South Africa: African allure

31 May 2016 by Marisa Cannon
Getting delegates to convene in South Africa is never a hard sell, Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, executive manager of the South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB), tells me. After a week spent cavorting between Johannesburg and Cape Town, sipping pinot noir in vineyards, floating in a hot-air balloon above a game reserve and feasting on luscious cuts from a South African braai (barbecue), I needed little convincing. South Africa is an obvious choice as an incentive destination, but the convention bureau is keen to position itself as Africa’s premier location for meetings, and is bent on attracting more delegations from Europe, the United States and Asia. The main challenge is perception, says Kotze-Nhlapo. “Safety is still a concern among planners. But the way we tackle this is by using testimonials and client referrals to address the problems that planners believe exist in South Africa.” Despite this, business travel to South Africa remains strong, with the World Travel and Tourism Council reporting US$5.7 billion worth of receipts in 2014, or 34 per cent of direct travel and tourism GDP, with a further 2.1 per cent growth projected for 2015. As for the country’s appeal as an association destination, South Africa is gaining pace on the world stage, rising two spots in the 2014 ICCA rankings to 32nd place, ahead of Hong Kong, the UAE and New Zealand. A number of new regulations are, however, causing setbacks to the rate of leisure arrivals to South Africa, including a condition that all children under 18 travelling to and from the country carry an unabridged birth certificate – a move to counter child trafficking. Arrivals between February 2014 and 2015 fell 7.2 per cent, with Chinese visitor numbers dropping a whopping 32.4 per cent after a successful few years that saw Chinese tourism triple between 2009 and 2013. This isn’t such a problem for large-scale conventions though, whose delegates tend to leave the kids at home: an estimated 7,000 attendees are expected at the Africa Health exhibition in June, along with 20,000 at the International Aids Conference, taking place in July. Kotze-Nhlapo says that the bureau is making an effort to woo Chinese visitors back as well with targeted services. “Local attractions and hotels are able to offer Chinese guides and translation services, while our hotels are trained to better understand the dietary habits of Chinese guests and provide the kind of itineraries that cater for Chinese MICE visitors. At large shopping malls and airports in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other major cities, Union Pay is on offer too.” Johannesburg (Joburg) is the country’s main business destination and has hosted Africa’s largest meetings and incentives expo, Meetings Africa, since its inception in 2005. Though relatively small compared with expos in Europe or North America, it’s the only comprehensive showcase for planners who want to tap into the continent’s conference and incentive offerings. This year it welcomed 58 exhibitors from 15 African countries and some 250 hosted buyers at Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre, where it was revealed that a majority of incentives and venues remain in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town. Here’s a rundown of some of the best group activities and venue options in these locales. Joburg by open-top bus  City sightseeing buses are a familiar sight in major cities thanks to their glaring red paint jobs and open rooftops. This is one of the best ways to see Joburg’s CBD, offering delegates the chance to hop on and off at will (accompanied by a guide at all times). Plugged into earphones, passengers receive a real-time and informative explanation of the city’s prominent monuments, famous streets and districts as the bus passes them, offering a poignant insight into the troubled history of South Africa’s largest city. Lilliesleaf Farm Located in Joburg’s Rivonia suburb, Lilliesleaf is the former stronghold of the anti-apartheid liberation movement. A place of refuge for the movement’s leaders including Nelson Mandela, the farm was bought by the Communist Party in the 1960s for use as an HQ. On July 11, 1964, a police raid took place at Lilliesleaf that led to the unearthing of liberation struggle documents and the subsequent incarceration of many of the movement’s key players. Today, Lilliesleaf is a World Heritage site, and groups can tour the farm’s buildings, which contain artefacts and interactive digital experiences. Soweto tour Home to the FNB football stadium made famous by the Fifa 2010 World Cup, Soweto is one of the country’s largest townships, housing close to five million inhabitants. Soweto is massive, but minivan tours are a great way of navigating the area, guided by locals who know the area inside out. Stop off at Nelson Mandela’s former home for a quick tour, get delegates bungee jumping from the graffitied Orlando Twin Towers, shop for local trinkets at street stalls and take a photo outside the current home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Lunch at a local outdoor eatery is included in the tour. Sun City and balloon safari  South Africa’s answer to an integrated resort (in the vein of those in Macau and Las Vegas), Sun City incorporates four hotels, two championship golf courses, gambling, a man-made beach and waterpark, wildlife viewing and hot-air ballooning, to name just a few attractions. The resort is extremely popular with Chinese tourists year-round, says Nokuthula Nkosi, media relations officer at Sun City. “Our biggest market comes from Asia – China predominantly. Our Chinese market is so huge that we’ve even incorporated Chinese New Year into our events calendar. “Gambling is obviously a draw for the large groups that come,” she adds, “but we are happy to be able to offer game tours to see the ‘big five’ at Pilanesberg National Park, which is malaria-free so requires no vaccinations.” The big five refers to the African lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros (white or black), which can be seen on drives across Pilanesberg’s 1,500-acre (607-hectare) reserve, and from the awesome vantage point of a hot-air balloon. Rides can be organised through Sun City; pick-up from the hotel is at 4.30am for an early morning game drive before a 6am balloon flight. One balloon can hold 10-15 people depending on the weight of passengers. Once airborne, the balloon bows gracefully to the whims of every gust and, helped along by fiery bursts from the burner, bobs across the horizon – sometimes low enough for passengers to spot herds of wildebeest, white rhino poorly concealed behind shrubbery, and giraffes in full canter. Sun City’s four hotels offer 1,351 rooms, which can be booked out in their entirety. Boasting palatial stucco interiors and hand-painted murals, the resort is modelled on an  “African palace”, offering enormous grounds navigable by private minibuses. Teambuilding activities can be organised for groups, but Sun City is more appropriately a haven for groups who want to build bonds through leisure, with a bit of golf, a safari and time spent poolside. Convene in Cape Town Cape Town is often first choice for planners looking to host in South Africa; close to 250 venues are on offer, with Cape Town ranked 41st on the 2014 ICCA cities list. The city’s premier venue is the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), currently in the throes of vigorous expansion. The new development will increase the centre’s existing exhibition space by 10,000 sqm, with hopes to contribute US$137.4 million to national GDP by 2020. Scheduled for completion in 2016, the expansion is part of wider development within the area, which will include 40,000 sqm committed to commercial and hotel development. A brand new addition to Cape Town’s venue scene is Century City Conference Centre (CCCC) and the adjoining 125-room hotel, which previewed at Meetings Africa 2016 to strong international interest, says co-CEO of the CCCC Glyn Taylor. “We have had a lot of interest from Asian markets keen to book site inspections at Meetings Africa,” he says. “Century City’s new hotel and conference centre is the newest state-of-the-art event facility in Cape Town – just 20 minutes’ drive from the V&A waterfront and Cape Town’s main attractions.” Chopper rides and wine tasting Located on the V&A waterfront, Sport Helicopters offers tours around the city’s bays, Table Mountain, along the coastline to the region’s best shark cage diving sites and the wine region surrounding Cape Town. A popular tour is one that charts a course from the waterfront to Cavalli Wine and Stud Farm, an equine-themed winery on the Stellenbosch Wine Route that offers 600 sqm of event space. It’s a glamorous feeling being dropped off at a handsome winery by helicopter, while onlookers scratch their heads and wonder who you could be. Sleek and modern in design, Cavalli is ideal for a corporate day retreat thanks to its range of open and airy event spaces, all boasting dramatic views of Helderberg mountain. Attached to its own equine facilities on 110 hectares of premium vineyards, the Cavalli winery hosts tastings in the basement cellar, where guests can sample a range of the estate’s flagship wines. The scenery around the estate is breathtaking, a USP that the estate promotes very well through its outdoor venues. The restaurant’s neighbouring terrace is enhanced by enormous fire pits that allow for casual campfire-style sessions, while more formal events benefit from a landscaped, sunken garden that can seat 350, with clipped hedges for privacy.
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