A very interesting evening at Republic Restaurant took place on October 18th.
60+ people who have an interest in re-booting tourism in Swellendam gathered to share their Lockdown experiences and the initiatives and methods they have employed to keep themselves afloat.
Alison Coughlan from Cape Town Tourism and GoSeeDo South Africa was the keynote speaker – it was fascinating to hear how a big tourist dependent city went into action in Lockdown Level 5, and how they are now operating to “Bounce Back” with a strategy for each of the ever changing levels of lockdown.
After Alison had spoken, various speakers were given three minutes each to tell their story. It was incredible to hear how people have refused to give up and have worked on new projects, new ideas and collaborations.
First up was Glen James of Greenlands Farm which is on the R60. He has worked with local businesses along the R60 to create the Langeberg Meander. This was the first strong indication that tourism businesses in small towns, who don’t have the resources of big cities, have recognised that collaboration is the way to go. Competition is healthy – but collaboration could be healthier!
So it was delightful to hear from the next speaker, MariLouise van de Merwe, that the Hermitage Meander is also being created cooperatively by all the businesses, artists, artisans situated in the beautiful Hermitage Valley. It was the first time many of the listeners had heard about it, and there was an audible buzz of excitement as she explained the vision.
Eduan Swanepoel gave us some background as to how his bookshop took a double whammy during Lockdown as the business sharing his premises and rent could not thrive. But he made the decision to take over the whole space, and during the last year according to whatever lockdown has continued to hold small events – book launches and art exhibitions. Recently the founding of the Swellendam Music Society took place and its first concert brought performers and audience from as far as Cape Town – sold out within hours an extra performance was hastily arranged. Currently an exhibition of art and an oil painting classes are running.
Bev Missing talked about the growth of Under the Oaks Market – and how she had recognised that, despite it being on the premises of her restaurant, the fact that food would be sold was not necessarily going to have an adverse effect her business. And so it proved – the opposite came about – the market has become one of the most popular places to visit on Saturdays – with the ability to socialise safely in an outside space.
Yet another highly successful collaborative effort was highlighted by Alison Walker of Schoone Oordt Country House Hotel .Gourmet Getaways brought together some of the restaurants and guesthouses to create a package to appeal to the foodies from Cape Town and Jo’burg. The Municipality was supportive, finding influencers to promote the event. Destination Marketing currently is somewhat difficult and while individual businesses are struggling to promote themselves – it is difficult to operate in a silo. Alison said social media is only an effective tool if you are prepared to put money into it – you have to boost posts and use influencers who have established followings.
Lively presentations followed by Pieter Grobbelaar, whose Camps Bay fine dining restaurant was closed down by Lockdown, and Scotty Bleasdale who also moved only recently to Swellendam. Pieter has opened a bar in town which operates as a coffee bar in the daytime and cocktails in the evening. (so he is prepared for most adjusted lockdown levels) Scotty has begun an initiative whereby he is pulling together all the home food and art producers and creating an online shop “Made in Swellendam”
Graham Mutyambizi introduced the Swellengram Magazine – literally hot off the press – with details about future plans for the publication. and finally Johan Van Niekerk from Eco Tree House spoke about how curated use of Instagram and influencers had catapulted his business into 100% occupancy.
The plan was to have a general question and suggestion session at that point – but everybody was very cold at that point so it was decide to fast forward to the Mayor’s Summary.
The Mayor thanked everybody for their ideas and contributions, before handing over to the the Municipal Manager who spoke about working around the lack of resources, which has led using their influence to bring events to Swellendam, Trail runs and Cycling, and inject much needed funds into the tourism pot.
There was a great deal of excellent networking and communication. Not everyone was totally sold on the idea of collaboration, as one audience member stated that he felt very unsupported by the community in general, but for the most part it was a positive meeting with many great ideas.