A glimmer of hope: that’s the general consensus amongst players in Mossel Bay’s tourism industry.
“There seems to be more of a buzz around,” said Mossel Bay Tourism board member, Fred Orban, who owns and operates Sandpiper Cottages and the Oystercatcher Trail, and who coordinates the Point of Human Origin Tours at the Pinnacle Point Caves.
He said that the discoveries at Pinnacle Point – which have revealed the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour – have brought unprecedented levels of international attention to Mossel Bay and the Garden Route.
“This is the kind of marketing windfall that very few destinations are lucky enough to receive, and we in Mossel Bay must continue to capitalise on our amazing good fortune.”
Hotelier and restaurateur Albert Wiffin (the Point Village Hotel, Oceans Hotel, the Kingfisher Restaurant, Delfino’s Restaurant, and others) agreed.
“There is definitely more optimism, and I think this has to do with the proposed developments by PetroSA. It looks like there is something in the offing, and we’re seeing more business from the petro-chemicals industry.
“Our forward bookings are better, and our mid-winter occupancy at the Point Village Hotel is well up in the double figures over last year.”
Mr. Wiffen believes that one solution to the challenges of seasonality would be to appeal to niche markets by running numerous events and small, specialist festivals throughout the year.
“Imagine a festival a week. Even if each of them brought only fifty or a hundred people into town, that’d be thousands more than we’re seeing now,” he said.
The Point Hotel’s Chantal Edwards-Klose said that her company is playing in a different space than it had in the past.
“We realised a few years ago that we had to look for new markets, and we’ve been selling to the Indian market for about eighteen months now. This has proven to be an effective strategy for us, and it’s served to radically improve our winter season – and for many of our partners, we believe, since Indian travellers enjoy organised activities, and to visit the attractions here in Mossel Bay, and in Oudtshoorn, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.”
Ms. Edwards-Klose said that the hotel’s traditional markets are showing signs of improvement, too.
“I’ve been surprised to see that our European business is starting earlier this year – the tour groups usually only came during narrow windows in October and November, and February to April, but now they’re booking earlier, and some of them are even booking during December.
“We’ve seen the same thing amongst the independent travellers, too.”
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The uptick isn’t confined to international visitors: general manager of the Diaz Beach Hotel and Resort, Jacques van Vuuren, said that his hotel has been dealing almost exclusively with domestic guests in recent times.
“Some months remain quiet, but we’re definitely seeing better occupancies this year.”
Local attractions and activities are also enjoying better business.
“All round, it’s been a good one, and we can thank the people at The Point Hotel for that – because many of their Indian guests come to us for scuba diving, tandem scuba diving, and snorkelling,” said Electrodive’s Ken Walmsley.
“It shows that if someone puts the effort into marketing, it pays off for all of us.”
Skydive Mossel Bay’s Henk van Wyk said that his company has had a good winter, too. “But it’s 99% because of the Indian market – our traditional markets have been flat.”
Still, he said, he can’t rely on that market alone: “In my opinion, the recession is coming to an end, so now we need to be ready for the time when the Europeans begin travelling again. We need to stir up the markets by reminding them of South Africa as a quality, affordable destination – especially now that the rand has weakened.”
Chairman of Mossel Bay Tourism, René Bongers, who is also one of the owners of Eight Bells Mountain Inn, said that his hotel has also had a good winter season.
“We’ve been busier than we were in previous years, and we were almost full for three weeks in June and July – although rates continue to be under pressure.
“This year we decided to keep our prices the same rather than put them up during the holiday periods, and this attracted additional guests.”
He said that the current rand-dollar exchange rate is having a double-edged effect on the tourism industry.
“On the one hand it makes South Africa cheaper as a destination for foreign visitors, but on the other it forces the petrol price up, so South Africans aren’t travelling long distances as much any more.
“But even though the winter season hasn’t been great for everyone in Mossel Bay, forward bookings are looking good, and I get the feeling that there’s more optimism than before.”
Mossel Bay Tourism: www.visitmosselbay.co.za – www.facebook.com/visitmosselbay – www.twitter.com/GetMe2MosselBay •