Knysna Tourism out the window?
“Tourism benefits, without exception, directly or indirectly, every business and person in Knysna and Sedgefield, whether they realise it or not.”
This was Knysna Tourism chairperson Elmay Bouwer’s response on Tuesday 19 June after it was announced on Friday 15 June that the retrenchment process of nine staff members has commenced. Their employment is set to terminate on 31 July this year.
The news follows shortly on the heels of a new proposed bylaw in Bitou that could remove the area’s external tourism function, currently performed by Plett Tourism, completely and move it in-house. Read articles on this issue at www.knysnaplettherald.com.
No SLA in place
Staff members in Knysna are being retrenched due to there being no secured service level agreement (SLA) between the municipality and Knysna Tourism and, with it, the commensurate funding to continue operating as Knysna’s destination marketing body, said the press release.
Bouwer stated in the release that she is “deeply saddened” considering there has been such a positive turnaround and growing support for the successful business and marketing strategies that Knysna Tourism has implemented over the past year.
“These employees have contributed many years of service to Knysna Tourism, and their efforts over the past year, in particular, have contributed to the considerable progress and headway we have made,” she said.
Still open for Oyster Fest
Bouwer this week confirmed that the current board members, who are not paid to sit on the board, will remain, but that after the Oyster Festival the tourism offices will no longer be open.
“After the Oyster Festival we will start downscaling, and by the end of July we will be completely closed,” she said, adding that they are working with Knysna Municipality, provincial tourism entity Wesgro and provincial Economic Development executives to find an effective long-term solution.
Bouwer said that the funding issue for Knysna Tourism has been an ongoing problem annually for the last eight years. “As a board, we have communicated numerous times and regularly with our municipality to put in place the appropriate document or come up with a sustainable solution for the successful functioning of the tourism body.”
Since 2005, said Bouwer, the tourism body had been receiving a grant-in-aid of R4-million a year. “During the 2017/2018 financial year, when the SLA kicked in, the funds (now being subjected to Vat) were reduced to R3.5-million. And that is out of a total municipal budget of almost R1-billion,” she said.
“Escalate the R4-million received in 2005 by 6% compounded per annum, and this funding should be close to R8.5-million. Realistically there is no other major industry in Knysna on which this town can grow and provide employment to its residents as well as delivering the necessary tax base for development and improvement of infrastructure.”
With these funds, Bouwer said, Knysna Tourism needs to run as a business – the destination needs to be marketed, salaries need to be paid, and premises need to be paid for, among other expenses.
“Last year we only received these funds at the end of August. But in this time we have seen a financial turnaround of R500 000, an increase in paid-up membership of 25% from 240 after the June fires to more than 300 presently. This is because the integrity of Knysna Tourism has been restored with members now firmly having confidence and trust in the tourism body once again,” she said.
“We have also reached 900 new business suppliers and have seen more than 130 new agents and media representatives come through the town. These are all aspects that tourism and the town will benefit from in years to come, but if we are not here all of our hard work will have been for nothing.”
Tourism’s ‘upward curve’
Bouwer explained that Knysna Tourism presently has the mandate to perform four tourism functions: destination marketing; public relations and media; management of visitor information centres; and providing marketing support for events and festivals. “And so far we have done it all. We have responded to what our members wanted and have fulfilled the requirements of the SLA. We are on an upward curve,” said Bouwer.
“Tourists visit chemists, retail businesses, purchase food supplies, buy clothing, view and purchase property, purchase fuel, visit doctors, banks etc. Every business in Knysna is positively affected by tourism. We cannot continue to rely on government support or allow politics to interfere. Tourism should be removed from that completely, and should be run like a business,” she said.
Mayor engaging with role players
Bouwer said in the press release that an email was sent to newly elected Knysna mayor Mark Willemse on Monday 11 June, and two Knysna Tourism board members met with Willemse on Thursday 14 June concerning the contract with Knysna Tourism, which terminates on 30 June 2018.
Willemse, she said, who has publicly confirmed his support for Knysna Tourism and recognised the critical importance of tourism to Knysna, attended a further
meeting on 14 June with Wesgro and provincial Economic Development executives to find an alternative solution to the funding needed to keep Knysna Tourism open and avoid the consequences of Knysna not having a destination marketing and tourism entity after 31 July.
Regarding Wesgro, Bouwer said that facets of administration have to be worked through first, but that it clearly is an option at this time. “With Wesgro we can introduce Knysna into new markets around the world. I think working with them should be a precedent for all tourism bodies,” she added.
‘The whole town will suffer’
“We cannot simply stop marketing Knysna in these very challenging and competitive economic times … the whole town will suffer … every single business will soon begin to feel the adverse effects,” she said.
Municipality spokesperson Christopher Bezuidenhout said the municipality is engaging with various entities, such as the provincial department of economic opportunities, Treasury and the Auditor General, and that “we trust that the matter will be resolved soon”.
“Tourism is a key driver of Knysna’s economy and we wish to assure residents that every effort will be made to strengthen our brand.”
The Knysna Tourism offices in Main Road, Knysna could soon be forced to close its doors to the public and visitors, along with the Sedgefield office.
This team at Knysna Tourism will soon be out of a job if nothing is done, along with their colleagues at the Sedgefield office. From left: Dora Manewil; Ebrahim Windwaai; Janine Arendse; Randi-Lue Pluim; Gloria Rozani; David Payle; and Keagon Borchards. Absent are James Jantjies and Sedgefield employee Nicole Moore.
Knysna Tourism chairperson Elmay Bouwer at the recent launch of the #SpiritofKnysna campaign.