TOURISM BODY SLAMMED OVER TRAVEL FAIR BLUNDER: WEEKEND POST

DA tourism spokesperson John Cupido said it was ironic that Bayworld was being used to market the area as a tourist drawcard when the “province did not fight very hard to keep the complex going”.

THE Eastern Cape tourism industry has reacted with horror after it was revealed that international delegates at a prestigious travel Indaba in Durban earlier this month were issued with outdated promotional material, highlighting, among other attractions, Port Elizabeth’s performing dolphins and the Apple Express train.

Or so East Cape tourism would have visitors to a travel Indaba in Durban believe. One of the photographs – which the background suggests is at least more than a decade old – shows Bayworld’s former dolphins performing tricks.

The city’s two surviving dolphins were moved to Ocean Park in Hong Kong in July 2009, but a photograph of one on the disc was clearly taken at least a decade before they left the city. The Apple Express also ceased operating at the end of last year.

The quality of the photographs provided on a promotional CD distributed by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) has also been roundly criticised by industry roleplayers as being “amateurish” and “as if stolen from someone’s family album”.

The embarrassing gaffe at what is recognised as being the largest tourism marketing event in Africa and one of the top three such events on the global calendar, has made the Eastern Cape “a laughing stock”, tourism spokespersons said.

The Indaba is a showcase for Southern Africa’s top tourism products and attracted more than 13 000 delegates, many of them industry professionals and media from around the world.

“What these photographs are saying to tourists is just to go straight past the Eastern Cape and not to bother stopping and exploring,” one tour operator said.

The discs were handed out to all tourism roleplayers, including representatives of international publications, who visited the ECPTA stand in Durban between May 7 and 10.

The photographs distributed to these journalists and other delegates are similar to others distributed by the ECPTA at another top tourism event, the World Travel Market in London last year.

Official complaints made about the material at the time were drawn to the attention of the provincial tourism portfolio committee, sparking an outcry that money was being wasted on inadequate marketing material.

One of the photographs – in which the background suggests it is at least a decade old – shows one of Bayworld’s former dolphins performing tricks, with no sign of the hotels and other buildings erected behind the facility in recent years.

“This is almost fraud. They are lying to tourists. The dolphins are long gone and we can’t be marketing them as one of Port Elizabeth’s attractions,” DA tourism spokesperson John Cupido said. It was ironic, he said, that Bayworld was being used to market the area as a tourist drawcard when the “province did not fight very hard to keep the complex going”.

Cupido said proper marketing of the city’s tourism assets was essential as it was one of the province’s most important economic sectors. “For every 12 tourists one job is created.”

He slammed the photographs as being “below standard” and said they would affect tourism negatively by making the Eastern Cape the “laughing stock of the tourism industry”. He said: “I’ll be asking parliamentary questions about this, like who compiled the disc, how much it cost and so on.”

Former Eastern Cape journalist Piet van Niekerk, who now edits travel magazines in the UK, said he was shocked when he saw the images.

He had travelled from London to attend the Indaba as Africa and Southern Africa are part of his portfolio. ECPTA representatives at the stall had, he said, promised him the disc would contain “stunning photographs” he could use in his publications.

“When I got back and had a look at the CD, I found it contained mostly old, out-of-date, useless photographs. Some look as if they were taken by a blindfolded child and stolen from someone’s family album.”

Most of the pictures had not been captioned properly, he said. Several towns’ names were misspelt, as was the name of the iconic antelope, the kudu – labelled as “kudo”.

“I work very hard to market South African destinations, but the Eastern Cape is its own biggest enemy,” Van Niekerk said. “I work with international designers from Sweden, Germany, the East and the US. They could not believe it when I showed them the photographs. They thought it was a joke and were waiting for me to present the ‘real’ disc.”

Port Elizabeth tour operator Alan Fogarty called the photos “atrocious” and “amateurish”. He said solid marketing was essential to show the world what the Eastern Cape had to offer.

“Material like this is way below standard and tells tourists to move along past the Eastern Cape without stopping and exploring it.”

Tourism specialist Peter Myles said tourism marketing material should reflect the very best, and newest, images of a destination and its attractions. “They should reflect the status quo. For example, if there are no longer any dolphin shows, do not include old pictures of the Port Elizabeth dolphinarium.

“There have been cases where opportunistic tourists have sued for diminished value. They could claim they came to Port Elizabeth especially to see the dolphin show and then, when they discover there were no shows any more, could take advantage of the opportunity of suing because the marketing brochure is misleading. If they win their case, the settlement they receive will pay for a free holiday,” Myles said.

Nieu Bethesda Community Tourism Organisation chairperson Heidi Boekkooi was unimpressed by the photos depicting the picturesque Karoo village in particular.

The town’s name is misspelt and the photographs appear to be old, with a washedout, blue cast. They also do not appear to have been taken by a professional photographer.

ECPTA interim marketing and communication executive director Lavinia Subboo said although this was not specified on the disc, the marketing materials had been distributed to delegates at Indaba “for reference purposes only”, not for publication.