Cape Town seeking to change Day Zero narrative to bring tourists back

Cape Town seeking to change Day Zero narrative to bring tourists back.
Cape Town seeking to change Day Zero narrative to bring tourists back.
Image: 123RF/Andriy Popov

Who would have thought that the future of post-apocalypse Cape Town would look so bright?

In January this year potential tourists from around the world were met with newspaper headlines that their bucket-list destination was going to become the first city in the world to run out of water.

But thanks to businesses‚ the citizenry‚ and government the city was soon using as much as 60% less water from nearly 1.2 billion litres a day to as little as 500-550 million litres a day and the “Day Zero” date moved from April‚ to May‚ to “maybe never”.

The same “Day Zero” message that got everyone saving so much water‚ however‚ also had a massive negative impact on the economy‚ especially tourism which felt a decline of at least 20% in new arrivals.

But tourism stakeholders say that‚ just like the dam levels‚ the glass is now half full‚ with prospects for tourism looking brighter because Cape Town has in a space of months become a world leader in “responsible tourism” and “resilience”.

Rishabh Thapar‚ associate director for HVS Africa‚ a hospitality valuation company‚ said that Cape Town’s experience in overcoming the drought meant it could now be used as a benchmark for hundreds of other cities which are now dealing with water scarcity.

“The hotel industry reacted by closing swimming pools‚ installing boreholes‚ fitting taps with aerators‚ using sea water for air-conditioning‚ and removing bath plugs‚ to name a few‚” he said.

“The industry took to educating its guests on the benefits of conserving water‚ and in some cases‚ rewarded guests for reducing their water consumption. There was very little to zero negative commentary from visiting guests‚” he said.

The impending doom brought by Day Zero also forced different sectors including government‚ agriculture‚ tourism‚ and business to get together and form the “War Room”‚ a brainstorming base which acted as a pressure cooker where business leaders and government put their heads together to plan and communicate a “single message”. This‚ says Wesgro CEO Tim Harris‚ has left Cape Town in a peculiar and advantageous position.

“At the beginning of the year our objective together with our partners was to just get together and respond to the huge number of queries that we were getting from around the world about this concept of Day Zero‚” said Harris.

“What we developed was a very effective model for rapid response to communicate how the destination remained open even though there were these damaging headlines across the world‚” he said.

“The good news is now is we’ve got those relationships‚ we’ve got a working model‚ and now that we’ve no longer got headlines saying Cape Town’s running out of water‚ the challenge is to generate news and media coverage around the world to make sure that Cape Town gets back on the bucket list‚” said Harris.

“If we tried to do this a year ago it would have been quite difficult to build those relationships but now that we’ve been through this crisis‚ we’re confident we can reactivate that group to say let’s get back on that world bucket list‚” he said.

He said that the new dawn for Cape Town’s tourist economy was summed up by two phrases: “A resilient destination”‚ and “responsible tourism”.

“Essentially resilience means anybody visiting and wanting to invest can have real confidence‚ because it means you can manage a crisis‚” said Harris.

“We’ve proved that‚ particularly with the cuts in consumption that citizens made it happen… and making sure that the water lasted until the rain came‚ that is the essence of resilience‚” he said.

“That effort was unprecedented‚ we’ve looked at lots of other cities around the world and no one came close to those cuts in consumption‚” he said.

“More and more tourists are looking to have a smaller impact on the planet as they travel. There’s a narrative around Cape Town that this is a really responsible tourist destination where tourists can come safe in the knowledge that this is the way tourism has to be around the world and Cape Town is leading‚” said Harris.

Western Cape MEC for agriculture‚ economic development‚ and tourism Alan Winde said they were planning a global marketing strategy to get Cape Town’s tourism numbers back to pre-drought levels.

“We grew at over 20% per year for the two years (before the Day Zero announcement). The drought was a set-back but of course it now focuses our minds on targeted marketing‚ cutting any waste out of the system‚” he said.

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