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Mayor's Place - chat with the "Mayor" of Scapenotes about our vision and policies

Hi, I will be your mayor for a while. It is my job to explain the vision behind Scapenotes and how it fits in with the hundreds of other websites already promoting or discussing tourism in the Western Cape.

We have some rigid principles that we are going to try and adhere to:

- Nobody will need to pay anything to mention their tourist facility on Scapenotes.*

- The public can give feedback, or post any note, on any facility, provided that it is honest, firsthand, and respectful.

- Parts of posts, or whole posts, will be deleted if deemed offensive at our sole discretion.

(*If Scapenotes becomes busy and funds are required to run it, then some discreet advertising will be introduced. Similar to a "White Pages" telephone book.)

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Scapey on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 07:33 am: Edit Post

Mayor, can you tell us more about yourself and why S'CapeNotes was started?

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 02:37 pm: Edit Post

Well, first a little about myself: I am a 48 yr-old family man with a wife and two children who have recently finished school. Born and bred in the Cape area, but I travel extensively in the Cape, in South Africa and also abroad (mainly to Europe in general and Germany in particular). My profession is as a consultant mechanical engineer.

Why did I start S'CapeNotes with some help from a couple of friends? Here you will have to excuse my methodical background when I answer with numbered notes:

1. The tourist industry of the Western Cape is very young since it was only a few years ago that it was still considered a "risky" destination. My business colleagues are very curious about my home area and I spend a lot of time answering the same questions over and over again. Potential visitors are still quite nervous about visiting this "new" destination, and they need accurate, trustworthy, confidence-building, information before committing their holiday-savings to visit the far tip of "Darkest Africa". S'CapeNotes is a forum for building up that reliable information by providing a facility where anybody can share his or her first-hand experiences (and concerns).

2. The Internet has become probably the first source of information to a potential visitor for finding accommodation and other expensive holiday services requiring the earliest reservations (eg car hire, tour groups, etc.). Unfortunately, there is no correlation between the quality of the service-provider's website versus the actual experience that the visitor will have after they have already paid their deposit from far away. Aside from the obvious cases where the websites are good and the service is bad, there are those very excellent facilities that do not have websites and simply get ignored by the potential tourists. S'CapeNotes is intended to smooth out the peaks and dips of the available information - here you can say that a tourist facility did not live up to its advertising, but equally important, you can help to advertise those facilities that are "under-selling" themselves, or don't have websites of their own.

3. One comes across a couple of styles of websites on the Internet, owned by people/companies with diverse motives. Most of the websites are doing a selling campaign of individual guesthouses, car-hire companies, tour groups, etc. - one website per facility provider and no links/references to their competitors. Then there are the "town information offices" who give lists of facilities, but they seem to fall into two broad groups; a.) With members who have to pay fees to be listed, and b.) "Municipal/government" sponsored who are less up-to-date and sometimes less meticulous. (Some towns even have 3 separate "general tourist offices/websites" - none of them referring to each other!). None of the aforementioned websites allow the public, or owners of tourist facilities, to post information directly on their website pages. Then there are also "discussion forum" websites where the public can post their comments directly, but those that we have seen so far are clumsy and they forbid facility owners from promoting their establishments or services (unless they pay a fee for a formal advertisement). S'CapeNotes is basically a discussion forum with clearly defined structure (not clumsy, we hope) where anybody can comment or promote themselves without having to pay a fee.

4. The people of the Western Cape are starting to recognise that we have a very good "product" to sell to tourists. Everybody is getting excited about what tourism can do for the economy and there is genuine welcoming and helpfulness towards visitors. With my travels I have come to realise that our local tourism "product" is really world-class, and we don't have to be shy when we present it to foreigners, we easily match the best that the rest of the world has to offer. Even though our Western Cape people are low on marketing experience and knowledge, we make up for it with our welcoming and helpful attitudes. It is the energy and enthusiasm of individual volunteers that we hope to channel into S'CapeNotes. To make a contribution, you could do something as simple as to tell us the opening hours of the museum in your village, or, on the other hand, you could sit and entertain yourself for hours in front of your computer and type in all the cash expense slips that your boss dumps on your desk! But the basic principle is that individual people volunteering their bits of information will build up S'CapeNotes - S'CapeNotes does not have a set of offices and staff. (It is for this reason that I don't want to put my name to S'CapeNotes - "Mayor" is hopefully a temporary ploy to "kick-start" S'CapeNotes into action).

5. And this point would probably strike most as being controversial, but we believe that a complaint is a marketing opportunity. If a client is negative about your service by making a public post here at S'CapeNotes, you have the opportunity of telling the whole world (via a speedy reply in S'CapeNotes) about the wonderful improvements that you are making to avoid these negative perceptions in future. This also gives you the opportunity to "re-capture" those earlier visitors that had the same negative perceptions, but simply wrote something nice in your visitor's book while already having made up their mind that they will not come back. (S'CapeNotes has "e-mail notification" that can tell you immediately when somebody has made a post about your establishment. And we will edit/moderate complaints to make sure that they come across as constructive criticism.)

S'CapeNotes is very much an experiment in the sharing of information to the benefit of tourism in the Western Cape. Even though I have some visions of how I would like S'CapeNotes to look in the future, I personally don't have absolute control over it - hopefully 100's of people will be making their contributions! In the early days, we would probably have to expand the little group of volunteer moderators, so we are keen to see some good people starting to make their contributions and that can be promoted to moderators. The post of "Mayor" will be rotated between the moderators.

Thank you for reading this long story, and please post your concerns, questions, comments, etc. in the space below. Welcome to S'CapeNotes!

The "Mayor"

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 07:39 am: Edit Post

(Written when a circular was faxed to most "official" tourist bureaus)

Dear members & staff of all Western Cape tourism bureaus,

Welcome to Scapenotes!

On Monday I was embarrassed and surprised to discover that Scapenotes had achieved such a high rating with the Google search engine, amongst others. Embarrassed, because there is practically zero information in Scapenotes at this stage. What we had been tinkering with as an experiment has suddenly become very viable. A telephone call to the Western Cape Tourism Bureau led to a suggestion to contact all their affiliated bureaus, and hence the telefax to you.

What would we like you to do with Scapenotes? Well, at minimum, tell the "little guys" about us. We mean those "grassroots" tourist ventures that cannot afford advertising and websites that come knocking on your bureau door and expect you to do all their promotion for them. These "little guys" are more than welcome to go down to the internet café and add their information to Scapenotes - then they could even correctly claim that they have a website.

Something that we would very much like you to do is to write the introduction headings (and supply a photo) for your towns. This can only benefit your bureau, as we will put a link to you in that heading.

I am sure that you have many questions and uncertainties about Scapenotes, and you are invited to express them below.

Once again, a big welcome to you!

The "Mayor"

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Stella Pieterse on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 07:50 am: Edit Post

My town has nothing listed here at all. Can you give an example of a town that has some information so that I can see where you are heading?

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 08:02 am: Edit Post

Hi Stella

Knysna gives an idea of what a town will look like.

When a town attracts too many entries, we will find ways to categorise the information, or divide the "town" into different areas. This system is very flexible.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Judy on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 09:24 am: Edit Post

Dit lyk my dat hierdie ding kan werk! Maar hoe weet ons dat "Scapenotes" nog oormôre hier sal wees?

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 10:37 am: Edit Post

Jislaaik Judy, jy val met die deur in die huis! Welkom!

Natuurlik kan ek nie 'n lewenslange waarborg gee nie. Maar, kom ons sê dat ek baie meer vertroue in die ScapeNotes formaat (teenoor meer tradisionele webwerwe) het as gevolg van die volgende faktore:

- Die webwerf (site) is nie gesentraliseer in een persoon of maatskappy nie. 'n Ope gemeente dra by en die eienaarskap lê by die ope gemeente.
- Daar is geen kommersiële druk op die stelsel nie. Niemand probeer om 'n salaris uit die stelsel te verdien nie. Hierdie formaat is baie goedkoop om te bedryf en die bietjie fondse wat nodig is sal van baie klein reklame geleenthede kom. (Ek kan meer hiervan in e-pos vertel as dit nodig is)
- Die "Discussion Board" formaat vir toeriste raak al hoe meer gewild. Voorbeeld 1, Voorbeeld 2.

(verskoon asb. as ek Afrikaans hier vermoor het. :-))

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 12:40 pm: Edit Post

Willie Slabber of Stellenbosch has broken the ice. Have a look at the Stellenbosch page.

Amanda Carstens of Wellington has also provided an introduction.

Thank you!

Editted on 27 Sept. to add:
The following Towns have since received introductory paragraphs from the public and/or their tourist information offices: Helderberg, Ladismith, Franschhoek, Gansbaai, Hout Bay, Kleinmond, Knysna, Touwsriver/Matjiesfontein, Mossel Bay, Swellendam, Robertson, Tulbagh.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Admin on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 06:38 pm: Edit Post

I think that I have discovered the way to make a site Google-friendly. In the Vredendal example, there is a facility called the "Latsky Radio Museum". If somebody was searching for it on Google, Scapenotes comes up as no.1 in their results. :-)

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Thursday, September 04, 2003 - 10:38 am: Edit Post

We have just received a short and simple fax from Maggy Jantjies of the Suurbraak Tourism Bureau. This is an office with no e-mail/internet facilities, yet she is one of the first to present her village. In needy cases like this, we hope that kind members of the public (with internet access) will step in and tell us more about Suurbraak.

Editted to add on 27 Sept.:
We also have faxed introductions from Koringberg and Wupperthal that will be transcribed soon. Please note that faxes will only be transcribed where they are in reply to a telefax from Scapenotes.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 04:30 pm: Edit Post

Hi All

It is a lazy Saturday afternoon and the Springboks have just won the first WC-series game.

Colin told me that he was sending out a circular this weekend, and I see that he already has some reaction. Somebody again raised the question of how it is possible that Scapenotes is a FREE service and I fully agree with his reply that was:

"We have to repeat this often, because nobody believes us: There are NO COSTS to be listed on ScapeNotes. Websites that charge you money to advertise your tourist facility, mainly need that money to pay full-time staff who maintain those websites. Scapenotes does not have a single staff member - we are just a couple of regular, otherwise-employed, people who fiddle with this Scapenotes as a hobby. The actual computer space costs us the princely sum of R200 a month, which is a lot cheaper than playing golf!"

Welcome to all those finding Scapenotes for the first time!

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mayor on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 11:24 am: Edit Post

What does the world's biggest tourist discussion forum, www.virtualtourist.com, say about tourist facilities in the Western Cape?
(60 000 visitors per day, 400 000 members)

Please open some of their sample links below, and please be patient with the slow loading:

Children banned from Vergelegen estate?
Is Ashanti Lodge okay?
Is Camps Bay a good place to live?
Looking for accom. in Cape Town.
Bus from airport to Long Street
Mountain climbing
Travelling from Langebaan to Cape Town
Shark cage diving

In addition to their discussion "forums" shown above, they have introductory pages for some towns submitted by their members. Here are two examples: Oudtshoorn, Cape Town. At the bottom of these pages, are the 5 most popular "tip writers" for each of these towns. Notice that the tip writers don't even live in these towns and that their "tips" are quite inaccurate in some cases. These "tips" are gospel to many of the 400 000 members of Virtualtourist and their site receives around 60 000 unique visitors per day!

(How on earth do they achieve such a high amount of visitors if their website is so slow? Well, that is because they are hosted on an overseas server. Which should make us realise that overseas people normally find South African websites to be equally slow, again because of the "long distance" involved. I have spent long periods in Europe, and Virtualtourist is lightning fast from there - while most of the South African servers are excruciatingly slow. The server for Scapenotes has been carefully selected to achieve acceptable speeds from everywhere.)

Back to the main point; One of the major reasons for starting Scapenotes, was to get a reliable and accurate exchange of information between tourists and the tourist industry. Virtualtourist bans unpaid advertising from facility owners and we feel that is a mistake. In the example of Vergelegen above, no connection is made to the owners/management of Vergelegen so that they can give their side of the story.

ScapeNotes seeks to get a healthy dialogue going by being accessible to everybody on a reasonably fast server, as well as having an "e-mail notification" system available whereby facility owners will instantly be mailed the comments of subsequent visitors to their pages. Of course, you will only get these notices if you have registered your e-mail address here. Rest assured that your registered e-mail address is never disclosed, unless you clearly ask for it to be revealed.

We are our doing our very best to get ScapeNotes recognised by search engines and getting tourists to realise that there is a healthy, accurate "discussion forum" available here. We want to bring the discussion home where it will be of much more benefit to the Western Cape tourists and tourist industry. We would appreciate your support by publishing information here and promoting www.scapenotes.com.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ben on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 07:22 pm: Edit Post

Just wondering how the Scapenotes venture is comming along? Do you get many hits - is it possible to supply some info on its popularity? maybe on the web?


Ben and Deoni van Rensburg
Guest House Montagu Rose

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Admin on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 07:23 pm: Edit Post

Hi Ben

A happy new year to you and Deoni!

Scapenotes is still here, but very few people are actually posting notes and asking questions at the site. Recently, I changed it a bit and took away the requirement to register first. It seemed that the public were wary about 2 issues:
- Why must they register and give names and e-mail addresses?
- How is it possible that it is free (there must be a catch somewhere).

Anyway, it is a very interesting learning curve for our little group and we will continue to tinker with it. Your comments and proposals would really be appreciated.

In December 2003, Scapenotes received 3341 unique visitors.

All the best

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Admin on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 07:25 pm: Edit Post

Hi again Ben

I have just looked at the logfiles to see specifically how the Montagu page and the Montagu Rose pages were doing.
In January so far, the Montagu page was opened 28 times and the Montagu Rose page was opened 12 times.

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