“The drought in the Western Cape and the local unrest had a significant impact on tourist bookings in Hermanus during 2018,” said Lemor Weiss of Booking.com, the largest online booking agency for tourists worldwide, on Monday at a meeting with local tourism operators.

Huge waves lashed the Hermanus coastline on Friday 26 July, leading to spectacular displays of water spraying into the air as the waves crashed into the cliffs at Siever’s Point. Visitors to the area gathered to watch the spectacle. PHOTO: Mariana Maree

Booking.com represents 1.5 million properties worldwide and more than 1.6 million room nights are booked through their web and mobile portals daily.

“The double whammy Hermanus experienced last year led to higher than normal cancellation rates. Last year the 11 hotels we serve in town saw 19.1% cancellations, the 81 guesthouses 11.3%, the 161 holiday homes 14.3% and private apartments a total of 18.5% cancellations,” Weiss said.

According to the Booking.com statistics, most travellers to Hermanus and surrounds book 61 to 70 days in advance. “The travel market is forever changing. Our predictions state that by 2030, earth will have a population of 8.5 billion people and there will be a total of 2 billion international trips per year.

“The travel market at the moment shows interesting signs of development, such as the rise of bleisure travel – travelling for business but extending your stay to include some leisure time. This trend now accounts for almost 50% of all travel and is an important market for towns such as Hermanus and the other towns in the region,” Weiss said.

“While the last year has been exceptionally tough for the tourism industry in town, it is important to note that it is still a very attractive market. Although there has been a drop in the number of bookings made by us for Hermanus in a year-on-year comparison between 2018 and 2019, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

“In January 2019 bookings compared to the same period last year were down 2%, in February they were down 9.4%, in March down by 2.9% and in April down by 3.2%. But from August onwards the trend changes completely. August bookings are up by 20.8%, September by 13.2%, October by 8.1%, December by 1.3% and bookings for January 2020 are already up by 31.9%,” she said.

Weiss stated that the top 5 markets for Hermanus are the South African market (although it is very price sensitive), Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK. The two fastest growing markets for travel to Hermanus are the US and Saudi Arabia.

“The local market is of the utmost importance for Hermanus as the bulk of your tourists come from up north, or from just over the mountain.”

She said that apart from the impact of the drought and the unrest, a further drawback was that accommodation in Hermanus was more expensive than other destinations.

“When Cape Town was in the midst of the crisis caused by the drought, tourism operators strategically started lowering their prices and also started doing intense destination marketing. Destination marketing is when an operator also informs potential clients of what the town and the region as a whole has to offer in terms of attractions. Hermanus and the Overberg have so many unique experiences that must be promoted in the national and international markets.

“Unfortunately, the Hermanus market has not been able to strategically adapt its accommodation pricing, nor has much effective destination marketing been done. You must remember that the demand is there. Tourists are actively looking to book holidays, but for you to attract them you need to be affordable and offer a wide variety of attractions. What is happening at the moment, is that smaller towns in the region are attracting the tourists, who will then only do a day trip to Hermanus as that is the most affordable option,” Weiss said.

According to her, another shift in the travel market is in the mobile market. “More than 40% of tourists now use their mobile phones to search for and book accommodation. By next year, this number will have grown to 50%. The booking window of people who use mobiles is shorter and therefore it is important for operators to offer mobile rates. This means that the rooms operators have available within the next week must be offered at a reduced rate. This is a growing trend worldwide and Hermanus would benefit by following this route.”

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