Cape Town Water Crisis: a call for the tourism sector to stand united

by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold on 24.01.2018

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Cape Town is ranked under the world’s top tourism cities. It took years to build brand Cape Town as committed and passionate citizens, business and the tourism sector. We faced many challenges and set backs along our path, but Capetonians and the tourism sector have always been resilient, determined to go above and beyond. We cannot afford to see the hard work wiped out due to the current water crisis, poor planning and a lack of practical proactive communication and brand management.

The real victims of this crisis will be the many men and women employed in the tourism sector who are at risk of losing their jobs if we do not act to protect our brand and mitigate the negative impact of the drought.

The #DayZero message has perhaps not yet made an impact on water consumption, but it is definitely reaching our tourism markets and they are responding with alarm. Tourism businesses are facing tough questions and even cancellations. Staff members are concerned about their jobs and businesses are worried about the impact #DayZero will have on their operations and future bookings.

Stop feeding the crocodile

In the meantime, we are feeding the crocodile online with #DayZero panic. The likelihood of any potential visitor to Cape Town and in fact South Africa not reading about #DayZero, the imminent chaos and potential outbreak of disease is small.

Avoid #DayZero at all costs

I am not saying that this is not a crisis and yes #DayZero could become a reality, but we need to avoid #DayZero at all costs and be well prepared.

As the tourism sector we can join the choir of negativity and panic or we can start to manage our brand and limit the negative impact of the water crisis now. It is time for leadership and calm heads.

Put contingency plans in place and talk to your visitors

Concerned visitors need to know what business contingency plans are in place and what their alternatives are. Collectively we need to step up to protect brand Cape Town and our vulnerable tourism industry, which sustains a large part of the Western Cape’s economy.

The worst thing we can do is to go quiet. Now is the time to equip ourselves with the tools and information to keep brand Cape Town alive and to ensure that we come through this crisis, not entirely unscathed, but able to recover quickly with the long term impact limited as far as possible.

Visitors can stay in close proximity to Cape Town and still enjoy what the region has to offer.

Inform guests about alternatives

Now is the time for the industry to mobilise and to work together on a communication campaign that says we are united in our efforts to overcome this challenge and show visitors that we are open for business. Whilst #DayZero might be a reality soon, there are alternatives and we are well-equipped and able to deal with this crisis.

There are businesses who have sound contingency plans in place and there are areas within the Western Cape that are not as badly affected as Cape Town, so guests must be informed and given the option to stay near Cape Town and still enjoy what the Western Cape and Cape Town have to offer.

We need to work together as an industry to prevent not only loss of business for our individual brands, but do everything possible to retain business for the Western Cape, encouraging visitors who want to cancel to reconsider and present them with alternatives.

The message must be clear. We are open for business. Be mindful of the drought, but come visit.

The Cape Overberg is not currently as badly affected by the drought as the city. 

Equip yourself to deal with the crisis

Destinate has developed a water crisis business support programme designed to assist tourism businesses with brand and communication management during this time. For more information contact Mariette du Toit-Helmbold at mariette@destinate.co.za or call 021 – 882 8935.

So, what are the facts on hand?

Wesgro, the agency responsible for tourism, trade and investment in Cape Town and the Western Cape, has put together a fact sheet with frequently asked questions.

If tourists visit Cape Town / The Western Cape will there be water?

  • There is adequate water for tourists’ essential daily needs such as washing, using the toilet, and other daily hygeine.

  • In the event of ‘Day Zero’, water will be severly rationed but sufficient for daily needs. At present water restrictions are in place in the City of Cape Town, and residents and tourists are requested to adhere to them.

What does ‘Day Zero’ mean?

  • ‘Day Zero’ is when the City of Cape Town would cut the regular flow of water.

  • ‘Day Zero’ is a projected date (in approximately three months time at current projections) that is entirely dependent on current rates of water consumption: if all stakeholders adhere to the required water savings target, ‘Day Zero’ can be avoided.

  • Tourists would still be able to enjoy the diverse and world-class experiences Cape Town and the Western Cape has to offer.

If “Day Zero” arrives, how long will the ordinary flow of water be cut?

  • Cape Town is located in a winter rainfall area. Historically the winter rains have started in April, but they can start as late as June. We should be prepared to live with very little water for around three months, with the hope that by the end of winter, enough rain has fallen to switch the water system back on, but it all depends on when rain falls in the water source areas that feed the dams.

How widespread is the drought in South Africa?

  • The drought and resultant water restrictions are mostly isolated to parts of the Western Cape province – particularly the City of Cape Town and surrounding areas.

  • Nearby regions like parts of the Winelands, the Cape Overberg and the Garden Route are less impacted by water restrictions. It’s important to remember that South Africa in general is a water-scarce country.

Will tourists have access to drinking water?

  • Yes.

Will tourists be able to bath, shower or use a swimming pool?

  • At present, tourists will be able to shower and maintain daily hygiene. Mandated guidelines suggest a shower of no longer than 2 minutes. The use of baths is entirely discouraged. Some swimming pools at hotels have been converted to salt (ocean) water.

  • The majority of tourism establishments have put in place measures to ensure their water usage is reduced, and many have developed plans for alternative supplies.

Will restaurants and bars still be in operation?

  • In the event of ‘Day Zero’ - yes. Many parts of the hospitality industry have proactively implemented water savings and water augmentation solutions to ensure ongoing availability of water in their establishments.

  • Restaurants and bars are not currently negatively influenced but must still comply with water restrictions.

Which tourism activities could be impacted?

  • Tourists will still be able to access and enjoy primary tourism attractions such as our iconic Table Mountain, Cape Point and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

  • Specific river-based experiences may be impacted.

Will emergency services still function in the event of ‘Day Zero’?

  • Yes. All critical emergency services (hospitals, clinics, police services) will continue to function.

Will major events still be staged?

  • Yes. All major events have proactively put in place plans to ensure that events have a zero or heavily reduced water footprint e.g. bringing in water from outside of Cape Town / the Western Cape.

Tourism businesses and restaurants are working hard to put business contingency plans in place.

Where can I find more information?

  • All tourism media and trade related queries can be directed to water@wesgro.co.za and Wesgro will respond.

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