South Africa: Big game player

Having won over the UK's leisure market, South Africa is starting to highlight its special appeal to the C&I sector. Jane Dunford reports.

During the decade since full democracy was introduced, great changes have swept across South Africa - and now the country's tourist board has decided to move in a new direction as well.

While the past focus has been on tempting leisure visitors to experience the country's unique offer, a new drive aims to attract more C&I groups from the UK. A shake-up of the national convention bureau, formed earlier this year, saw Marietta Lee appointed as business tourism manager in Johannesburg, while Patricia D'Arcy is due to return to work in November as business tourism manager in London following her maternity leave. "We've been working on promoting the leisure side of things, and now it's time to focus on business," says Lee. "The UK has huge potential for us."

To tap into the market, South African Tourism, along with key business partners, held a major launch of its business brand 'Business Unusual' in London at the start of November. The aim was to showcase South Africa's business side and provide hi-tech sales tools for the industry.

These are moves that have been welcomed by agencies, hotel groups and DMCs alike, which had previously worked independently to promote the destination.

DMC Southern Africa Travel marketing director Paul Gardiner welcomes the move. "It will re-ignite interest and put South Africa firmly on the map," he says. "South Africa is a wonderful destination for the C&I market - it has such diversity. It's also accessible, has first-world infrastructure, world-class conference facilities and, because there's only a one hour time difference from the UK, there's no jet lag, so more people are realising that they can organise short itineraries."

Growing market

As the leisure market has opened up to South Africa's charms - and visitor figures have soared since 1994 - so the C&I market has enjoyed a knock-on effect, according to DMCs. UK groups from HSBC, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Barclays and Spar are among those to have visited the country this year.

Capital World Travel director Chris McQue for one is a fan. "There's been a great surge in demand for South Africa - it has genuine appeal, it's affordable and it offers a massive range of attractions," he says.

Cape Town's stunning scenery (it is hard to think of many destinations with a mountain slap-bang in the centre of town ), fantastic hotel options and its Europe-meets-Africa vibe, means the 'Mother City' is still the first choice for UK groups, particularly for incentives.

A visit is often coupled with a trip to a game reserve or a visit to the Victoria Falls in Zambia. In March, HP held a three-night incentive organised by agency BI Worldwide in Cape Town to reward 60 top performing executives.

The group stayed at the Table Bay Hotel and activities on offer included tandem skydives, township tours, Harley Davidson rides, catamaran trips and a tour of the Cape Winelands. "HP wanted a luxurious event," says BI client service director Wendy Jarvis. "The destination needed to appeal to senior executives and Cape Town fitted the bill perfectly. It offered thrills with luxury and exoticism."

The opening of the Cape Town International Convention Centre in 2003 has also upped the region's credentials as a competitive player in the meetings market, moving the destination up from 42 to 30 in the 2004 ICCA rankings, putting it on a par with Sydney, Vancouver and Glasgow.

Association business

The World Diabetes Association is to hold a five-day conference there this time next year for 10,000 delegates, and the venue has plans to expand its facilities still further.

Seven new hotels are in the pipeline too, including a One & Only property on the V&A Waterfront, the North Wharf Protea Hotel, which opens in December, and the 60-room Cape Diamond Hotel, which opens this month.

Sun International's Table Bay Hotel, an incentive group favourite, has been completely refurbished and now offers high-speed internet in all of its rooms. Next to the ICC, the Arabella Sheraton, which opened in 2003, has been renovated too, while the grande dame Mount Nelson has completely refurbished its Oasis wing.

According to DMC Gilt Edge Travel managing director Sean Kritzinger, this pace of change is one the attractions. "Cape Town is a vibrant place, there's always something new happening and the incentive product is becoming ever-more sophisticated," he says. "There's so much choice, from adventurous pursuits like abseiling down Table Mountain, to visiting the wine estates, which are diversifying the experiences they offer."

Marketing body Cape Town Routes Unlimited, which promotes the city and the Western Cape, is also stepping up its activity. This year, it produced an Incentive Planner's Guide for the first time and is working with local DMCs to develop an understanding of the market before visiting the UK early next year.

Call of the wild

Besides the scenic Garden Route and the wine estates, the wildlife experiences of South Africa's reserves are key incentive draws. Kruger National Park remains high on the list, but interest in the game reserves around the Eastern Cape is increasing because of their proximity to Cape Town.

Elsewhere, the world-class facilities in Johannesburg and Durban are making their mark on the international conference market. Johannesburg's Sandton Convention Centre, linked to the Intercontinental Sandton Sun and Towers hotel, features 22,000m2 of convention and exhibition space, while The Pavilion can seat 4,500. The International Convention Centre Durban (see p65) is undergoing a £43m expansion project.

While most UK incentive groups flying to Johannesburg transfer straight to Sun City, Jo'burg is gradually shaking off its reputation as an unsafe destination. The face of the city is changing, led by developments such as the Melrose Arch complex - which includes the achingly hip Melrose Arch Hotel - and a raft of trendy nightclubs and chic restaurants.

"People tend to bypass Johannesburg, but perceptions are changing and it's definitely on the way up," says Lynton Cooper managing director Gerry Manser. "There are some good activities and great properties like the Saxon and the Westcliff."

Lynton Cooper used the Saxon for two nights for a 25-strong high-level management incentive group from a financial services company last year, before heading to Sun City. "It's not what you'd expect in Johannesburg and went down very well," said Manser.

Kwazulu-Natal province, home to Durban and the Phinda Private Game Reserve, is also appearing on the C&I radar. Lynton Cooper held an incentive for 50 people from a technology company at Phinda in February and took over the entire Mountain Lodge.

But with most eyes still focused on Cape Town and Kruger, other regions are often overlooked - something of a waste according to DMC Wedgewood South Africa director Debbie Ayub. "Durban is really undersold and should be used more by the MICE market," she says. "It has a tropical climate, lovely beaches and exciting cultural experiences. The Rovos Rail trip from Pretoria to Durban is fabulous, while the Zimbali Lodge is a stunning hotel that's excellent for incentives," she says.

As the tourist board starts to push the attractions of each region, perhaps it won't be long before the C&I market follows leisure visitors into pastures new.

FIVE OF THE BEST NEW VENUES

The Bushman Sands Hotel and Game Reserve at Alicedale in the Eastern Cape is a great setting for smaller C&I events. A joint venture between the Mantis Collection and the government has redeveloped the destination to offer a 39-room hotel, 18-hole Gary Player golf course, 10,000-acre game reserve with a vast dammed lake for boat cruises, and a conference centre for up to 90 delegates in the converted railway station. Activities range from abseiling to walking safaris. www.bushmansands.com

In Kwazulu-Natal, the Beverly Hills Hotel has completed a £2.5m refurbishment and upped its glamour quotient with velvets, suede, leather and antique mirrors. The boardroom overlooks the Indian Ocean and can cater for up to 70 delegates. www.southernsun.com

In Cape Town, the Gold of Africa Museum now caters for groups. The courtyard area of the 17th-century house can accommodate 350 for al fresco cocktail events. Other facilities include a presentation suite for up to 50 theatre-style and a wine cellar, with space for 20 seated diners. A museum tour and interactive gold-smithing demonstration can be incorporated. www.goldofafrica.com

The luxurious Lagoon Beach Hotel, on the beach at Milnerton, Cape Town, opened fully in July offering 204 rooms and suites. The main conference room seats up to 180 people theatre-style, with two boardrooms for groups of up to 50. Activities available for team-building events include surfing, kayaking, jet skis and beach volleyball. www.threecities.co.za

Another development making waves is the Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa, set on the wild coastline near Knysner on the Garden Route. With 78 luxury rooms, it's ideal for intimate, upmarket incentives. It has a spectacular golf course, spa, a host of activities from paragliding to scuba diving and a private helicopter. There are two conference rooms, the largest of which can hold 45 delegates. www.pezula.co.za

SUN CITY UPDATE

Sun City is probably the best known resort complex in South Africa. A two-hour drive from Johannesburg and located next to Pilanesberg Game Reserve, the resort has expanded its facilities for the C&I market over the past year.

"We're constantly evolving and improving," says events and incentives division manager Anton Van Wyk. Among the new products is a Cultural Village Complex, an interactive facility showcasing the variety of cultures and tribes in South Africa. Cocktail events for up to 250 and traditional African Boma dinners for up to 120 can be catered for with an array of cultural performances to accompany them.

The new helipad can be used for scenic flights over the resort, or to transport guests to a new hill-top venue, Mountain in the Sun, which is ideal for breakfasts or to watch the sun go down.

For thrill-seekers, there is a 280m-high zip-slide, which stretches for nearly a mile.

A new concept, 'Experiences' has also been introduced to offer a greater range of outdoor programmes from treasure hunts to themed races.

As part of a recent upgrading programme at The Cascades hotel, a Mediterranean restaurant, Santorini, has opened, offering space for up to 200.

Rodber Thorneycroft director Ben Rodber has used the venue for several groups, including a 30-strong incentive for a telecoms company last October.

"Sun City is ideal for incentives," he says. "It's the entertainment capital of Africa. You can just give the staff a per-head budget and let them make suggestions, they're very creative."

REAL LIFE ITINERARY

DAY ONE

08.00: Arrive at Cape Town International Airport. A traditional Marimba Band can be arranged to welcome delegates. For smaller groups, transfers in vintage cars are an option.

10.00: Check in to the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa. Just 15 minutes along the coast from the V&A Waterfront at Camps Bay, the 70-room boutique hotel has fantastic views over the ocean and features the Sanctuary Spa for pampering. The property, a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World, is ideal for small groups looking for a luxurious location away from the bustle of the city centre. Facilities include a 16-seat cinema and private meeting rooms for up to 90 theatre-style. Recent UK groups include Estee Lauder, Barclays and Nokia.

12.00: Transfer to the V&A Waterfront where there are a host of restaurants to choose from for lunch. Quay Four, which specialises in seafood, is a popular option.

14.30: A sight-seeing tour of Cape Town. Highlights include the South African Museum, the Cape Malay Quarter and Company Gardens.

19.00: Set out on a 30-minute drive to the Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch for dinner at Moyo restaurant. Feast on an African buffet under a starlit sky with live performances and face painting. The tree-lined garden is filled with Bedouin tents and gazebos, with tree houses for smaller groups.

"People always love the ambience," says DMC Gilt Edge Travel's Sean Kritzinger.

"It's really popular and, as it's so vast, it suits groups of all sizes as whole sections can be booked."

DAY TWO

07.00: For early birds, a trip to the top of Table Mountain for breakfast is a fantastic way of seeing Cape Town in all its glory. The cable car can be booked for groups before it opens to the public, so delegates can have the place to themselves.

10.30: Transfer to Grabouw in Overberg, where Tri Active Events Management offers a wide range of team-building and adventure activities in the forest. Abseiling down a canyon, quad-biking, treasure hunts, orienteering, rock climbing and target shooting are some of the options. "We can tailor any programme to suit and are flexible on location," says manager Anton Bulger.

14.00: Lunch is a picnic complete with white tablecloths beside the river before the 20-minute drive to the hotel in Kleinmond.

16.00: Check in to the recently-refurbished Western Cape Hotel & Spa. This is a stunning property with 145 rooms and suites, an 18-hole golf course, luxury spa and a nature reserve with more than 150 species of bird. The Kogelberg Conference Centre has five boardrooms and three conference rooms with a maximum capacity of 360 theatre-style.

19.00: Head into Hermanus for dinner at the Marine Hotel, a five-star property on the water's edge. Up to 60 people can be catered for at a private event. Local winemakers, such as Hamilton-Russell, can attend dinner to talk about the local product.

DAY THREE

08.00: Leave for a morning of water-based activity on the coast. For adventurous types, Great White Eco Ventures can organise shark-diving. Divers are lowered into the water in metal cages and close-up shark sighting, though not guaranteed, can be thrilling. Other options include whale-watching trips from May to November.

13.00: Lunch is at award-winning restaurant Bientang's Cave in Hermanus, partly set in a cave as its name implies. The waves crash on the shore 100 metres from the restaurant and whales can often be spotted passing by in season. The restaurant specialises in seafood and can cater for up to 70 delegates inside and 120 people al fresco.

15.00: Return to the hotel. Stop en route at the Bouchard Finlayson wine estate in the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Hell) Valley for a spot of wine-tasting. Once back at the hotel, delegates can enjoy the facilities, whether it's a treatment at the Altira Spa and Wellness Centre or a quick round of golf, time permitting.

19.00: Dinner at the hotel. There's a wide choice of options, from a poolside barbeque to lavish, themed gala dinners. For smaller groups, fine dining is on offer at the Premiere Club, which seats 12, or the Premiere Restaurant, which seats 40.

DURBAN UPDATE

Along the Kwazulu-Natal coast, Durban is upping its conference credentials with a £43m expansion of the International Convention Centre Durban (ICC Durban).

The project, which will be completed at the end of 2006, will double the venue's size, making it the biggest conference centre in the country.

Among the new facilities will be a world-class indoor ICC Arena, providing space for 6,000 theatre-style. Durban International Airport is being upgraded too, with a £3.5m expansion programme already underway.

Over recent years, there have been many changes in the city, which is the country's third largest and renowned for its sub-tropical climate and surfing. The corniche has been given a facelift and the largest marine park in Africa, Ushaka Marine World opened last April. Events can be held in the aquarium and the Cargo Hold Restaurant and the Upper Deck Restaurant on the Phantom Ship attraction.

Sun International opened the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom last December. The massive £73m development, located between Umhlanga and Ballito, sits on a hill top with views across the Indian Ocean.

Attractions include a theatre, a 'boma' dining area for 250 people, a cultural village and several restaurants. There are two hotels on-site - the Royal Sibaya, with 12 suites and 24 rooms and Sibaya Lodge, a three-star, 120-room family property.

Ten minutes north of the city, Kingfisher Lodge, a luxury property with 20 rooms and suites, opened last year next to the Kingfisher Conference Centre. Further along the coast the Hotel Izulu, an all-suite, five-star hotel, opened last October, with 19 rooms. The banqueting hall seats 150 and there's a selection of smaller rooms for meetings, including the luxurious Royal Suite, which can be used for up to ten delegates.

Another new property, the Cradle at Zimbali, near Ballito Bay, is set to open mid-2006. The property will have 124 rooms, suites and villas, a conference room for up to 300 people, three break-out rooms for 15 and a business centre.

SOUTH AFRICA DIRECTORY South African Tourism, 6 Alt Grove, London SW19 4DZ Contact: Patricia D'Arcy Tel: 020 8971 9354 Email: darcy@southafrica.net Web: www.southafrica.net Flight duration: 10+ hours Time difference: GMT plus 1 Currency Rand (£1 = R11.5) > CASE STUDY MAP MERCHANTS GROUP Company: Map Merchants Group Event Incentive Group size: 12 DMC Southern Africa Travel Date: 11-15 November 2004 Venue: Shamwari Private Game Reserve Budget: Undisclosed

As a 'thank you' to a group of employees and a sales incentive for the team, paper producer Map Merchants Group headed to South Africa for three days last year.

The group left London from Heathrow on an overnight flight to Johannesburg and then flew on to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. The transfer time to Shamwari was roughly an hour.

Map Merchants Group vice-president of communications Claire Cook says: "We sponsor the Born Free Foundation which has a base in Shamwari and we wanted something that would be truly special as well as insightful for the group - and you can't beat the safari experience for excitement."

Shamwari has a number of lodges, but Long Lee Manor, a restored Edwardian manor house, was chosen to host the event. Up to 38 guests can be accommodated, and there are two pools and a spa.

"It was totally luxurious, very exclusive and suited our objective," says Cook.

The group left on a game drive and orientation for the afternoon, stopping for cocktails in the evening on the highest point of Shamwari. The reserve is home to the Big Five, and getting to see plenty of game is more or less guaranteed. That evening, a sit-down dinner was organised in the Manor House with typical South African food and wine.

The next morning began with an early wake-up call and a game drive as dawn broke - it's one of the best times for viewing animals. After breakfast, the group headed to Kaya Lendaba, an African arts and cultural centre, offering an insight into the many cultures of the Eastern Cape.

Lunch was again back at the Manor House, before the group headed to the Born Free Rescue Centre. There, the group was given a talk on the plight of wildlife around the globe and the organisation's work for animal rights, preceding a tour of the centre to see the rescue animals.

That evening the group enjoyed a bush dinner in the heart of the reserve - dining out under the stars. The final day was free for game drives or walking safaris before evening flights back to London.

"It was great to be in South Africa and November's a good time of year to visit," says Cook. "We wanted the trip to be as memorable as possible and it was. The dinners in the bush were amazing - a real highlight - the game drives were fantastic and the trip also gave everyone the opportunity to understand what Born Free is about, so it was really worthwhile."

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