A bold figurehead carving out new destinies

A bold figurehead carving out new destinies

After nine years at the helm, MARIËTTE DU TOIT-HELMBOLD is stepping down from her role as CEO of Cape Town Tourism. NAUSHAD KHAN chatted to her about her time in charge and what we can expect from her next.

You became Cape Town Tourism CEO at the tender age of 28. Can you recall what you felt when you started, considering how young you were for a position of that responsibility?
I was overwhelmed by a sense of great responsibility, but also great excitement about the incredible opportunity I was given to help shape a new tourism destiny for Cape Town. Instinct, passion, transparency and surrounding myself with capable, equally passionate people are qualities that have worked well for me. Importantly, I continue to learn every day and make sure to keep my feet firmly planted on Mother Earth.

What are some of your happiest memories of the last nine years?
Bringing together a very fragmented industry under one unified tourism organisation in 2004 will always be a highlight. The energy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup also stands out as a huge highlight for me. There was such optimism in Cape Town and we were such fantastic hosts.

Nine years is a long time as the head of any organisation, but especially so in tourism, I would imagine. What are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry, especially with regards to how tourism is marketed?
Tourism has really changed over the past few years. We have witnessed both tremendous growth and change in the tourism sector during its post-apartheid boom years and tougher times in the recent recession period. The advent of the Internet and access to new information technologies have generated significant changes in international tourist patterns that, coupled with the recent economic crisis, has resulted in the restatement of tourism models.

Travel, however, remains a priority for many – a desperately needed respite from the challenging world we live in.
Many hope for a “recovery”, but I maintain that tourism will never “recover”. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Why recover to a state that is no longer relevant?
Within the constantly changing and complex world we live in, many opportunities remain and I am optimistic that the sector will continue to grow if developed responsibly.
Travel from developing countries is on the increase and spending power now lies more and more with travellers from emerging markets. Chinese visitors, in particular, are big spenders in the luxury goods market.
Everywhere you look, travellers are changing – they are looking for urban getaways that offer authentic travel experiences where they can interact and connect with local cultures. The urban experience and a slice of life has become a key feature of travel.

One of the biggest changes with regard to marketing travel is the expansion of the online and mobile arena. On the whole, these tools have made it so much quicker and easier to share our beautiful Cape Town with the rest of the world. Today’s traveller will do a lot of research online and is most likely to value user-generated advice and the honest opinions of friends and followers on-line.
There is an increased need for personalisation and consumer-mindedness with travellers demanding centre place in the planning and buying of their next trip.

Destinations and companies who provide flexibility, personalised information at the touch of a button and people-centred authentic experiences are the ones that will stand out from the crowd in the next two years.

Under your stewardship Cape Town Tourism has won international awards, as well as been part of some of the City’s biggest challenges and triumphs, like the 2010 World Cup and the recent placement of Table Mountain as one of the New7Wonders of the World. What are some of your management secrets?
I work best within a team of people who are really clever and specialists in their respective areas of expertise. My role is to be a source of energy; keeping the team on-strategy and focused – with one eye on the global horizon and the other on the detail of our immediate environment. I value the advice and input of my board and the industry enormously and I rely on a strong and honest network of leaders and challengers within my environment to help me asses and evaluate my performance. Transparency, really hearing constructive feedback and adaptability are critical for success.

What can we expect from you next?
It is bittersweet to leave Cape Town Tourism.
It’s so much a part of me after all of this time, but the time is right to create something new that will address the gap in destination and tourism marketing and allow me the opportunity to make an impact beyond Cape Town.
In August, I will be starting my own agency, Destinate – an internationally-focused, specialised destination and tourism marketing agency. I will be partnering with tourism organisations, destinations and private sector brands to navigate the complex and competitive world of destination marketing and management. We will not be consultants who parachute in, write fancy strategies and leave without being involved in the execution or accountable for results achieved. We will co-create strategy and provide marketing implementation support and mentorship to ensure delivery and measurable return on investment.
Destinate will work with like-minded individuals and service providers within the tourism, marketing, creative and digital sectors in a fluid bespoke network.
Clients can opt for a comprehensive tailor-made package with dedicated support or choose a selection of neat plug-ins as required to fit within budget.
I am very excited about applying my ideas and experience beyond Cape Town, but the Mother City remains my home and my first love.