From talk of the Garden Route to outright embarrassment: the Plett Tourism story
Acting chairman of Plett Tourism Association BRUCE RICHARDSON bemoans the state of affairs in this coastal town after municipal meddling over a matter of years this week culminated in the resignation of the body’s executive chairman.
IT was with considerable regret and concern that, in my capacity as acting chairman of Plett Tourism, I was asked to meet Peter Wallington earlier this week to receive notice of his resignation as executive chairman of Plett Tourism.
Wallington was the first CEO of Plett Tourism (PT), appointed shortly after the completion of the substantial formalities required to form PT and enter into a memorandum of agreement with Bitou to take over the tourism function from the municipality.
He took office with a grossly inadequate budget to adequately address the massive void that existed at the time after a lengthy period of “in-house” tourism administered by Bitou Municipality.
During this period, a great deal of ratepayers’ money had been expended to achieve declining tourism arrivals without even leaving any useable collateral for the incoming team to take over.
From the time Wallington and his team took over this function in terms of an initial three-year contract with the municipality, the tourism sector was re-energised by a fresh branding and marketing campaign under the ‘Plett – it’s a Feeling’ banner.
From the outset, a new vibrant energy infused the town and not only were there numerous anecdotal reports from tourism operators of exponential year on year growth in arrivals, but the visible swelling of tourist numbers was distinctly apparent to residents of the town.
This exponential growth curve in tourist arrivals was to continue for the remainder of the initial period of the contract with Bitou, notwithstanding ongoing underfunding and periodic difficulty in getting the municipality to actually transfer funds across to Plett Tourism.
This situation placed a great deal of strain on Wallington and his team, who continued to mount a highly-successful campaign notwithstanding the impediments.
A massively-effective initiative by any measure, their efforts brought great benefit to the tourism industry and the economy of Plett in general, creating many employment opportunities in its wake. The re-awakening of Plettenberg Bay became the talk of the Garden Route.
In the real world, such success would have been a guarantee of the re-signing of a lengthy extension to the initial contract period and more generous funding, but this was not to be.
Instead, a three-year period of uncertainty commenced with parallel alternative agendas entering the tourism space, none of which appear to be in the interests of enhancing the economy of the town through the ongoing development of tourism.
This resulted in a series of short-term funding arrangements which were insufficient to permit the type of medium to long-term planning so necessary to generate ongoing and sustainable tourism growth.
The order of the day became the undermining and taking over of Plett Tourism initiatives and its increasing isolation, leading to inevitable confusion in the industry and considerable loss of momentum in the previously-strong growth curve.
An example of such confusion was the undertaking by the relevant municipal official that funding was to hand for the annual Wine and Bubbly Festival, after which undertaking Plett Tourism commenced advertising the event – only to suffer the embarrassment of being advised at an advanced stage that the funding had been directed elsewhere.
This type of confusion is inexcusable in the context of the tourism industry.
The stress of this ongoing situation has severely impacted on the lives and health of all members of the PT team, who have worked incredibly hard under very difficult circumstances without even the assurance of an ongoing income.
The latest and terminal development has been the apparent slashing of the PT budget to half of previously-inadequate levels.
That is why Peter Wallington is leaving Plett Tourism at the end of this month and why Plett Tourism is struggling to maintain momentum. The situation is no longer tenable.
In tendering his resignation, he was at great pains to thank the PT team for their extraordinary contribution to the building of the Plett brand over the last six years under the most difficult of circumstances.
He urged ongoing support for the team by the PT Board and the municipality. Wallington also extended his gratitude to board colleagues who have supported him during his tenure.
During its administration of the local industry, Plett Tourism has reached out to many stakeholder groups across all communities to build support for an inclusive future and a shared commitment to the Plett brand.
But it will be impossible to continue growing tourism and building an inclusive tourism economy if PT and the municipality do not share a common vision on how this can be achieved.
At stake is the importance of tourism to the town’s economy, the need and strategy to bring tourism opportunities to the wider community, and the need for the municipality to engage the private sector in a partnership of mutual respect and recognition of the roles each party should be playing to bring development to the industry and prosperity to the town.
Central to this is recognising the fact that tourism is a private-sector business and the desirability of this function being conducted by PT as an independent, professional organisation charged with executing the town’s tourism and brand strategy programme and destination marketing.
These are the key principles around which agreement has not been reached during the unduly protracted tourism-bylaw process, mooted in the first instance as a mechanism by which to provide ongoing funding to Plett Tourism.
There are not many with Peter Wallington’s combination of skills, experience, energy and determination who are willing to place their careers on hold and commit their time and energy to a tourism board.
Consequently, the loss is not only to Plett Tourism but all local communities in light of the negatively affect to growth in our tourism industry and thus economy for a lengthy period of time.
One can only speculate on what could have been achieved had Bitou Municipality fully supported the PT initiative, but one thing is certain: the strong growth curve achieved by Plett Tourism would have continued unabated.
We take this opportunity to thank Peter Wallington for all his exceptionally hard work and extraordinary commitment and outcomes and wish him well as he returns to his former occupation as a leading figure in the branding and marketing sector.
CXPRESS has forwarded the following questions to Bitou Municipality, but no response has been received by going to print:
- Why would Bitou Municipality intentionally undermine the appointed tourism agency (Plett Tourism Association), when it has a proven record of success that works well for the town’s tourism industry?
- To what end would Bitou – and, specifically, individuals from within the LED Department – capture existing tourism projects and cancel or destroy others?
- Regarding these ‘captured tourism projects’, what was the outcome/track record of the department who took these over?
- Why does Bitou Municipality take such a condescending attitude to the town’s primary revenue earner and job creator?