by on 23.07.2013
An interview with The Next 48 Hours
Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold chats to The Next 48 Hours about personal memories, passion, leadership, youth and trends in tourism.
Q1: You became Cape Town Tourism CEO at the tender age of 28. Can you recall what you felt when you started, considering how young you were for a position of that responsibility?
I learnt a great deal through the establishment of my own business at 22 years of age, a business I started with not much more than passion and determination.
Leadership is determined by character, not age or gender. Women, in particular, often have to work twice as hard as our male colleagues to be taken seriously, whilst balancing our roles as leaders, women, wives and mothers, with care and sensitivity.
In a world where gender, age and race still influence success, I have discovered the power of embracing and celebrating my gender (and more recently, motherhood). But, it has been, and remains, a tough journey.
It’s a bit like being a city at the tip of an African continent with the odds stacked against it – long-haul, the legacy of apartheid and oppression still weighing heavily on her shoulders, a lack of infrastructure and a reputation as a slightly dangerous place to visit (whether true or not …) The fact that she is beautiful, unique, bold, free-spirited, complex, imaginative, incredibly creative, innovative, warm, friendly, sophisticated and unlike no other on Earth, has often been overlooked.
With only 6.6% of CEO positions in South Africa occupied by women, I am passionate about inspiring and empowering more women to be leaders. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman must be a CEO before she can lead and inspire.
I was overwhelmed by a sense of great responsibility, but also great excitement about the incredible opportunity I was given to help shape a new tourism destiny for Cape Town. Instinct, passion, transparency and surrounding myself with capable, equally passionate people has worked well for me. Importantly, I continue to learn every day and make sure to keep my feet firmly planted on Mother Earth.
Q2: What are some of your happiest memories of the past nine years?
Bringing together a very fragmented industry under one unified tourism organisation in 2004, will always be a highlight. The energy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup also stands out as a huge highlight for me. There was such optimism in Cape Town, and we were such fantastic hosts.
Q3: Nine years is a long time as the head of any organisation, but especially so in tourism, I would imagine. What are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry, especially with regards to how tourism is marketed?
Tourism has really changed over the past few years. We have witnessed both tremendous growth and change in the tourism sector during its post-apartheid boom years, and tougher times in the recent recession period. The advent of the Internet and access to new information technologies has generated a significant change in international tourist patterns that, coupled with the recent economic crisis, has resulted in the restatement of tourism models.
Travel, however, remains a priority for many – a desperately needed respite from the challenging world we live in.
Many hope for a “recovery”, but I maintain that tourism will never “recover”. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Why recover to a state that is no longer relevant?
Within the constantly changing and complex world we live in, many opportunities remain and I am optimistic that the sector will continue to grow if developed responsibly.
Travel from developing countries is on the increase and spending power now lies more and more with travellers from emerging markets. Chinese visitors, in particular, are big spenders in the luxury goods market.
Everywhere you look, travellers are changing – they are looking for urban getaways that offer authentic travel experiences where they can interact and connect with local cultures. The urban experience and a slice of life has become a key feature of travel.
One of the biggest changes with regard to marketing travel, is the expansion of the online and mobile arena. On the whole, these tools have made it so much quicker and easier to share our beautiful Cape Town with the rest of the world. Today’s traveller will do a lot of research online, and is most likely to value user-generated advice and the honest opinions of friends and followers online.
There is an increased need for personalisation and consumer-mindedness, with travellers demanding centre place in the planning and buying of their next trip.
Destinations and companies that provide flexibility, personalised information at the touch of a button and people-centred authentic experiences, are the ones that will stand out from the crowd in the next two years.
Q4: Under your stewardship Cape Town Tourism has won international awards, as well as been part of some of the City’s biggest challenges and triumphs, like the 2010 World Cup and the recent placement of Table Mountain as one of the New7Wonders of the World. What are some of your management secrets?
I work best within a team of people who are really clever and specialists in their respective areas of expertise. My role is to be a source of energy; keeping the team on-strategy and focused – with one eye on the global horizon and the other on the detail of our immediate environment. I value the advice and input of my Board and the industry enormously, and I rely on a strong and honest network of leaders and challengers within my environment to help me assess and evaluate my performance. Transparency, really hearing constructive feedback and adaptability are critical for success.
Q5: What can you tell us about your successor, Enver Duminy?
I have worked with Enver for four years as my Tourism Executive. He has been a strong force within Cape Town Tourism and he is certainly ready to rise to the challenge. A Capetonian, born and bred, Enver has worked incredibly hard to be where he is and I have the utmost respect for his tenacity and vision. In this last year, we have experienced an increasingly collaborative and open relationship with the industry and I feel confident that Enver will add enormous warmth and integrity to this partnership. I am handing over the reins to a great new leader for Cape Town Tourism, and look forward to watching Enver in action.
Q6: What can we expect from you next?
It is bittersweet to leave Cape Town Tourism.
It’s so much a part of me after all of this time, but the time is right to create something new that will address the gap in destination and tourism marketing and allow me the opportunity to make an impact beyond Cape Town.
In August, I will be starting my own agency, Destinate – an internationally-focused, specialised destination and tourism marketing agency. I will be partnering with tourism organisations, destinations and private-sector brands to navigate the complex and competitive world of destination marketing and management. We will not be consultants who parachute in, write fancy strategies and leave without being involved in the execution or accountable for results achieved. We will co-create strategy and provide marketing implementation support and mentorship, to ensure delivery and measurable return on investment.
Destinate will work with like-minded individuals and service providers within the tourism, marketing, creative and digital sectors in a fluid, bespoke network.
Clients can opt for a comprehensive tailor-made package with dedicated support, or choose a selection of neat plug-ins as required to fit within budget.
I am very excited about applying my ideas and experience beyond Cape Town, but the Mother City remains my home and my first love!