Know the beast

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Johannesburg can be pretty intimidating to a traveller visiting it for the first time, so it’s advisable to get a good idea of the layout and a sense of the major centres and the hotels they offer, to get full value out of any business trip to the city.

Johannesburg is South Africa’s main business travel destination and the economic powerhouse of both the country and the African continent. “The thing I love about Johannesburg is the vibe,” says Guy Stehlik, CEO of Cape Town-based BON Hotels. “The restaurants are incredible and offer wonderful value for money, its’ shopping centres are superior to any I have ever experienced, and the people are open, friendly and eager for business.  Johannesburg should be a business trip anyone should look forward to.”

The capital of South Africa’s smallest province, Gauteng, Johannesburg is where it all happens for the country’s business travellers. Not only is it the largest city in South Africa, but Johannesburg is also one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. Mining was the foundation of the Witwatersrand’s economy, but its importance is gradually declining due to dwindling reserves, and service and manufacturing industries have become more significant to the city’s economy. While gold mining no longer takes place within the city limits, most mining companies still have their headquarters in Johannesburg.

The city’s manufacturing industries extend across a range of areas and there is still a reliance on heavy industries including steel and cement plants. Other industries include banking, IT, real estate, transport, broadcast and print media, private health care, and a vibrant leisure and consumer retail market. The JSE is Africa’s largest stock exchange and has moved out of the CBD. Due to its commercial role, the city is the seat of the provincial government and the site of a number of government branch offices, as well as consular offices and other institutions.

SANDTON

Much of the financial activity takes place in and around the Sandton district in the north of Johannesburg, approximately 20 minutes from the CBD and about half an hour from O.R. Tambo International Airport, depending on traffic. Sandton features many of the big banks and associated corporates, the JSE, a host of hotels, restaurants and bars, a Gautrain station, the huge Sandton City shopping centre, and Nelson Mandela Square.

Legacy Hotels & Resorts is arguably the major ‘premium’ player in the Sandton area, with a portfolio of properties that include the five-star Michelangelo, DAVINCI Hotel & Suites, Michelangelo Towers, and Raphael Penthouse Suites. These are suited to the premium business traveller who wants to be in the heart of Sandton, on the doorstep of Leonardo – which is currently under construction and due for completion in the next year.

“It’s a Legacy group and Nedbank mixed-use development and will be the tallest building in Sandton, with unsuppressed views,” says Brearley. “The Leonardo will house a multitude of suites with 200 one, two and three-bedroom apartments, eight penthouses and The Leonardo suite, which will be a 2880m2 penthouse with 360-degree views. Then there will be ground floor shops, a garden rooftop restaurant, coffee shops, a heated pool, a gym and top-class service. The Leonardo will be truly unique on the African continent and draws inspiration from an urban lifestyle that rivals many worldly cities.”

Another South African group with a presence in Sandton are Sun International, albeit with just the one property – The Maslow. It’s the group’s business hotel brand, with Sun International due to open a second Maslow in Menlyn, near Pretoria, to the north of Johannesburg, in April. “Sun International has always been regarded and perceived as a premium brand – a glamorous brand,” says Rob Collins, Sun International Group Chief Strategy & Operations Officer.

“But the one glaring omission in our portfolio was always our lack of presence in Sandton, which we addressed through our acquisition of The Maslow.” It’s a competitive space is Sandton, with a host of premium quality hotels, including a selection of international brands. There’s a five-star Hilton Sandton City or adjacent to the Sandton Convention Centre.

“The dynamics of doing business in Sandton with so many major corporates having their head offices all within a stone’s throw of Nelson Mandela’s famous statue is very appealing,” says Paddy Brearley, Managing Director of Legacy Hotels. “The access has been recently improved and whether it means travelling by Gautrain or by road, the popular modes of transport are mostly pretty acceptable.” Further to that, Legacy are betting big on the future of Sandton with arguably their most ambitious project yet – The property over the road from Nedbank and the JSE, whilst Carlson Rezidor has a presence made up of two Radisson Blu hotels – including one 50 metres from the local Gautrain station – and a Park Inn by Radisson.

There’s also a Holiday Inn and an InterContinental adjacent to the Sandton Convention Centre. Further to that, the local groups are also well-represented. Tsogo Sun has seven properties in and around the Sandton node, including the five-star refurbished Sandton Sun, the five-star Southern Sun Hyde Park, the InterContinental (it owns the property), and two Garden Court properties. City Lodge, in turn, has one Courtyard, two City Lodges and one Town Lodge in Sandton, whilst Marriot has the iconic Balalaika Hotel in its portfolio.

The Capital Hotels & Apartments group has five Sandton-based properties. The group offers standard hotel rooms, fully-furnished serviced apartments and modern conference facilities across the three, four and five-star segments. A notch down the star scale, Faircity has two properties in the three and four-star range, the Falstaff and the Quatermain. From a boutique hotel perspective, two properties stand out – the Saxon and Fairlawns – with both situated within a few minutes’ drive of Sandton City, either side of it. The Saxon is arguably the premier boutique hotel in Johannesburg and possibly South Africa, and is where the late Nelson Mandela wrote his memoirs.

Taking all of this into account, it’s no surprise then that Collins agrees that there’s an oversupply of properties in Sandton.

“Only a couple of years ago there was an under-supply in Sandton and the demand was enormous,” he says. “Lots of hotels sprang up, new hotel groups formed, new hotels were built, the Gautrain became a reality and suddenly there was this growing need for more hotels. The World Cup in 2010 was probably the catalyst for that.”

“It’s probably fair to say that as an unintended consequence of this frenzy, Sandton is now overtraded. Supply is now greater than the demand. Established hotels are still holding their own against new hotels, new apartments, new accommodation disrupters such as boutique hotels, B&Bs and Airbnbs, because we have seen increased occupancy in the Sandton node. It is just that it has had to be shared among more players, so there’s pressure on both occupancy and rate. At this juncture, Sandton is probably oversupplied and demand is down.”

ROSEBANK

Rosebank is one of the ‘nodes’ that is, arguably, benefiting from Sandton’s over-supply and a reduced interest in the Johannesburg CBD. For example, in a significant move, Standard Bank shifted one of its main offices from the CBD to Rosebank just a couple of years ago. Rosebank is situated between town and Sandton and has a Gautrain station, a large re-vamped shopping centre, and quality hotels. Among those hotels are the Hyatt Regency, the Holiday Inn, City Lodge’s Courtyard property, Tsogo Sun’s five-star 54 on Bath, Mantis Collection’s Monarch Hotel, the Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank (another Tsogo Sun-owned property), and the Clico Boutique Hotel, which has a good reputation and an intimate conferencing offering.

If you’re looking for a longer stay offering, The Capital Hotels & Apartments has The Capital On Bath in Rosebank, which opened at the end of 2016. It’s widely accepted that Rosebank could well see further hotel development in the near future. Just ‘down the road’ from Rosebank you have the commercial development that is Melrose Arch. Here, Marriott’s Protea brands dominate, in terms of hotels, with The Melrose Arch Hotel – under the African Pride brand – and a Fire&Ice! property.

CBD

If one continues to journey south, for another 15 minutes or so, you’ll find yourself in Johannesburg’s CBD. Just before that, and a short drive up the road, opposite the Johannesburg Zoo, is the Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff Johannesburg, which boasts arguably the best view in the city from its elevated terrace. Four Seasons did significant work to the old Westcliff property before re-opening at the end of 2014, with some stunning dining options now on offer, in the form of Flames, View, The Cellar Door, and the Westcliff Deli, which is a clever addition that even local residents can access.

The hotel is situated just 5-10 minutes from the Johannesburg CBD and encourages its guest to explore this side of the city, whilst also acting as a link between the hotel property and the CBD. Much of the city’s corporate business has moved out of the CBD, although some – including South Africa’s big banks – do still retain their offices, and there are pockets of rejuvenation taking place, such as in Newtown, where City Lodge opened a hotel in the last couple of years and there’s a thriving shopping mall.

Two other local hotel groups with a presence close to the city centre are Faircity and Orion Hotels. Faircity has its Mapungubwe Hotel, Orion has the Devonshire Hotel, and there is Hotel Lamunu – previously a Lonrho Hotels property – in De Korte Street. The city’s Newtown, Braamfontein and CBD areas are ripe for further development.

EAST RAND

If you hop on the adjacent highway and head back towards O.R. Tambo International Airport, you’ll eventually find yourself on the East Rand of Johannesburg. The area around the airport is another hotspot for business travel, largely due to the industries in close proximity and the short distance to the airport, with a lot of business travellers looking for a convenient way of avoiding Johannesburg’s notorious traffic.

So, if you don’t need to leave the East Rand, don’t! “The East Rand continues to grow in terms of the various facilities and leisure options available in the area,” says Kevin Clarence, Founder and Director of Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference. “Ample shopping locations, bustling night-life and a range of entertainment such as a casino, golf courses and cinemas are increasing the appeal of the East Rand – as the more mainstream options and premium stores such as this were only available further north – up to 45 minutes away.”

The area is dotted with hotels across the star range, with Birchwood, arguably, the most impressive conferencing option. Overall, it has 665 rooms, but also some products specifically targeted at the business traveller, with Silverbirch a more premium offering and ValuStay an option for the more budget-conscious business traveller. On top of that, there are a good selection of restaurants to choose from.“Naturally, our core is conferencing, events and banquets,” says Clarence.

“However, business travel has always been a key focus at Birchwood – hence the creation of our 235 Silverbirch accommodation rooms which are tailor-made for the modern business traveller and based purely on what business travellers gave us in terms of feedback.” Also in the area is the Peermont offering. The group has the fivestar D’Oreale Grande at Emperors Palace, which is also home to Peermont’s four-star Mondior, three-star Metcourt and three-star Metcourt Suites properties.

The D’Oreale Grande is exceptional, if you’re looking for a five-star hotel in close proximity to the airport. “Most of our corporate business is evident between Sundays and Thursdays,” says Rekha

Sohun, General Manager for Hospitality at Emperors Palace. “whereas Thursdays to Sundays sees leisure visitors who seek rest and relaxation without the hassle of travelling too far.” Also out on the East Rand, but in close enough proximity to Johannesburg is aha Hotels & Lodges’ Kopanong Hotel & Conference Centre in Benoni.

It’s beautifully maintained in a country estate, with comfortable accommodation, a great food and beverage offering, and inviting conference facilities. Another group that has fairly recently taken up a presence in the area is BON Hotels, which is managing the Destiny Hotel & Convention Centre. It is located in Kempton Park close to the airport, with 40 rooms and more in the pipeline, according to CEO Guy Stehlik.

“One cannot underestimate (especially in Johannesburg) the convenience of being in proximity to the airport,” he says. “The type of business we see is government business, especially municipal, civil service, the mining sector (the East Rand is a convenient central node in respect of the Middleburg/Witbank mining industry and Johannesburg CBD), and of course corporate conferencing. We anticipate our day conferencing and short-stay offerings to be well supported.”

If one looks specifically at the O.R. Tambo International Airport precinct, there is a fairly wide selection of hotels, led by Tsogo Sun, which has four hotels at the airport (InterContinental, Southern Sun, Garden Court and SUN1). City Lodge, meanwhile, also has a significant presence in this node, with a City Lodge, a Town Lodge and a Road Lodge, and further nearby properties in the form of a Courtyard in Eastgate, a City Lodge off Barbara Road, and Road Lodges in Germiston and Isando.

Rounding off the notable brands are Protea Hotels and Premier Hotels, with Protea offering two properties and Premier just the one, in the airport area.

FOURWAYS & WEST RAND

Other notable commercial areas in and around Johannesburg include Fourways and the broader West Rand region. A lot of business has sprouted out of the Fourways area, with a lot of it located in close proximity to the Montecasino entertainment complex. A Tsogo Sun property, here the group’s five-star Palazzo Hotel is the standout hotel option, with Tsogo Sun also offering a Southern Sun and a SunSquare hotel.

City Lodge also has a property in the area, along with a Town Lodge in Roodepoort, on the West Rand, where Protea Hotels is also represented. If you’re flying in and out of Lanseria International Airport to the north-west of Johannesburg, you may want to consider Misty Hills Country Hotel in the Muldersdrift area. It has a ‘country’ feel to it and provides a welcome relief from city life, along with playing host to the famous Carnivore Restaurant.

CONCLUSION

There it is – Johannesburg in a nutshell, which is perhaps not the best word used to describe the city. It’s big, it’s sprawling, and there is much to it. Start to get your bearings, and it’ll make the next business trip there that much easier and less stressful.