There is always something new to discover in the Mother City, the first African city to partner with New York. Picture: Lisa Burnell
There is always something new to discover in the Mother City, the first African city to partner with New York. Picture: Lisa Burnell
New York city is many cities in one with many cultures; inner-city living at its best and most diverse. Picture: Wes Tarca
New York city is many cities in one with many cultures; inner-city living at its best and most diverse. Picture: Wes Tarca
Fred Dixon, CEO of New York City and Company, and Cape Town Tourism CEO
Enver Duminy sign the historic partnership in New York. Picture: Adrian Ephraim
Fred Dixon, CEO of New York City and Company, and Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy sign the historic partnership in New York. Picture: Adrian Ephraim
Like it or not, if you had access to American TV, chances are your favourite shows were set in New York: Friends, Sex and the City, CSI: New York, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother - the list goes on. Seinfeld was a personal favourite.

Granted, there are some things you will only see on American TV, like an advert for a catheter. “Choose the catheter that’s right for you”; “Call now for a free trial catheter!”

New York was this almost mythical place where everyone looked good or they were a villain, and everyone had a sense of humour. Also, they were mostly Caucasians drinking coffee. New Yorkers lived their best life, or so it seemed.

Closer to reality, we tried to live through every moment of the September 11 attacks in 2001 with New York, from the moment the first plane crashed into the first tower to the city’s rise from the ashes, and its eventual rebirth. And now its designs on the future.

The metropolis is quite practically the capital of the world, attracting more visitors than any other city in the world. So why would this icon want to partner with Cape Town, a city at the tip of Africa? Well, why not? replied Cape Town Tourism.

The newly announced twinning marketing agreement between the two cities was a meeting of minds - and hearts, says Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy.

“We had our eye on New York for a while. We were like the shy kid waiting for the pretty girl to choose us to take her to the prom.

“It still feels surreal. The hard work has begun already as we move towards the implementation phase. I think people in Africa will look at this day and be blown away by the fact that a city like New York considers us to be part of their story. Because it’s not only about a Cape Town and a New York story; it’s about that commonality. For us that is a lot more powerful.”

The agreement will see both cities use their respective marketing platforms to promote each other.

It is dreamy stuff if one looks a little closer. New York receives 55 million visitors per year, compared to Cape Town’s 5 million. Thirty percent of arrivals from the US originated in New York. The two cities are in different leagues when it comes to size and reputation. But in truth, the pretty girl already had her eye on Cape Town - and the feeling was mutual.

Fred Dixon, president and CEO of New York City and Company, was glowing in his praise for his South African counterpart and the team. “All of this is largely due to Enver. It was he who reached out to us and ask if we could grab a coffee. We’re always looking to work with passionate people. We realise that New York has a leadership role to play in the world. We knew that Cape Town saw the world the way we saw it and that travel has the power to transform people.”

Like Cape Town, New York is a city of deep complexity. Both have a complicated history with the Dutch, who first laid claim to the land though it really didn’t belong to them. By the late 1890s New York was the entry point for millions of European immigrants into the United States. It’s the stuff of Donald Trump’s nightmares, if that were to happen in this day and age. Except it does still happen, only this time the worlds of commerce, art, media and advertising collide.

Similarly, Cape Town was the point at which many Europeans entered Africa.

What is striking, though, about both cities this time around is not their histories, but where they’re going.

Between 2005 and 2013 New York saw a 68% increase in international visitors, from 6.8 million to over 11.4 million a year, more than one and a half times faster than the US as a whole.

Numbers of visitors to Cape Town increased by 7% in 2016, totalling more than 5 million. There are comparisons between the historical significance of Ellis Island and Robben Island, or the American hot dog and the Gatsby, or maybe the juxtaposition of the city that never sleeps and “slaapstad”.

“For me it’s not really about the aesthetics. We’re known for the mountain and the ocean, but always fixate on those things. With Cape Town, it’s like a scratch card lottery ticket, except you win every time. There is always something new to discover,” Duminy says. “Just like New York, the deeper you go into it, the more beautiful it becomes. It’s not about the pretty stuff, it’s about the authenticity. And what makes any destination authentic is its people.”

New York in the summer is a sweltering concrete jungle filled with every type of individual in motion, on a mission and on their phone.

New Yorkers move through the city with a purpose with bicycles, skateboards, cabs, Ubers and caffeine. It’s only tourists like me who amble aimlessly down 5th Avenue, just window shopping and feeling poor when one calculates the rand to dollar exchange rate in one’s head. The world is a cruel place for a South African I thought to myself, and then I walked past the barricaded Trump Tower and thought maybe not.

New York voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, almost 60 percent to Trump’s 36 percent. Enough said.

Beyond the politics, you could never compare the natural beauty of Cape Town to New York’s largely manicured looks, but the two have enough in common to warrant a meaningful friendship. Or at least, friends with benefits.

Cape Town’s aspirations are tied to a sure winner in the Big Apple. There are few better examples to follow.

“There’s an opportunity that lies across the Atlantic Ocean. The story of New York is that everything is possible. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, it’s up to you to make that difference. That a small city at the tip of Africa connected with a global player such as New York, means you don’t have to sit back and wait for things to happen.

“In New York they believe that anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it, and you don’t take No for an answer,” Duminy says.

New York is inner-city living at its best and most diverse, with patches of serenity. It is a city of parks that brings communities, colleagues and strangers together. It’s a place where the Broadway Baseball League plays games in Central Park on a Thursday afternoon. Scores of families bask in the sun, stretched out on the grass. Summer in New York is a sight to behold.

It’s impossible to put a finger on New York. It is many cities in one, many cultures and languages. It’s a place of opportunity for some, a place of hardship for others and home to millions more. It’s where the world gathers to do business and study, but also absorb the complexities of a place that isn’t just a not-so-cheap date - but something to aspire to.

Why New York for Cape Town?

The US is Cape Town’s third (currently the second in 2017) largest international source market. In 2015, 30% of arrivals from the US to Cape Town originated at or travelled via New York City airports. Source: OAG Aviation Worldwide Ltd.

Africa as a region enjoys an estimated 0.5% of the US overseas outbound market, sitting at 74 million outbound travellers in 2015, so there is huge potential for growth.

For the last three years, there has been over a 4.7% growth rate in arrivals to Cape Town and seems to be maintaining an upward trend.

The latest political uncertainty globally has had the inadvertent effect of South Africa being perceived as a safer country and therefore a good time to capitalise on inclusivity of Cape Town.

Their peak travel times over the past three years are in June and July, which makes it an excellent market to address seasonality.

Culture, attractions, wildlife and adventure are their main affinities, which speak directly to Cape Town’s tourism offering.

Daily spend is high from the US market and on the increase, by 42% from R890 in 2014 to R1260 in 2015. This was 52% above the average daily spend of a foreign visitor in 2015. - Information: CT Tourism

  • Adrian Ephraim was a guest of Cape Town Tourism and NYC & Company