The Cape Town MICE industry is booming, as is its leisure tourism. With more and more people flocking to the city, availability of accommodation - especially in the peak season, is one of the key challenges impacting heavily on business travel. Liesl Venter spoke to industry experts about what corporates can do to ensure they find enough accommodation in Cape Town during the high season.
Finding accommodation in Cape Town from October to March is much like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. And if you are lucky enough to find space, it is likely going to cost an arm and a leg.
“It is near impossible to find accommodation for large groups during this period unless it has been booked long in advance,” says Tes Proos, a Cape Town-based PCO and destination specialist. “We are currently trying to find 200 rooms for a conference taking place in March next year and there is no availability. The conference is simply going to either have to move to a different date or another city.”
Proos says small pockets of accommodation can still be found if one looks long enough, but catering for large groups becomes near impossible as the business and leisure sector compete for rooms.
“February and March in Cape Town are mostly corporate as the leisure market has slowed down by then, but still accommodation is a challenge,” she says. “One of the challenges that we face as organisers is that often, one is caught between finding the accommodation but then the conference space is not available; or if you are able to secure the latter then finding accommodation is impossible.”
All of this impacts significantly on rate. High rates during the peak season have become synonymous in Cape Town.
Some PCO’s say that in the Cape Town’s popular nodes such as the city centre, Waterfront and Camps Bay, it is not strange to be quoted as much as R10 000 per night for a hotel room during the peak season.
Says Proos: “One must not forget that it is priced on the demand and when there is no availability, as is the case at present, then the rates sky rocket.”
Book in advance
Plan ahead and make reservations long in advance of the peak season in order to avoid disappointment, says Danny Bryer, director of sales, marketing and revenue management of Protea Hotels by Marriott.
“It is helpful for anyone booking hotel rooms to be flexible. It may help if the enquirer can shift the travel dates by a day or two, for instance, or arrive during the week rather than over a weekend, and vice versa, depending on the time of travel,” he says.
Kim Weber, business optimization manager, at Century City Hotel and Conference Centre says one cannot emphasize planning enough. “We recommend corporates plan ahead where possible, but in unforeseen circumstances it becomes important to look at the variety of options outside of the Cape Town CBD.”
According to Proos, it is also advisable to try and travel out of season.
“Schedule meetings and events, as far as possible, outside of the peak season. This does mean visiting the city during the winter, but it is not an unpleasant experience as it is often quite mild,” she says. “You need to accept that you will not find anything last minute for any large group in Cape Town during the peak season. Even finding single rooms can be challenging.”
Planning well in advance and booking well in advance becomes imperative, Proos adds.
Relationships with corporate clients are very important, says Bryer, as it goes a long way in building a track record with a hotel. “Firstly, this means the hotel will go out of its way to try and assist the corporate because it wants to maintain the relationship and secondly, because there will be a pattern of how much the corporate has spent with the hotel in the past, which helps in these situations.”
Bryer says these are negotiating tools for both securing accommodation and for getting it at a price that may be better than the price offered to someone else.
“Should the corporate’s preferred option be to use a travel agent, we suggest the corporate ask the agent to provide alternatives on room types, time of travel and options of hotels in the area,” he says.
Whilst the hotel might not always be able to service the booking request, a relationship also goes a long way for referrals to other venues.
Weber agrees, saying relationships are a key component when it comes to accommodation especially - in a market such as Cape Town. “In our case, even guest profiling is a non-negotiable, ensuring our regular guests are looked after,” she says, adding that small details such as which pillows they prefer or transport needs are then incorporated into their stay and maintaining the relationship.
Weber says corporates, when looking for accommodation, also need to engage with the hotels they have identified as a good fit for their needs and then foster a long-term association. “To ensure the best available corporate rate, negotiate based on volume and regularity,” she advises.
“Start by booking on the hotel website and take it from there. Make sure you contact the right person and start the conversation. At our hotel for instance, relationships are key. Our regular guests will always get preference with regards to booking enquires and preferential rates.”
Ultimately, says Proos, more conference space, especially to cater for bigger groups of delegates, and more accommodation is going to have to be developed in Cape Town.