Cape Town hotels say that the negative media coverage
surrounding the Day Zero water-saving campaign has contributed to a drop of
between 30% and 50% in bookings this year.
In January, the city warned it would run out of water by
April 12 -- and termed it Day Zero -- unless drastic conservation tactics were
followed. Later, following February rains and evidence the conservation
campaign was working, Day Zero was pushed back to 2019.
Debra Algie, executive manager of sales and marketing at the
One&Only Cape Town, said the campaign had the unintended consequence of
scaring away tourists.
"Effectively, Day Zero was a campaign with an awfully
chosen name to focus on forcing the Cape Town community to conserve water,"
she said. "It has been very successful but has had a negative impact, as
The most dire headlines ran in January, the peak booking
period for South Africa, and the Day Zero delay happened too late for hotels
and tour operators.
At the One&Only Cape Town, bookings in April were down
about 10% to 15%, but that is not as high as the drop at most hotels. Algie said
that properties catering to meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions
groups were more negatively affected than ones that, like the One&Only,
cater to leisure travelers.
A survey of 18 hotels and tour operators in Cape Town by
Wesgro, the city's official tourism promotion agency, found that forward
bookings between April and September are down 30% to 50% and that January and
February revenue declined 10% to 15%. The source markets most impacted were the
U.K., Germany and the U.S.
Algie was in the U.S. recently, meeting with travel agents,
tour operators and the media to make sure they understood the reality on the
ground in Cape Town, which is that while hotels have drastically reduced water
usage -- by 40% year over year at the One&Only, which also encourages
guests to "Save Like a Local" -- no guest is being negatively
affected, she said.
Algie said the city needs tourism because visitors make up
just 1% to 3% of the population even in peak season, but they deliver $3
billion a year to the economy.
"When the news broke in January," Algie said, "visitor
concerns started with, 'Are we going to have water?' and shifted to the social
impact: 'Do Capetonians want us to be there?' From an economic point of view,
tourists are a vital necessity. Not having tourists in Cape Town affects the
people you want to help."
There is hope now among travel suppliers that as the Day
Zero headlines fade, so will people's hesitancy to visit Cape Town. Americans
typically travel during the U.S. summer to South Africa, and so far, Algie
said, "July and August are tracking well."
Several U.S. travel agents also said they had not
experienced a booking dip.
"While we did have booked clients who would be visiting
Cape Town who expressed concern, we did not experience any cancellations or
clients who altered their travel plans to avoid visiting Cape Town," said Brian Sanchez of Journeys Travel Group in Menomonee Falls, Wis. He added that
none of the operators he works with have canceled tours there. "Our future
bookings and inquiries are steady and unchanged."