FLASHBACK: 2002 continued… the year SA turned green

Last week we looked at the busy first half of 2002. This week, we look at the second half of 2002, which was marked by the hosting of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. This saw South Africa, and particularly Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, prepare to host 65 000 visitors. The country wondered whether the industry was ready to host numbers of this size, but it proved to be a successful event that set local tourism and hospitality businesses, as well as the public, on the road to thinking “green”, focusing on responsible tourism across the board, and looking for ways to ensure there is still a sustainable tourism industry – as well as a planet – decades and centuries from then.

The cost of hosting the Summit was examined in detail, and as with all international events, it seemed to cost the country and taxpayers much more than was initially alluded to, even though it was considered a successful PR event. The tally of “unforeseeable and unavoidable costs” as politicians liked to refer to them as were estimated to be R513-million, nearly double the original budgeted figure. This seems to be a trend with major developments, such as the 2010 Fifa World Cup and related Gautrain development.

However, on the plus side, “green” became the new buzz-word. The inaugural Imvelo Responsible Tourism Award was won by Phinda Private Game Reserve. The programme was developed by Fedhasa and was the brainchild of CEO Brett Dungan. The World Summit was a springboard to encourage the local hospitality industry to accept voluntary guidelines that promote responsible tourism across their operations, including environment, staff, local communities and use of resources. The programme has grown year-on-year and today includes the top hotel groups as well as an increased number of sponsors from government and big business.

Women heading up tourism businesses was in the news, with the June 2002 cover showcasing News Cafe Melville franchisees Belina Forbes and Kathy Sadie. They said of making a success of a seven-days-a-week, 18-hour day business: “Help yourself. Don’t rely on anyone. Only you can do it.” Their motto was hard work and focus. They did put their female touch on the decor, howeer, with pictures of the late Princess Diana, a silent reminder of the mpact strong women have on the world.

Then GM of the Sandton Towers InterContinental in Johannesburg, Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, who remains a success hotelier and businesswomen today, discussed the sensitivity required when managing a team of staff of all ages and from all cultural backgrounds. She says: “As a female manager, there is a tendency to come across as tough in a male-dominated industry, but one also needs to be oneself, feminine and compassionate. It takes time to build up confidence in your ability to handle situations in your own way. However, the most important element of being a good manager is to be fair in all one’s dealings with staff.” She is one of the many trailblazers that showed women in hospitality and tourism that their careers could go all the way to the boardroom.

Cheryl Carolus headed up South African Tourism and Dr Tanya Abrahamse was executive director of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa. All strong women and role models for the industry.

Every few years, new politicians and all sorts of people decide the time has come to discuss – yet again – the issue of two-tier pricing. What this means is that South African citizens pay a lower price, and international visitors pay a higher price, for the exact same experience, meal or hotel room. Hotel & Restaurant published a delightfully tongue-in-cheek article on “How to spot a foreign tourist”. It played up all the stereotypes of the cultural quirks of foreigners, in a bid to prove that this is essentially an untenable business scenario. “Hotel & Restaurant believes that this is a bad idea and that even if the tourism industry did buy into the system it would be impossible to implement because many foreign tourists look just like domestic tourists, would claim to be permanent residents or use a local resident as a frontman.”

The industry remained upbeat about the future of tourism. Editor Andrew Moth said in his Viewpoint in July 2002, “Indaba 2002. What a great event!!! Anyone who exhibited or attended must be filled with optimism about the future of tourism in Southern Africa. The competition for international tourists is tough, but South Africa is a destination with just about everything for everybody. All that is needed is effective marketing, an increase in the number of flights to the country and some sensible top-level attention to the country’s social problems.” These wise words are equally applicable today, for those wondering when, if ever, business will turnaround.

Valley Lodge in Magaliesberg celebrated  its 30th anniversary and had already incorporated the “mind-body-spirit” theme that runs through the property today as its unique selling point. Then GM Rob Turner proved that he walked the talk when he said: “I believe in participative management – dictatorial doesn’t work.”

Then MD of Three Cities Group and based at the Cape Milner Hotel in Cape Town, Alan Vels (now MD of Signature Hotels group), reported that the group was looking at a number of new management contracts and strengthening its international marketing. The year marked unprecedented growth and change for Three Cities, as the group reorganised itself into a hotel owning, marketing and management company with four types of property under its umbrella: City Hotels, Game Lodges, Resorts, and Luxury Boutique Hotels.

Dr Salifou Siddo headed up the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa and reported that more than 700 accommodation establishments had volunteered to join the grading scheme launched in 2001. He said: “We are really delighted with the response from the industry and with the way grading has taken off. I have never seen a quality assurance programme grow so quickly and tourism as an industry should be congratulated for embracing the scheme. Stars are a good selling point and the overseas market is specifically interested in graded properties.”

Chef Bruce Burns was proving himself in the industry, showing that hard work, creativity and passion remain a winning formula. Then he was chef patron of the relaunched Lutyens restaurant at the Quartermain Hotel in Morningside, Johannesburg, as well as sister property’s Falstaff Inn’s Sir John’s restaurant. His vision was: “I want to focus my efforts on a few really outstanding dishes rather than a large variety of merely above-average dishes.” It is this attention to detail and skill in training staff that has led him to be appointed manager of Culinary Team South Africa today, a group of chefs that will compete in the IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany for gold medals against the best in the world.

SA Breweries celebrated 2002 by becoming the world’s second-largest brewer in May, following its purchase of US company Miller Brewing. The new company that emerged was SABMiller.

The “windy city”, Port Elizabeth, was named the cleanest city in South Africa, beating major cities Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Editor Andrew Moth congratulated the city in his Viewpoint column, and said: “The reality is that in spite of all the publicity given to anti-litter campaigns, the average South African seems happy to wallow in rubbish and filth. This is not the fault of manufacturers of supermarket packaging as some people say, even though they really ought to know better. South Africans are simply stupid, lazy and poorly educated when it comes to litter. … Those who run South Africa’s cities should take a look at what Port Elizabeth has achieved. And how they have done it.”

The issue of refuse management remains a priority, particularly as the discussions have evolved to include recycling, use of less packaging by manufacturers, increased use of biodegradeable packaging, minimising food waste, responsible disposal of hazardous waste, and an overall effort on all fronts to reduce the amount of refuse that lands up in landfills.

The industry bid a very sad farewell to Bruno Corte, much loved and respected leading hotelier and head of Legacy International at that time, following his senseless murder in a botched supermarket robbery in Johannesburg in August. Senior management at the Legacy group, many of whom have been personally affected by crime in the country and the murder of family members, decided to turn what could have been a bitter spiral of hatred into something positive, with the launch of a programme that still runs today to raise money and awareness across the country in the ongoing fight against crime. They have since been joined by other families who lost loved ones in high profile murders, and together they are determined to pass on a message to children of how important it is to do the right thing, understand that crime affects their future, and also simply to understand what constitutes criminal behaviour in their communities and how to avoid becoming involved.

Outspoken MD of Protea Hotels, Arthur Gillis, came out in support of the Proudly South African initiative. He said: “Gone are the days when Kenya was perceived as the embodiment of Africa. South Africa has finally taken over this position, and we will continue to work energetically to keep it this way.”

The industry was well aware that the gathering and interpretation of statistics was erratic and inconsistent. Sometimes daytrippers were counted as “tourists”. South African Tourism was proud to report in one of its quarterly reports that Angolan tourists were the biggest spenders. However, this was just one example of the type of information used to put a new spin on useless statistics and old facs in a way that suggests that they, and the tourism industry, are not singing from the same songsheet, reported editor Andrew Moth. In recent years, South African Tourism has worked hard to improve the quality of tourism statistics with the launch of its SA Tourism Update. To date, it has launched two Update reports which hopefully have numbers that are meaningful to help tourism and hospitality businesses assess where the opportunities lie and better focus their marketing and development activities.

These are just some of the major developments and comments from those in the hospitality industry that marked 2002 as a good year for industry and another jam-packed publishing one for Hotel & Restaurant magazine. Editor Andrew Moth ended off the year with this statement: “Another year has flown by. Food price inflation has created big problems for the foodservice industry and many other things are not as we would like them to be, but at least low – and middle-income earners can look forward to cuts in income tax next year. Thanks to the Cricket World Cup and changing perceptions of South Africa, the current tourist season looks like being the best ever. Foreign and domestic tourism are likely to continue to grow. Durban has a new casino and Cape Town will soon have a new convention centre and large luxury hotel. Even now 2003 looks like being a good year.”

www.hotelandrestaurant.co.za

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