Just 21 years ago, Cape Point started its current journey to being a popular attraction, and the doors opened to the Cape Grace Hotel. Mission Impossible, the movie, was released, and the Macarena got everyone on the dance floor.
In SA, the country was enjoying a brand-new government and the adoption of the new constitution.
It has been a long journey from then until now, although, in many respects, it has been a period of remarkable development and growth, particularly in the tourism industry.
Table Mountain introduced the new cableway cars in 1997, Robben Island Museum swung open its doors 20 years ago, and the V&A Waterfront hasn’t stopped adding to its tourism offerings since opening, and this year will see the grand opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Zeitz MOCAA, an indication that tourism growth is an entirely possible mission.
Judiet Barnes, marketing manager at Thebe Tourism Group, which owns the Cape Point concession, has this to say of their journey: “The most obvious answer is the growth in visitors to Cape Town.
“In the last 10 years we’ve seen drastic spikes in increased visitors, and 2016 tipped those scales, with new benchmarks being set for the foreseeable future.
“We have also received accolades on a global scale, which certainly helped this growth pattern. Recognition such as that by the New York Times, who named Cape Town as a top holiday destination, reminds travellers around the world that there is a place on the south-western corner of Africa that should be explored.
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“Our marketing efforts have also been more targeted, with a balance between traditional and emerging market. We recently launched #CapePointMoments, which has highlighted Cape Point’s overwhelming natural beauty and its long history.”
She hits the nail on the head with this next comment: “We are looking at introducing some exciting new elements to the Cape Point experience that will allow the stories of the location to come to life.
“If we continue to build on our visitor experience in small and big ways, our numbers will carry on growing.”
Change is inevitable, and that’s what we’re enjoying; not the change that comes with the erosion of time, but the exciting growth of tourism businesses as they innovate and reinvent.
Twenty-one years ago, our cellphones were fondly referred to as “bricks”, and we’d barely begun to explore the marvels of surfing the World Wide Web. Visitors would go to travel agencies (as many still do), libraries or their friends to find out more about places to visit.
Now we have the equivalent of a giant computer in our hands, a tool for visitors to investigate destinations, to book flights and accommodation and to share their experiences on social media at the swipe of a finger.
Businesses can harness this technology to facilitate providing information and to create a better customer experience all round. Years ago we would have had to trudge to many different places, send snail mail and arrive at the destination relatively uninformed. Now we can skip so many steps without leaving home, including shopping for holiday-appropriate clothing.
Cape Town’s ability to harness the power of technology has seen it develop an award-winning Smart City strategy that uses technology to improve on our quality of life and to make Cape Town a more efficient place to be. In the 2016 SAP Quality Awards, Cape Town was recognised at Gold level in two categories. The skills development through this is invaluable for locals, and helps to contribute to tourism.
Without multi-stakeholder initiatives such as SAP, we’d have been far slower to achieve what has been achieved.
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Cape Town is sometimes mocked as being a chilled city, implying locals are too laid-back to be productive, but the truth is there’s a flurry of work going on behind the scenes, but it’s happening so seamlessly it’s almost imperceptible.
Over the past 20 years, the Robben Island Museum (RIM) guides have gradually improved the interpretation of the island to educate, inform and inspire tourists about its history.
According to RIM representatives, the values of the museum, displayed as a place where the triumph of human spirit is set against adversity, are transferred as experiences to tourists mostly by RIM guides, so the human element is essential when considering how to keep attractions alive.
Storytelling in tourism must continue to develop.
We can’t afford to lose track of the narratives of heritage in favour of only embracing the contemporary.
We note that the success of tours across the city lies in the skills of the tour guides, raconteurs from Khayelitsha to Constantia, they spin their thrilling tales and keep visitors on tenterhooks. The sights and experiences are made even more valuable by them.
The Cape Grace Hotel excels at showcasing heritage, in particular with the Cape Grace Collection, one of the most important, public antique furniture collections owned by a hotel in the country. Over 300 pieces of furniture are curated on site at the hotel, all dating back to between 1700 and 1900. This is a special way of celebrating the Cape’s heritage, right on site at the hotel. As the Cape Grace Hotel also celebrated 21 years of existence this year, it is right that we acknowledge the role individual establishments have in defining the character of tourism in the city.
We’re still a young destination, so the possibilities are dynamic – look back at how far we have come in 21 years, and ask yourself: what will we be like in 21 years’ time? I’m willing to bet that you’ll underestimate the remarkable changes, growth and developments we’ll see.
This article was first published by IOL on 27 March 2017.