Cape Town - 111103 - A visit to Table Mountain as part of the New 7wonders of Nature Campaign. Table Mountain is up against 27 other finalists. Reporter: Xolani Cape Times. Picture: Candice Chaplin.

Cape Town’s tourism sector is now in full tourism season mode with hotels, restaurants, attractions and services reporting a busy time as both domestic and international visitors enter the holiday period.

Says Cape Town Tourism CEO, Enver Duminy; “Cape Town is enjoying a good start to the summer holiday season. There has been slow but steady growth in tourism over the past few summers and this is very encouraging.” Duminy noted that there is now a strong appetite for discounts on last minute bookings and packages: “Online daily group buying and discounting models have created a bargain-hunter mentality but smaller accommodation establishments simply can’t adapt their offering to attract last minute shoppers at whim without upsetting their business model and bottom line. Cape Town must position itself on its excellent value - but we can’t afford to give it away.”

Duminy continued; “In a recent (October 2013) Cape Town Tourism survey of its membership, conducted by Horwath HTL, average actual room occupancy for the month of October 2013 was recorded as 59.9%, up 3.3% on October 2012. The Cape Town Tourism members polled in October, collectively forecast occupancy in December of 2013 at 72.8%. A report reflecting the actual occupancy level experienced in December will become available in mid-January 2014.”

Cape Town Tourism reported a slight increase in visitors to their Visitor information Centres during November and in the first weeks of December, whilst use of Cape Town Tourism’s online and social platforms continue to grow, with Cape Town Tourism’s Facebook fan page I © Cape Town now reaching 300 000 fans.

From an accommodation and restaurant point of view, feedback received from the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA) Cape, the official voice and representative of the hospitality industry in the Western and Northern Cape, Cape Town members indicate that ‘Location! Location! Location!’ is still the primary consideration of tourists when selecting accommodation.

When comparing this festive season to last year’s, only a few FEDHASA Cape members anticipate a decrease in occupancy. The majority of members anticipate a busy festive season with improved occupancies. Generally, members indicated they are fully booked until after Christmas and completely booked for New Year.

Traditionally, Cape Town hosts more international tourists between October and March. However, indications are that there is an incline in domestic tourism this festive season. This is supported by a general consensus among FEDHASA Cape members that their bookings this festive season are dominated by visitors from Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

FEDHASA Cape’s Chair, Michele de Witt, said: “The Minister of Tourism, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, recently noted that three-quarters of all tourists in the country at any given moment are South African. It therefore follows that this trend is translating into room night demand at our Member establishments. People like to stay in Cape Town for an average of 2 to 4 nights, and bookings comprise mostly of couples and families travelling for leisure.”

Ric Hutton, partner in the web-based search and booking portal said that there was a significant increase (400% year on year) in international enquiries in the first two weeks of December 2013. Says Hutton; “Last year, 1 in 14 enquiries was international, whereas this year it is 1 in 3. We are also seeing a much bigger conversion rate of 1 in 3 enquiries becoming a booking – last year our conversion rate for international enquiries was 1 in 10.”

FEDHASA Cape restaurant members have highlighted that they are already receiving bookings and that dining out is viewed as part of the tourism experience. The trend is to order local food and Cape Town’s famous seafood. “It is all about ‘local is lekker’ and experiencing cuisine true to the region,” explains de Witt.

Collette Van Aswegen, Marketing Manager, Table Mountain Aerial Cableway said that; “So far this December, we have done well. Although our operations are weather-dependant and some days we are forced to close due to strong winds and cloud cover, the Cableway is averaging around 3000 – 4000 visitors on a good day. Over the weekend of Madiba’s funeral, which was also overcast and windy, we had very few visitors; however, we expect it to get much busier as season continues.

We’ve introduced morning and afternoon online tickets to help you plan your visit better. Buy a morning ticket and visit us between 08h00 and 13h00 (please note that you don’t have to come down at 13h00 – you can stay for longer if you need more time to soak up the experience). The Cableway is generally quieter in the afternoon, so we encourage you to buy an afternoon ticket, which is valid from 13h00 onwards.”

Carla White, spokesperson for the V&A Waterfront noted; “The festive season is about family time for us. We stage a variety of free activities on our outdoor Amphitheatre stage, and ensure little hands and minds are kept busy with craft workshops and at the petting zoo. Our summer sunset concerts are the perfect early evening escape, and with over 80 eateries, visitors are spoilt for dining options. Given the broad range on offer, as well as the improved retail offering we’ve added this year, we have seen an increase in local and international visitors, and expect to have welcomed more than 24 million people in 2013. We have extended our trading hours over the festive season, with our stores trading until 10pm until the 24 December. Visitor numbers are at a yearly high in December, and we see these visitors numbers grow, particularly in the days leading up to Christmas day, and on 31 December. We expect to see a peak in visitor numbers on 31 December when we will reveal a reimagined New Year’s celebration.”

In terms of retail, David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront said: “Our overall retail strategy has seen a great deal of attention given to refreshing the retail experience, and maximising on the interest expressed by new local and international retailers looking for space in Victoria Wharf.”

He adds that this strategy is in place to ensure retail growth while enhancing the consumer experience. Retail sales performance from July to September was up by 19.5% over the same period last year, and visitor numbers to Victoria Wharf grew by 15.2%.

“’If the retail trade performance of 2013 is a yardstick, all indications are that this extensive development will bear fruit in the form of bumper festive season trade and continued growth into 2014,’’ concluded Green.

Cape Town International Airport spokesperson, Deborah Francis said that the death of Madiba had impacted on the mood of the passengers moving through the airport during the early weeks of December but she noted that the holiday vibe was starting to come back.

“We have big days ahead and we are certain that there will be a significant amount of movement between now and the end of January 2014”, said Francis.

Lance Smith, Executive Sales, AVIS Rent-a-Car said: “The first two weeks of December 2013 have seen very strong demand for car rental versus previous years which is a very good omen for the season. The demand has been across the whole region and not just at our operations at the airport and the City bowl and has been for all car groups ranging from our entry level cars to the high end luxury fleet. This past long weekend has seen demand peak with local holiday makers joining the burgeoning numbers of international visitors in the Western Cape. Smith believes that the weak South African Rand has resulted in South Africa becoming an even more attractive to International visitors; “We have seen very strong forward reservations for this season not only for the Western Cape but also for the rest of the country.”

Judiet Barnes, Marketing Manager, Cape Point said; “We have seen a definite increase in visitors to Cape Point and the Flying Dutchman funicular compared to the same period last year and we are expecting a very busy season with large numbers of visitors arriving from this weekend. We would like to remind visitors to come as early as possible to avoid queues as they can get very long around this time of the year. There has been a huge demand at Two Oceans restaurant with Christmas day being fully booked since August already. We advise you book in advance if you want to secure a table during the festive season. The weather is playing in our favour at the moment though the strong wind doesn’t seem to want to settle down just yet.”

Gordon Logie, Owner of Marine Taxis said they have experienced a busy season so far, with the international tourist season starting even earlier than expected. We anticipate the remainder of season to continue in this regard, if not busier.”

Alison Pekeur, Events Manager, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden shared that they had been; “Fortunate to have seen an increase in people visiting the garden, this was due not only to the very pleasant weather but the fact that the weekend (12 -16 December) featured our enormously popular Carols by Candlelight.”

Grant Newton, Sales and Marketing Manager at Groot Constantia also enthused about a good start to the season; “The first “real” weekend of the season was really kind to us and we saw a major increase in visitor numbers as well as their desire to spend. As a result of how busy we have been, we have had to make a few internal adjustments to ensure that we have sufficient staff to cope with the needs of our visitors. Both Restaurants (Jonkershuis and Simon’s) have been bursting at the seams from open to close. There are definitely a lot more European and Brazilian visitors than in previous years. We have also seen a lot more SA Tourists and I have to say that there seems to be a renewed interest in Groot Constantia from Limpopo and Mpumulanga. An afternoon spent in our tasting rooms and on the estate is a multi-cultural affair, if ever there was one. Listening carefully, you will also realise that Africa is very well represented.

In the spirit of all that Madiba stood for, we took the decision to open on Sunday. We left it up to our staff to decide whether they wanted to work or not and as a result were only able to open one of our tasting facilities. The decision proved to be the correct one, as many tourists have had us on their itinerary for months and were extremely happy that we were open. We had a great day in terms of both numbers and sales.”

Councillor Grant Pascoe, Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events & Marketing, said the City was moving into an exciting time for tourism with the commencement of Cape Town’s tenure as the World Design Capital on 1 January 2014.

“Urban tourism is the fastest growing segment of the global tourism market, and previous World Design Capital title holders have seen increased visitor numbers as a result of the designation. Africa Travel Week, which takes place in Cape Town in April, presents the City with a perfect opportunity to showcase our design-inspired tourism products to international buyers. The title World Design Capital 2014 forms part of the City’s broader vision to transform Cape Town into a sustainable, productive and opportunity African city, bridging historic divides and building social and economic inclusion.”

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk noted this week that; “The fast-growing tourism industry contributed R35.4 billion to the economy in the first six months of 2013 – more than the R32.6bn from gold exports.” He went on to point out that over a four-year period, the sector had achieved 9.4 percent compound annual growth in the first half despite ever-increasing competition, tough conditions in some source markets and a fluctuating rand.

* This is a press release from Cape Town Tourism and FEDHASA Cape (Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa for Western and Northern Cape).