The proposed Bitou Municipality Tourism Bylaw may result in the termination of Plett Tourism’s current role in the Western Cape, as the bylaw aims to see the principle of the destination marketing function being under municipal control.

Plett Tourism, an independently run voluntary association that has served as the local tourist organisation for the past five years, is currently opposing the proposed bylaw.

According to Peter Wallington, Chairman of Plett Tourism, the association originally signed a three-year service level agreement with the Bitou Municipality, followed by two one-year agreements.

Wallington says the bylaw was initially proposed as there is a need to find a funding solution for tourism bodies. However, he says everything else stipulated in the bylaw was completely unexpected.

Plett Tourism was advised that a bylaw was to be tabled, however Wallington says there was no consultation as to the contents, prior to it being published.  “Plett Tourism is engaged with political, business and tourism stakeholders to try and find a solution,” he comments.

According to Patty Butterworth, Media Relations for Plett Tourism, no reason has been given [for its exclusion from the consultation process], nor has any consideration been given to what has been achieved by Plett Tourism over the past five years, and to the ongoing work in progress.

One of the points of concern is whether the current available funding is sufficient to cover the costs of the Plett Arts Festival, which runs from June 25 to July 9, as Plett Tourism’s funding and operations cease at the end of June. If no additional funding is secured by this time, Plett Tourism staff will have to work without pay to see the festival to its end.

Plett Tourism currently has 10 board members, eight of whom were voted in by tourism members and two appointed by the Municipality. The bylaw, if approved, will see the municipality appoint a new board and chair. Furthermore, the bylaw states that the municipality is not bound by advice from the board or board members and is at liberty to allocate funds as it deems fit.

 “It would be a brand error of significant proportions if the current programme was not seen to its next phase,” comments Wallington. “Plett Tourism will, one way or the other, keep alive what has been developed.”

The bylaw is not clear on the author’s intent with regard to Plett Tourism insofar as a relationship with the municipality is concerned. If the bylaw is approved in its current form, Plett Tourism has stated that it will continue to exist, albeit in a different form. Section 6 (5) of the proposed bylaw states that Plett Tourism Association will be deemed to be a tourist organisation. 

 “We do want to find a solution,” says Butterworth.

Tourism Update attempted to contact the municipality in question with no success, as emails went unanswered as did phone calls.

Plett Tourism will formally comment on the bylaw as it currently stands and propose an alternative solution that builds on the success of its work of the past five years, rather than discarding it, as the bylaw seeks to do.

The main points of contention include:

  • Municipality will control tourism through appointing a board and chair.
  • The board will then determine priority of spend after ‘consultation with tourism establishments’.
  • Municipality is not bound by advice from board or board members and is at liberty to allocate funds as it deems fit.
  • Compulsory fees/charges/tariffs to fund projects determined by municipality.
  • It is silent on Plett Tourism’s role (if any) and who will do the work of destination marketing and who will run the Tourism Information Office.
  • Compels establishments to register with a ‘tourist organisation’ which must then:
  1. Discipline establishments.
  2. Collect and hand over data – including ownership information.
  3. Collect and hand over levies to the municipality.
  4. Report establishments not registered.
  5. Provides for ‘search and seizure’ of premises and materials if non-compliance is suspected, and for fines and imprisonment if convictions follow.

Plett Tourism proposes the following as an alternative:

  • Plett Tourism’s role as the independent tourism organisation in Bitou is reconfirmed and legitimised.
  • The permanence of this role is recognised so the strategy and execution of the plans can take place in a certain and continuous manner.
  • A fixed funding mechanism is put in place to provide certainty and continuity, so that Plett Tourism can plan and conduct its work in a professional manner.
  • The principle underlying the structure of the board is maintained – to consist of democratically elected representatives from tourism, community and business, with two municipal officials being appointed by the Municipality.
  • Clear lines of communication between the Municipality, Council and Plett Tourism are established so that (a) Council and Municipal input into Plett Tourism is clear and within the scope of the agreement and (b) there are clear reporting mechanisms back to Council and the Municipality. This is crucial if a process of collaboration is to be fostered.