

The owner of the bed-andbreakfast beach villa, Chris von Ulmenstein, has meanwhile withdrawn comments on her website made by a reader in response to her blog, Whale Cottage Blog.

The comments, from a person who says she is Mavis Wilken, made derogatory personal remarks about Cape Town Tourism chief executive Mariƫtte du Toit-Helmbold. The comments also accused the executive management at the tourism body of unprofessional behaviour.

Yesterday the spat deepened as the two main players, Du Toit-Helmbold and Von Ulmenstein, got into some verbal sparring.

Du Toit-Helmbold told Weekend Argus the tourism body's board would decide on Thursday whether or not to terminate Whale Cottage's membership, and whether it would sue Von Ulmenstein, a former Cape Town Tourism deputy chairwoman five years ago, for defamation.

Von Ulmenstein countered that her membership of the tourism body expired at the end of last month and that she didn't intend renewing it for at least another year.

In response, Du ToitHelmbold said the tourism body had not received her formal resignation letter.

Von Ulmenstein also owns three other Whale Cottages - in Hermanus, Plettenberg Bay and Franschhoek.

Although the main complaint against Von Ulmenstein involved comments Wilken made in response to her blog, Cape Town Tourism is also accusing Von Ulmenstein of herself writing disparaging comments on her website.

Among these are that Du Toit-Helmbold had "a poor marketing understanding".

In a legal letter written to Von Ulmenstein, under the heading "Proposed termination of membership of Whale Cottage", Cape Town Tourism chairman Ian Bartes accused her of "CTT-bashing" and "an immense volume of intense and frequent cyberattacks against CTT".

He said members of the body were bound by a code of conduct compelling them to treat it and its representatives with "respect and dignity".

"Your unfounded public criticism of CTT and its leadership and management encapsulates a blatant lack of respect," Bartes wrote.

CTT and Ms Du ToitHelmbold have a right to claim damages against you for your wrongful and intentional conduct... In this respect, CTT and Ms Du Toit-Helmbold have referred the issue to their attorneys," he added.

Von Ulmenstein said yesterday she had removed Wilken's offending comments in their entirety "under legal threat by CTT".

In addition, as from tomorrow, she would never again allow anyone to comment on a blogpost involving Cape Town Tourism.

She added that a marketing expert had offered to mediate in the dispute between her and the tourism body, and "I would be very keen on that".

"It's a nightmare. What irks me the most is I've been a CTT member for 20 years, and I run a high quality establishment. The only time they should consider terminating membership is if an establishment doesn't meet quality standards.

"I have told them I'll be saving them time, money and putting them first. They don't have to waste their time inspecting my blog, or their money, by taking legal action against me. And I put them first by not allowing comments about them," Von Ulmenstein said.

She said not being a member meant she would not get bookings at the Camps Bay Whale Cottage through the tourism body. She would also not be invited to the body's functions, at which speakers addressed issues relevant to the tourism industry.

"I would like to apply to become a member again in the future," Von Ulmenstein said.

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)


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