Update (September 10, 10h15): On September 10, the City announced that the water usage target will be increased from 50 litres to 70 litres per person per day and the daily collective consumption target will increase by 50 million litres to 500 million litres to ensure that water conservation efforts remain in place. This change will come into effect on October 1.
South Africa’s Western Cape has made headlines around the world for the last year with messages of drought, water restrictions and the impending ‘Day-Zero’. However, buoyed by good rains over the winter season and excellent water saving from citizens and visitors alike, the city has now reported dam levels have reached above 65% full – up by 30% at the same time last year.
It is widely accepted that the water crisis has largely been averted. So what does this mean for tourism?
According to the trade, the resounding message is one of: “Cape Town is open for business,” and in fact, according to David Frost, Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) CEO: “Cape Town has always been fully functioning, throughout the crisis.”
From the outset, the trade agrees that the message portrayed to the world needs to change, as the water levels have changed. Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism says: “The irony is that when we were in a drought period, it was front-page news. Now that we have pulled ourselves out of that period, the message is no longer front-page news.” He adds that SA Tourism campaigned on the water issue last year, and that it will embark on a similar campaign now “to complete the loop”. “To say to the market, ‘the last time we were here talking to you, we had a crisis but we are now here to tell you that all is well, come back to Cape Town’.”
Cape Town Tourism CEO, Enver Duminy says: “The message of ‘day-zero’ contributed to a negative response from traditional visitors, many of whom opted to visit alternative destinations.” However, Judy Lain, Chief Marketing Manager at Wesgro says: “The drought has not affected what the destination has to offer in terms of a depth and breadth of experiences.”
Practically, the trade wishes to emphasise that there are still water restrictions in place. Duminy says: “The same restrictions remain in place, however businesses have been able to adapt in terms of how they use water, so many have shifted from using tap water to using ground water or rainwater stored in tanks (for non-potable purposes.) You’ll still find signage up in hotels about how to limit water usage, and likewise at our attractions, but on the whole we have found visitors very accepting when it comes to playing a part in saving water, since it’s viewed as the responsible thing to do.”
Darron Moore, aha Hotels & Lodges Operations Director for the Western Cape, says that, for example: “You will still visit the shopping malls and find hand sanitizer instead of water available for your hands.” Nicky Coenen, General Manager at The Last Word says: “At the moment the one thing that everyone is most conscious of is having a bath – even if a hotel has its own water supply, it is not seen as politically correct to languish in a long bath. But this one concession should not affect or impact a visitor’s stay in Cape Town as there is so much more to the city and its people than having a bath.”
Other practical things to keep in mind, says Duminy, are that some spas have limited their offerings and some swimming pools are not full. He further suggests: “We ask that visitors are mindful that if, for example, a taxi is looking a little dusty, it’s because the company is not washing its fleet.”
Lain says: “Small changes in behaviour such as not leaving the tap running when brushing your teeth can make a big difference.”
However, Duminy adds that the City government has been in talks with the Department of Water and Sanitation to ease the restrictions. In a statement released by the City of Cape Town on September 3, it said: “It is hoped that this latest rain could provide sufficient motivation for finally easing the water restrictions. This decision is currently being considered by the National Department of Water and Sanitation. Any relaxation of restrictions will at first be conservative. We cannot return to a business-as-usual attitude to water without risking water security in the years to come.”
Additionally, industry players are congratulating the city and the trade for the way in which they have handled and averted the crisis. Ntshona says: “We need to showcase Cape Town as a world-leader in how to overcome climate change issues. Although the dams have recovered, we cannot go back to the old ways of water consumption, but rather find a new norm.” According to Cape Town Tourism, the industry has been galvanised into action by the crisis, with Duminy explaining: “At its worst point, there was industry-wide collaboration to ensure that we overcame the challenge.”
“The way in which the city has responded over the last year has been world-class. We must always remember that it is a naturally water-scarce area, and that it is incumbent on us to take that into account in the way we use water,” adds Frost. Coenen agrees: “Water is a precious resource throughout the world, not just in Cape Town and the way in which we think about water consumption needs to change globally.” Moore says the message to tourists should reflect a sentiment of: “Live like a local.” Executive Deputy Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Ian Nielson says: “Although much work is planned over the next few years to augment the City’s water supply and continue to create awareness about water conservation, we must remember that we live in a region with a semi-arid climate.” The City continues to look into alternative water options, having constructed several desalination and reverse osmosis plants around the region.
The future is looking up for tourism in Cape Town, with Ntshona confirming that forward bookings are growing. Duminy says: “It’s true that we have seen a decline in tourism, but we believe that just as with other crises (the visa debacle and the negative impact of the West African Ebola outbreak), visitors will once again prioritise the region in their travel itineraries because there are so many bucket-list activities to be found here.” However, he adds that creating a plan for sustainable tourism is the organisation’s main focus. Frost says there have been good strides made by the likes of SA Tourism and the City of Cape Town to drive traffic back to the region.
In July, Cape Town Tourism asked visitors at the end of their trips what they thought of the city. Watch their responses below. With rains in Cape Town continuing to fall, it seems the outlook for the region is positive and the region can once again be packaged as a must-see destination.