Is MICE business drying up during CT’s drought?

As Cape Town hurtles towards Day Zero – the dreaded day when the taps run dry amidst one of the severest droughts in decades – businesses across the province have started to feel the pinch. Liesl Venter finds out more.

Drastically reduced water usage remains the municipality’s goal with the introduction of Level Six water restrictions kicking off 2018. This could have a severe impact on business tourism and the conferencing and events sector.

It would be foolish for the conferencing sector in the country at large not to be worried about the Western Cape water crisis, says Rudi van der Vyver, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (Saaci).
“A negative impact on the Western Cape conferencing sector could have a ripple effect across the country,” he says. “It is an extremely delicate matter and one that could have severe impacts on our industry.”

Jacques Fouche, Saaci Western Cape branch chairman, agrees and says while the water crisis has, as yet, not really impacted on the sector, turning delegates away due to a lack of water is simply not an option.

“Our communication at present is of extreme importance,” says Fouche, who maintains it is important that delegates travelling to Cape Town are aware of the situation long before they arrive. “We need to manage this situation very well making sure our delegates are well informed and are not being caught off guard by some of the steps being taken to reduce water usage.”

According to Van der Vyver, the emphasis has remained on drawing more delegates to Cape Town despite the lack of water.

“If we had to turn delegates away or lose them it would be extremely difficult to rebuild Cape Town as a brand later on. Throughout this water crisis, the goal has to be retaining not only Cape Town, but South Africa’s position as a conferencing and event destination.”

Corne Koch, head of Cape Town & Western Cape Convention Bureau, a division of Wesgro, like Fouche, says the city and the province continues to perform well in terms of attracting new business events to the destination.

Koch says the meetings industry in the province has come of age and has firmly placed itself at the centre of tourism as one of the key drivers of the sector’s development and as an important generator of income, employment and investment. 

He says there are ongoing campaigns to inform visitors about the current water crisis and provide tips on how to save water like a local. “These messages are being absorbed in both accommodation and conferencing establishments.”

According to Stacey Hopkins, director of Sales – East and Southern Africa at The Westin, hotels and conference facilities across the province continue to work hard to reduce water usage. From the installation of water-saving devices such as low-flow shower heads to decreasing linen cycle schedules to re-using grey water, venues are pulling out all the stops.

Most hotels have removed bath plugs, no longer have tablecloths or linen napkins, and wash bed linen and towels only on request.

“In our conference centre we provide bottled water instead of jugs of tap water in our conference venues,” says Teena Douglas, sales and marketing manager at Lagoon Beach Hotel. “We have also installed a system that captures the moisture from the air through condensation which then goes through a filtration system and gets used as drinking water in the hotel.”

Reducing water has come at a cost for most venue owners, not to mention the fact that it is not always that easy to achieve while keeping facilities operational.

“Water, however, is on everyone’s minds,” says Hopkins. “Now, more than ever, the pressure is on everyone in this industry to promote our destination while making sure we keep our water usage at the lowest levels possible.”

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