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Cape Town: A tale of two cities

Cape Town appears to have it all

A beautiful, cosmopolitan and vibrant city set at the foot of magnificent Table Mountain and hugging the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, it has spectacular beaches, world-class restaurants, award-winning vineyards and unique flora and fauna.

No wonder it attracts 3.5 million tourists annually and is South Africa’s most popular destination for visitors from the northern hemisphere.

But Cape Town is a tale of two cities. Go beyond its attractive surface and you’ll find a place burdened by poverty, unemployment and inequalities with a natural and cultural heritage under threat from indiscriminate development, rapidly filling landfill sites and diminishing energy and water resources.

Water is a particular problem for Cape Town. A combination of a growing population, climate change, polluted water sources, and poor management of dams, sewerage works and treatment plants has put the city’s supply of clean freshwater under serious threat. A recent story on the Times Live website said that South Africa has trapped so much water in dams — 79% of its total national water resource, the highest rate of resource capture in the world — that it was affecting its quality with massive blooms of toxic algae flourishing and posing a significant threat to the supply. So serious is the problem that the National Department of Water and Environment Affairs last year predicted that the city will have shortages by 2012.

While tourism may not provide the magic bullet to cure the city’s environmental issues, including its water challenges, responsible practice by the industry and revenue generation can certainly go some way to easing the city’s problems.

Over the past two years, the city government has been working closely with other departments and the local tourism industry to develop a responsible tourism policy and action plan for Cape Town. In September, the city adopted a responsible tourism charter. Signed by government and non-government organisations, tour operators, educators and trade associations — including the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) and the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa — the charter commits each signatory to minimising the negative economic, social and environmental impacts of tourism while generating greater economic benefits for local people.

Inspirational green initiatives

Heidi Keyser, from the International Centre for Responsible Tourism in South Africa, has been the lead consultant for developing a tourism strategy in Cape Town. "The plan was born out of a realisation that many tourism businesses and organisations in Cape Town were already doing amazing things around environmental efficiency and poverty alleviation," Keyser says.

For example, local hotels were reducing their carbon footprint by introducing water and energy conservation measures and reducing waste. Greenways Hotel, Vineyard Hotel & Spa, Winchester Mansions, Monkey Valley Resort and Boulders Beach Lodge had initiated water audits, for example, and installed water-saving devices such as multi-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads and tap aerators.

Community-based initiatives were also thriving. The Lutzeyer family, owners of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and Lodge in the Cape Fynbos Kingdom, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and a World Heritage Site, had set up a charity to help local communities and contribute to conserving the city’s precious water resources. It has been recruiting unskilled workers from local communities to train as gardeners, teaching them to grow native plants, such as proteas and other species found nowhere else in the world, which require less water. The nature reserve uses grey water from its laundry to water the horse paddock, saving about 700,000 litres of water a year, and has designed a three-hectare fynbos garden using indigenous plants and buffalo grass lawns to minimise the need for watering.

"These and other stories were not being told, denying the majority the inspiration to do their bit," explains Keyser. "And harnessing the collective energy of all tourism stakeholders can potentially move mountains."

The City of Cape Town strongly believed that a successful responsible tourism development plan would only emerge if the industry and destination stakeholders were co-architects of it, and that a small number of priority issues were established as a starting point.

So, city departments, tourism associations, environmental and cultural conservation groups, academics and tour operators came together to help define seven key issues and priorities:

Incee Maree, on the Western Cape management committee of SATSA, believes that involvement by groups such as SATSA was vital in creating a realistic plan. "Many of our members are small businesses with limited resources," says Maree. "We've kept the plan simple and focused only on the seven most pressing issues and given them the choice to further select three of the issues that matter most in their businesses for their own corporate sustainability action plans or Responsible Tourism Improvement Plans. We believe that this is not too hard a course of action for our members."

Nombulelo Mkefa, director of tourism for the City of Cape Town, is clear about the tourism department's role in creating a sustainable destination. "It is simply to bring others together to work towards a more sustainable destination," he says. "Our responsible tourism plan is part of a vast store of other sector policies, programmes and initiatives aimed at the development of a sustainable, attractive and successful city. These include our biodiversity strategy to conserve our unique and endangered natural habitats, our green building guidelines, our water and waste management bylaws, and many, many others."

The bylaws to promote good water management practices in Cape Town include requiring major water users to conduct an annual water audit and stipulating a maximum tap flow rate and toilet cistern size, which must be incorporated into the design and management of buildings. The City of Cape Town's green building guidelines also promote resource efficiency by providing advice on water-saving landscaping, rainwater harvesting and water-efficient appliances.

Cape Town's commitment to responsible tourism has won worldwide attention and recognition, with the city recently scooping the top destination category of the 2009 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards. "Winning this award is an honour," says Mkefa. "We are duty-bound to report back on the results of our efforts in two years' time. The next steps are to facilitate the widespread implementation of responsible tourism practices in tourism businesses, to promote awareness of responsible tourism among residents, visitors and stakeholders, and to collect and report data on our progress against the priority areas identified."

For Further Information on Cape Town's Responsible Tourism Activities, please visit:
www.capetown.gov.za/responsibletourism [1]