Time to change the face of Cape Town tourism

Historically seen as a destination of choice among foreign tourists, the city must now focus on local tourism to fill the gap created by Covid-19-related travel bans.
The pandemic has imposed harsh limitations on a sector that is of vital importance to the city’s economy. Image: Supplied

The City of Cape Town says it wants to change the perception that tourism in the city is limited to the city’s major attractions and is looking to encourage visitors and locals to explore the city’s hidden gems.

The 20 months of the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a big blow to the country’s tourism sector. Covid-19-induced lockdown restrictions have imposed harsh limitations to trade for many in the hospitality and entertainment industry.

“There was a large perception before the Covid-19 pandemic that tourism was for travellers only, but what the pandemic has taught us is that we need communities and locals to support their local tourism industry,” mayoral committee member for economic growth for the City of Cape Town, Alderman James Vos, tells Moneyweb.

The Mother City, historically seen as a destination of choice for international tourists, has been particularly hard-hit by various Covid-19-related travel bans that have kept international tourists as well as their spending power at bay.

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Revenue losses

The city says tourism bodies have, this festive season alone, seen R237 million worth of December cancellations.

In addition, the city noted that the news of the Omicron Covid-19 variant has seen its tourism industry lose about R225 million a day.

When counting flight and accommodation cancellations, the city says it expects to lose a further R200 million a day going into the new year.

“The newly discovered variant and subsequent reinstatement of South Africa on the UK red list as well as multiple travel bans from other countries will and has already taken a toll on our tourism economy,” Vos said.

Read: Europe closes to SA on fears of new virus strain

“We were heading into what should have been our peak tourism season and this recent announcement is gut-wrenching as we hoped we could move our efforts from tourism recovery to tourism readiness,” he added.

A change in strategy

In light of the international travel bans keeping the city’s usual tourism market out for the second peak December holiday season in a row, the city has partnered with Cape Town Tourism to launch the Pocket-friendly Campaign that’s aimed at getting locals to explore parts of the city on a budget.

“With this campaign we aim to inspire South Africans and locals to get out and about in Cape Town, no matter how much or how little you have to spend,” Vos said.

“Pocket-friendly guides highlight the value-for-money experiences that people may not be aware of, encouraging locals to visit and in doing so, boost the local tourism industry,” he pointed out.

The city says that through its campaigns it hopes to convince people to explore their communities and other neighbouring areas.

“We are desperately needing to restart our tourism engines as there are many lives affected directly and indirectly by tourism,” Vos said.

“The visitor economy is everybody’s business, no matter if it’s local or international, and we therefore encourage others to not only invest in their own communities, but also to be tourists in their own cities,” he added.

When asked if there is an appetite among locals to travel to the city, Vos cited the outcomes of Cape Town Tourism’s recent travel survey which found that 67% of 1 728 respondents intended to travel domestically this December, with 19% of them planning to travel to the Western Cape.

However, there seems to be no clear indication of whether this travel will create any substantial value for the province as it should be considered that for many South African’s this time of year calls for seasonal migration to visit family and friends in various parts of the country.

Changing the face of ‘ekasi’ tourism

Boosting Cape Town’s aims to prop up local tourism, the official opening of Khayelitsha’s first luxury hotel has raised the bar of what one has come to expect of what is called ‘ekasi’ tourism.

The Spade Boutique Hotel and Spa – which is located in Khayelitsha’s Mandela Park – promises to be the city’s first four-star hotel in the township.

The property – owned by former flight attendant Annette Skaap, whose husband Bulelani Skaap owns the ‘KwaAce’ entertainment brand – aims to change the face of township tourism and give it an affordable luxury facelift.

Public relations and marketing manager Shorn Khumalo told Moneyweb the hotel aims to show people the other side of Cape Town.

“Most of the [time] in Cape Town what they sell you is the destination – they sell you Camps Bay … That’s why we then said we want people to experience the other side of Cape Town and more beyond the city,” Khumalo said.

“The location itself is going to change how people view Khayelitsha.

“If we can offer them [tourists] world-class service in Khayelitsha and we give them a hotel in Khayelitsha, they experience something they’ve never experienced before.”

Khumalo said the pandemic has not only allowed there to be a focus on local tourism, but has also called for locals to reflect on their understanding of what tourism in the city has historically looked like and how it should change moving forward to ensure growth and more integration.

“We speak about diversity and all that but diversity isn’t me coming out of Khayelitsha and going to town for you to get to know black people,” he said,

“Maybe it’s time for you to leave your comfort zone and come learn something different and how people live on the other side of Cape Town,” Khumalo said.

But how long will it last?

The push for local tourism in efforts to preserve the city’s tourism sector and its businesses provides a much-needed lifeline for business, but considering South Africa’s holiday season and locals’ travelling patterns, this lifeline won’t be around forever.

Wesgro CEO Wrenelle Stander told Moneyweb this lifeline could run out by end of January 2022 and the province will have to look to international tourists once again.

“Domestic leisure tourism is largely seasonal, centred around school holidays and long weekends,” she said.

“While the province is very well supported by domestic tourism for the major part of December and into January, once the summer holidays are over we traditionally look to our international and regional markets to provide revenue for the tourism industry,” Stander noted.

She remains confident though that the contributions already made by local travellers this festive season will contribute significantly to the Western Cape’s tourism sector recovery.

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Good luck to The Spade Hotel!

Unfortunately the reasons why Cape Town is struggling are manifold: no safe public transport, crime is rampant unless you stay in your bubble of the Atlantic and False Bay Seaboards. It’s expensive – an airbnb in central Lisbon in high season is half the price of Cape Town Atlantic Seaboard with a safe secure walkable CBD. Restaurants in Cape Town are wonderful but overpriced and the local Uber service has got a lousy name.

We can only fall back on what nature supplied for so long.

End of comments.

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