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Power outages an "opportunity" to use enviro practices - 1 February 2008

Cape Town - Power outages being experienced across the City of Cape Town represent an opportunity to build an international reputation for environmental best practice.

Mayoral Committee Member for Social, Economic Development and Tourism, Simon Grindrod, said at a meeting of the Tourism Safety Forum on Friday that the opportunity presented by power outages "forces us" to engage in "green" practices.

"We are already supposed to be engaged in energy saving, we are already supposed to be engaged in green practices - this opportunity now forces us to do so," said Mr Grindrod.

Central to the agenda of the meeting of stakeholders in the city's tourism industry was tourism safety and security, the impact of electricity load-shedding on the industry and its operations in Cape Town, as well as sustaining the tourism industry that is so central to the city's and province's economy.

A number of "positive plans of action" to manage power outages and sustain tourism emerged, key among which is using the country's electricity supply crisis as an opportunity to boost globally-acknowledged environmental best practices.

Another focus was on "responsible tourism" whereby visitors to the city are also expected to participate in energy-saving practices in line with "green practices" and energy-saving worldwide.

This was not as difficult as it seemed, indicated Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, the Chief Executive Officer of Cape Town Tourism, adding that what was a "pro" for the city is that many visitors, many of whom are international travellers - are "better informed than us" regarding the conservation of energy and responsible tourism.

Reasons for this would include the far higher cost of electricity in many other countries, particularly Europe, along with a strong international push - often driven by these countries' populations - to minimise the carbon emissions that come from energy usage, which are largely responsible for climate change and pollution.

Ms Du Toit-Helmbold said an aim was to implement environmental "best practice" in Cape Town and make it a global destination with a reputation for green practices.

Mr Grindrod said that, unlike the energy crisis experienced in 2006 that was precipitated by the shutdown of the Koeberg nuclear power station while a spare part for one of its reactors was being shipped over from France, the current situation was expected to last for "five to eight years".

"We have to come to terms with that psychologically," he said, adding that the stakeholders present at the meeting did not waste time discussing reasons for the power crisis but focused rather on positive steps that could be taken to ameliorate it and even develop opportunities from it.

The situation is "not bleak", he added. "It's a challenge and we'll get through it."

Rod Douglas of the Department of Economic Development and Tourism of the provincial government said that demand-management practices, with which the department already has experience following the 2006 power shortage, would be extended throughout the province.

Central to the "positive" measures for action that arose from the meeting was communication, between and among the city government, the power utility and all tourism industry stakeholders.

First of all, tourism stakeholders would be provided with contact numbers for all the relevant officials of the city - which manages 6 000 electricity sub-stations, Mr Grindrod said.

The city would also engage Eskom, the national energy utility, on better use of technology for communication purposes, he added.

Using the SMS cellphone messaging system, information on, for instance, load-shedding, could be distributed "within seconds" to every tourism establishment and operator in the city, he said.

In another step, he said there was an opportunity also for insurance companies to develop tailored products that would provide insurance cover for losses experienced by power outages.

And then, there is the question of providing information, through the use of brochures, leaflets and other means, to tourism operators and their guests informing them of the situation and encouraging them to be conscientious and prudent in their use of electricity.

Another step would be getting Eskom's "buy-in" to refrain from load-shedding, where possible, at key tourist sites, such as the Waterfront and Table Mountain, which recently led to worldwide headlines after an evening power outage led to tourists being trapped in cable cars and on the mountain itself for a number of hours.

Eskom would need to be engaged in protecting "sensitive" tourist sites, the meeting stakeholders at the meeting declared.

Also, advance warning of power outages would be critical to implementing responsible tourism management, stakeholders said, with Ms Du Toit-Helmbold adding that operators are "always concerned with the way we are managing messaging".

South Africa needs to do everything in its power to restore international confidence in its tourism industry, she said.

Article by Shaun Benton from BuaNews