Leveraging Seasonal Tourism

In the Cape, we’re extremely adept at doing summer. As a person who is a vehement foe of excessive heat, I don’t quite get it. I understand most enjoy the constant sun and heat of lengthy days; however, we are typecasting the Cape to our seasonal detriment. The Secret Season movement has had a limited impact.

This lopsided view of what quantifies as an asset to the Cape, is evident in Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Edelweiss and Air France withdrawing and many other air carriers offering a reduced service during the austral winter.  Is May to October in the Cape really that bad? Whose view have we listened to on what is good weather and what is not? If it’s our fellow South Africans, then we’re getting the wrong advice from a biased source. The rest of South Africa knows the milder days of bone-dry winters; of course they’d lament ours.

Northern European summers often resemble our good winter days and some countries are crying out for 16°C highs between May and September. BRICS-nations, like India and China, are stiflingly humid and hot during these months and obviously, the Gulf States are like blast furnaces. The Indians and Chinese would relish our off-season. Although our friends from the UAE, Oman and Qatar may not indulge in the wine, they’ll revel in the associated amenities and other tourism activities.

The Cape is one of the few places on the African continent that truly has seasons, and seasons are a valuable asset. Just ask the town of Bright in Victoria, Australia. Its tourism marketing is focused on the town’s plethora of northern hemisphere trees that change vivid shades in the austral autumn, exceedingly rare to see in our hemisphere.

Locally, the West Coast and Namaqualand does this well during the springtime. Granted, some areas of this region can appear pretty barren during the rest of the year; daisies popping up on any open piece of land are a welcome scenic respite and an obvious draw-card.

The Cape Winelands and the Western Cape as a whole, should be making a more concerted and consolidated effort to debunk the myth that seasons = bad. Not that the provincial tourism authorities haven’t tried, but the entire tourism/conferencing industry, and even local governments, need to help in debunking this myth, to build a more calendar-ubiquitous tourism economy.

Seasons offer diversity and choice. Durban may offer ‘South Africa’s warmest welcome.’ However, where we can offer a warm welcome, a mild welcome or a refreshing welcome, Durban only has a warmest and outright sweaty welcome on offer. Seasons are an asset, we should use it.

No insult intended – just not a personal fan of humidity with heat… Some like it hot ;-)

Urban and some rural landscaping in parts of the Western Cape have failed to cement this. There has been a huge push nationally to use indigenous trees only. This has often resulted in towns planting Fever Trees and other odd choices as street trees. Guess what landscape designers? A tree knows no geo-political boundaries. A tree, although classified as South African indigenous, if from the Lowveld (or elsewhere in SA), is still as exotic to the Cape as an Oak or Liquidambar. If it’s not from the Cape Floristic Kingdom, to nature, it’s foreign. Plus, the aesthetic treatment given to our Winelands towns is the Phalaborwa-look; neither unique, nor apt. A town good at preserving Wineland’s heritage, is Stellenbosch, ardently preserving the Eikestad (oak city) moniker and using urban landscape as a tourism draw.

Other towns can and must do the same, especially those struggling to get on the tourist map. Let’s leverage every asset we have; the blossoming orchards in spring, the warm, balmy grape harvest of summer, the vivid tones of changing leaves of autumn and the verdant fields and snow-capped peaks of winter. Lastly, we need to sell it!

The passage of seasons near Du Toitskloof Cellar - from the same spot at 9:00am in May, July, October & January

The passage of seasons near Du Toitskloof Cellar – from the same spot at 9:00am in May, July, October & January

By: Andres de Wet

Can Newer Wine Regions Make Waves?

Breedekloof Wine Route, surrounding the village of Rawsonville, can learn a tremendous amount from newer wine regions. Although the art of growing vines and making wine is an old, intrinsic art in the valley, the wine route as a marketing entity, is relatively new. Thus, the area faces numerous challenges in making a name for itself.

Hermanus-vs-Rawsonville

I picked up the new Essential Guide to South African Wines: Terroir & Travel (authors: Elmari Swart, Izak Smit); I was excited by its fresh look, reminding me of the graphics-rich DK Travel Guides. I was left disappointed, albeit not all that surprised, when I realised the Breede River Valley appeared glaringly absent, despite it being the largest, by-volume, contributor to Cape Winelands’ production.  There it finally was, Breedekloof and Worcester, given a concise, text-based description, alongside Plettenberg Bay and Orange River towards the end of the book.

Where I picked up this book was more significant though. I was in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one of South Africa’s southernmost regions, just to the north of picturesque, whale-famous, Hermanus. It too, is a newer wine route, with Walker Bay only afforded full wine region status in May 2004. It has its shortcomings and strengths, as does our region, the Breedekloof. What we lack, they have and conversely: They have a tourist hub town, we do not; they have no major tarred through route, we do. This will soon change, as the R320 is being sealed from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley to the N2 in Caledon.

Their uniqueness as a region is glaringly obvious. Somehow the cellars are doing something out-of-the-ordinary here, that sets this region apart, even from juggernauts like Stellenbosch and Frasnchhoek. It’s quirky, fresh, accommodating and amenity-rich, without being commercial cheese. Could this be why this dead-end road with no sealed outlet (yet), appears to be thriving? Is it the power of Hermanus over the Camphill Ridge? Or is it that one cellar struts her stuff in Parisian burlesque garb, whilst another does so in traditional Cape-Dutch attire? One cellar oozes über-contemporary chic and the other, gothic revivalist grace? Is it that some are glaringly nouveau-riche and others, historic-conservationist and traditional? The diversity in a distance of barely 10km, was so much to take in: I was happy, in awe, but exhausted.

One may say we have an uphill battle, as the village of Rawsonville could never compete with the town, that is Hermanus. This is probably true for the foreseeable future; they just have the tourism critical mass already. They have the sea and the whales and we don’t. However, we do have greater wine volumes, offer better value-for-money, taller mountains and easier access to all parts of the Cape and the rest of South Africa for that matter. All our roads are already tarred, so why the lack of attention?

Could it lie in our ability to be quirky, to redefine ourselves and create that in our cellars: setting us apart, making ourselves unique? I’m still debating how this can be enacted, but one thing is for sure, Hemel-en-Aarde is one unique little area with some weird and wonderful cellars. If our wine route’s value-for-money, wine quality and statuesque beauty is anything to go by, our region could do the same. We just need to find that thing that defines us. We need to do that, which the regional juggernauts cannot do, and do it well. If a “dead-end valley” can do it, so can we.