Picture: UPSPLASH/PABLO HEIMPLATZ
Picture: UPSPLASH/PABLO HEIMPLATZ

Tourism, the economic powerhouse of SA, has been hit. In the Western Cape in particular, a R40bn industry has been hamstrung by water shortages. There are 300,000 jobs in the balance, and a recovery plan is needed to ensure that retrenchments are avoided and that the sector can resume the growth it had been enjoying until recently.

One mechanism for this recovery is through large events. While other urban tourism destinations — including Durban and Johannesburg — are also experiencing water shortages, the Cape’s situation provides an example of how events-related tourism can counteract shortfalls in the broader economy and generate industry sustainability.

The Cape Town Cycle Tour is the world’s biggest individually timed cycling race with 35,000 participants, 4,000 of whom are international visitors. That race alone brings more than R500m into the city’s coffers.

Combined with the three other cycling events in the Western Cape — the Absa Cape Epic, Cape Rouleur and, most recently, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup — the total contribution to the economy of these events is more than R1bn.

The direct economic impact of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon and its participants and spectators is about R101.3m and indirect benefits can amount to R122.5m — for a total annual impact of about R224m.

 Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Melbourne. Picture: PETER HEEGER/GALLO IMAGES
Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Melbourne. Picture: PETER HEEGER/GALLO IMAGES

The Cape Town leg of the Volvo Ocean race contributes about R500m and 35,000 bed nights to the city’s economy, but the economic value of each leg is closer to R960m.

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival — with 37,000 visitors — brings in R700m.

Sevens Rugby generated about R700m in 2017 and created 1,400 jobs.

The point of all these figures isn’t simply to impress; these are just the foundation on which an events tourism economy is established. World-class events are a remarkable marketing tool. What better way than to show the world that despite negative media reports, Cape Town does have sufficient water to cope with large numbers of visitors.

The larger events taking place since the drought have required that the organisers bring in water supplies from outside the Cape to reduce the water footprint, but the city is open for business and this is being seen on global television.

Thousands of international visitors are still coming, experiencing the reality and sharing with their home communities what a Cape Town adventure is like. Word-of-mouth marketing is like gold right now.

While the tourism sector is doing its bit in terms of saving water and encouraging visitors to do likewise, the brunt of the burden has been on public and private sector institutions to ensure that water is accessible on a grand scale.

Events help in providing opportunities for an influx of visitors from month to month. Cape Town has some world-class events, but there are many more opportunities to capitalise on them

With three large aquifers as well as desalination plants coming on board, there is much less of a chance that a point will be reached when taps are turned off. As the dams are replenished with the winter rainfall, there is likely to be a return to a more balanced position in the long term.

Tourism must be encouraged now so visitors who make long-term bookings are imbued with confidence that they will enjoy a stay with minimal disruption.

Year-round tourism is a necessary goal. To place all of the economic hopes of the tourism sector into one two-month stretch of a busy holiday season is a risk that undermines any chance of sustainability.

Events help in providing opportunities for an influx of visitors from month to month. Cape Town has some world-class events, but there are many more opportunities to capitalise on them.

Cape Town has been awarded the title Best City for Restaurants and Bars, and culinary tourism shouldn’t be undermined: eating and enjoying dining experiences is central to the success of a stay.

Smaller food events such as markets buoy up whole neighbourhoods and small businesses, and these can be created with relative ease to become weekly events that attract domestic tourism.

Wine tourism is a massive contributor to the economy, drawing wine enthusiasts from as far afield as China. Across the country, we should be examining what can be done to market what is available and to attract new audiences who will refute the narrative that water shortages translate to reduced opportunities to experience a destination.

With a creative, innovative approach that incorporates the principles of sustainable tourism, the sector can thrive as it deserves to in a magnificent country such as SA.

• Bryer is group director for sales, marketing and revenue management at Protea Hotels by Marriott.

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