Cape Town: Slaapstad or Mega-Events destination?

Melbourne, Manchester, Doha, London, Sydney and many other major event destinations are not simply handed events. These cities, along with many others, have dedicated teams (a ready to go bid company for almost all events), allocated “ring-fenced” resources, and in most cases a clear strategy for pursuing both major and minor events. Many of them have nothing on Cape Town when it comes to natural beauty and some do not have an iconic mountain or even an ocean nearby. They put in the hours, the blood, sweat and tears, and along with strong support (incl. financial) from their city and state governments, bid for several events. In time they are usually successful at hosting most of these events, perhaps not at the first try but eventually. Essentially, they are aggressive and persistent.

A clear defined strategy for Cape Town, to pursure or bid for major events is obviously lacking. The city brand is at times lost and confused between what it is and should be. Are we a “natural beauty” or a serious “business destination”? Africa’s “cultural” epicentre or a “sports mega-city” just waiting to explode? The sports events calendar in Cape Town, post 2010 FIFA World Cup (outside of traditional rugby, cricket or football matches) reads like a city preparing to host the Youth Olympics. Junior Softball World Championships & Junior Judo World Championships in 2011, Junior Table Tennis World Championships in 2012…and the list continues. What happened to the “Cape of great events”? I’m certainly not suggesting that we only pursue senior sports events or massive events, but are these events part of a greater plan or simply “safer” in terms of the risk posed to the City?

The CTICC appears to have an aggressive team bidding for a variety of major and minor conferences, with great success, and has established itself as a major asset to the city, even during the recession. What is even more impressive than the number of successful bids are the number of unsuccesful bids and second attempts at bidding for these events. Why can this sort of team not be applied to all city venues and spaces, to bring major events to the city, but more importantly develop the events calendar during the “low season”?

If we are to develop an events brand, we need to decide on suitable and visible branding at city sports and non-sports events. These events usually have horrible, cheap branding (often blown away with the wind) rarely on par with what other major events destinations produce e.g. Melbourne, during the Australian Open.

So where are we now?

Following the completion or approval of the events policy and by-laws, the City of Cape Town will take another step forward by forming an Events Advisory Committee or CTEAC. The aim of this committee or terms of reference according to the City of Cape Town would be to “provide strategic guidance and support to the City with regards to the medium to long term strategies for bidding, co-ordination and hosting of major events…”. The core members and partners will comprise of the heads or directors of various tourism, business and hospitality organizations including the CTICC, Accelerate CT, Fedhasa, Exsa, Big Concerts, WPRU and so forht.

For now, the Cape Town Events Advisory Committee is clearly a step in the right direction. Whether they are simply another committee or the missing link, only time will tell. If the committee is to fulfill its role, then within 1 year I would as a bare minimum demand to see a list of all major and minor events the city will actively consider bidding for over the next 10 years. In recent weeks, we have heard of various events being “studied” or various proposals being “considered”, from F1 to the World Games 2017 (slipped into a long Council speech) to a potential 2020 World Expo proposal currently being drawn up by Expo SA. Transparency is required about which events exactly will be targeted, so that Capetonians can start getting behind each and every bid, and own and support these events, as they did during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

There are certainly several obstacles including national government and its various departments who refuse to back Cape Town as we have seen with the dodgy dealings related to the COP17 bid and the “current” Olympic bid. They will use any means possible to host events in Durban or appear to support “rugby” in PE. However, a good quality, technically strong bid will always win the day in a fair bid process and several international organizations will see through government’s clear bias. Cape Town can no longer rely on being a pretty face, and needs to add financial backing and intense lobbying to its goal of becoming a major events destination. Without risk there is no reward. Good luck to the CTEAC!