A savvy social media campaign is a good start, but Cape Town’s tourism industry has a long road ahead to undo the damage from the worst drought in a century.
That’s the message Cape Town’s tourism bosses are putting out in a bid to revive the South African city’s all-important tourism industry in the wake of a three-year drought that has seen arrivals dip, hotel rates plummet, and forward bookings soften.
Tourism is crucial to the regional economy of the Western Cape province. The city receives more than three million visitors per year, contributing more than $3 billion to the local economy. And in a country burdened with an unemployment rate of 27 percent, the drought posed a serious threat to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the sector.
During the peak of the three-year drought, the city’s tourism bodies worked steadily to convey the message that tourists should still visit, but be mindful of their water usage. However, global media coverage that Cape Town was just weeks away from running out of water — dubbed Day Zero by local press — saw a sustained dip in arrivals and forward bookings.
According to the latest figures, in July, “occupancy levels and revenue are down for the sixth consecutive month,” said Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism.
Now, after winter rains, local tourism authorities have a new challenge: turning the message around, and convincing global travelers that the city’s taps won’t run dry.
For a destination surrounded by ocean it made sense to turn to some of the city’s homegrown surfing stars. A new campaign of short social media friendly videos features some of the world’s top surfing talent: Jordy Smith, Mikey February, and Frank Solomon.
— Maverick Tours (@MaverickToursSA) September 12, 2018
See the spots below.
While the videos do show off some of the region’s natural beauty, one weakness is that the three personalities will be unfamiliar to all except for those who follow the world of global surfing. If Cape Town Tourism needs to produce follow-up spots, then personalities with broader appeal would likely have far greater impact. Trevor Noah, the proudly South African host of The Daily Show, springs to mind.
But perhaps more importantly, “it acknowledges that our region has suffered its worst drought in history, but shows how we’ve got through the crisis and that our extraordinary destination is ‘all still here,’” explained Judy Lain, chief marketing officer for Tourism at Wesgro, the provincial economic development organization.
Learning Recovery Lessons From Others
Cape Town isn’t alone in working to reboot public perception after natural disasters. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has promoted before and after’ images, to show that the island is on the road to recovery, promoting the hashtag #CovertheProgress.
Examining the process of tourism recovery in other destinations also offered some valuable lessons for the city, said Lain: “What we learned from Mexico was that profit margins for businesses, especially small businesses, are so small that anything and everything must be done to expedite recovery.”
Deep discounting to drive demand was not a solution, she said: “Egypt learnt that it takes five years to mathematically recover from a 10 percent cut in prices – once you start discounting your clients change, and so does your competition, which isn’t always good.”
In addition to #ItsAllStillHere global marketing campaign for Cape Town, the ongoing messaging is as important as ever for the city’s tourism industry. While the drought may have broken, the hangover is likely to affect the upcoming peak season.
“Traditionally, our international markets book their holidays in the first two months of the year, which coincided with the height of the drought,” said Lain. “Comparing year-on-year statistics, forward bookings are currently lower than usual.”
Duminy isn’t pessimistic, though.
“Forward bookings have shown a slight decline,” added Duminy, “But we’re cautiously optimistic that there will be a return to the sustained growth that we have enjoyed, especially once our domestic market regains confidence in the region as a destination.”
Photo credit: Cape Town Tourism used surfer Mikey February in its 'ItsAllStillHere' drought recovery marketing campaign. Sacha Specker