Frequently billed as the ‘economic powerhouse of Africa’, South Africa remains a vibrant economy in its own right and an important stepping-stone for companies looking to expand further north.
South Africa’s apartheid legacy lingers on in high unemployment and a vast wealth gap between rich and poor, yet it remains one of the wealthiest countries on the continent. Its vast mineral resources (it has some of the world’s largest gold, diamond, platinum and chromium deposits) have powered the economy for over a century, but – as the 2009 downturn revealed – also makes it vulnerable to the vagaries of the global commodities market. However, there’s a well-established tertiary economy that makes it a continental headquarters for the banking, telecommunications and manufacturing industries.
Business Travel Activity
It was a big year for Southern Sun Hotels, which rebranded to take on the name of its parent company, Tsogo Sun Hotels. That was after February saw Tsogo Sun buy the 52,6% of budget hotel chain Formula 1 it did not already own. February also saw Emirates increase its Durban capacity. From 1 June, Emirates started operating a 354-seat Boeing 777-300R on its Durban service, boosting capacity on the route by almost 30%, as well as introducing a First Class cabin.
March saw South African Airways strengthen its network, by announcing that it had started flying to Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo. On the low-cost carrier side of things, though, the news wasn’t as good, as Velvet Sky collapsed, off the back of some serious unsettled debt. That was followed in April by the news that Rodney James had resigned as CEO of fellow budget airline, 1time. That was to prove significant later in the year, with 1time going into liquidation in November, before the year ended with James admitting to plans to launch a new low-cost carrier, SkyWise, in 2013, with his fellow 1time founders. More new South African routes followed, with British Airways upping its double-daily schedule to O.R. Tambo by three flights. May was significant for the announcement that Lonrho Hotels and Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s easyHotel Group planned to open their first hotel in Johannesburg later in 2012. The 120-bedroom budget hotel in the Johannesburg CBD is expected to receive guests in 2013.
June saw a first for South Africa, with Wireless G, together with budget airline Mango and cellphone giant Vodacom, launching Wi-Fi in the sky. By using G-Connect In-Flight Wi-Fi, Mango passengers can now surf the web when travelling between South Africa’s major centres. July wasn’t a good month for SAA, with the South African national carrier announcing that it was scrapping its direct service from Heathrow to Cape Town. The following month saw Tsogo Sun’s newest property, 54 on Bath, open for business. This was after Tsogo Sun acquired the Grace Hotel property and office buildings in 2011, before embarking on a full renovation. The same month saw SAA once again add to its network, with the announcement that Abidjan and Brazzaville were now part of the SAA family. The following month, the national carrier introduced a new check-in baggage policy, with SAA moving to a checked baggage policy that restricts the number of pieces of baggage a passenger may check in, rather than the total weight.
There was more hotel news in November, when Hilton Worldwide announced the signing of a new DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Cape Town. The 183-room hotel is expected to open as DoubleTree by Hilton Cape Town Upper Eastside in 2013. Not to be outdone, Sun International revealed that it was to open the 5-star Boardwalk Hotel in Port Elizabeth in December. That was quickly followed by the soft launch of Sun International’s Maslow in Sandton, Johannesburg. Also announced in December was the news that Hilton had launched their premium Conrad brand in South Africa, with the Pezula Resort & Spa in Knysna.
O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the main air gateway into southern Africa, processing 17 million passengers each year. Cape Town also offers a number of direct international and regional services, although these are mostly to European cities and some are seasonal (with more airlines serving Cape Town during summer). Durban is increasingly courting international traffic, although currently only offers direct services on Air Mauritius (to Mauritius) and Emirates (Dubai).
The biggest development at O.R. Tambo in the past few years has been the Gautrain connection with Sandton, Rosebank and Pretoria, thereby giving arriving business travellers an excellent option, when arriving in Johannesburg. For travellers coming through international arrivals, just make sure you keep right out of the exit doors and look for the Gautrain signs. Purchasing a card is straightforward and will cost you R11. Thereafter, it’ll cost you R115 for each leg to and from Sandton. “It’s definitely a service I recommend, as travel into Sandton is now a mere 12-minute journey,” says Mohamed Hamza, General Manager at Hilton Durban.
“O.R. Tambo International is state-of-the-art,” says Stuart Young, Director of News & Programmes for Continental Broadcasting Service in Lagos. “Arrivals are smooth and efficient.”
“It’s a world class airport,” says Sean Caveney of Investec. “It’s also well sign-posted. If you take an official taxi to Sandton, it will cost you around R550 (about $60). But, watch out for criminals following taxis.”
Most passport-holders do not require a visa to visit South Africa, and a 30-day entry permit is issued on arrival. However, your passport must be valid for no less than 30 days after intended date of departure, and there must be two blank pages available for entry/departure endorsements. A full list of passport-holders that do not require a visa to enter South Africa can be found at dha.gov.za. Travellers arriving from countries where yellow fever is endemic (as of 2011, this includes Zambia) will also be required to show a certificate of vaccination.
While not yet on a par with the northern hemisphere, South Africa has excellent Internet access on both fixed-line, fibre-optic and wireless 3G networks. Most hotels offer Internet access (frequently Wi-Fi), and Internet cafés are common in urban areas. All of the country’s major airports offer Wi-Fi access, with credit purchasable by credit card. The country’s extensive GSM mobile network allows for easy international roaming for both voice and data.
As you would expect, Johannesburg has a host of international hotel brands. There’s just the one Hilton property in Sandton, but there are two Radisson Blu hotels in the area, with one of them the Radisson Blu Gautrain, which is ideally positioned opposite the local Gautrain station. There’s also a Park Inn by Radisson in Sandton, so Carlson Rezidor have a significant presence in this business-focused area of Johannesburg. “I recommend the Radisson Blu Sandton,” says Caveney. “It has excellent conference facilities close to Sandton City, great views and a world class gym. Also, a great Wi-Fi offering.”
Holiday Inn has three properties in Johannesburg, whilst InterContinental, part of the same group, has the Johannesburg Sandton Towers and the O.R. Tambo Airport. Speaking of the airport, the general area around it is dotted with hotels across the star range, whilst a short drive away is the Peermont offering, in the form of the 5-star D’Oreale Grande at Emperors Palace, which is also home to the group’s 4-star Mondior, 3-star Metcourt and 3-star Metcourt Suites properties. In the same Kempton Park area is arguably the country’s biggest conferencing offering, in the form of the Birchwood Hotel & O.R. Tambo Conference Centre. The sister property to this hotel is situated in Soweto, in the form of the Soweto Hotel. It’s well worth a visit, should you want to explore this historical area of Johannesburg.
From a local brand point of view, it’s significant that Sun International now has a ‘business hotel’ presence in Johannesburg – more specifically Sandton – with The Maslow opening this month. The previously leisure-focused group plans to roll out this business hotel brand with other properties across the continent. Looking at the other big local brands, Tsogo Sun Hotels, Protea Hotels and City Lodge are the groups with a big presence, as does Legacy Hotels & Resorts, which is strong in the Sandton area. Tsogo Sun has 20 properties in the greater Gauteng area, which includes three in the Montecasino complex to the north of Johannesburg, with the 5-star Palazzo Hotel the flagship there. Then there’s the three hotels at the airport and seven in and around the Sandton node, including the Sandton Sun, the Southern Sun Hyde Park and three Garden Court properties. Tsogo Sun, though, will be happy that it now has a presence in Rosebank, with 54 on Bath.
Protea Hotels has eight properties in Johannesburg , including two at O.R. Tambo International Airport. But, perhaps the hotels to stand out among those are the two Melrose Arch properties, which are excellent options, should you be doing business in the area, Rosebank, Sandton or the CBD. The Melrose Arch Hotel – under Protea’s African Pride brand – claims the make the best cappuccino in the city! The City Lodge Hotel Group consists of 1-star Road Lodges, 2-star Town Lodges, 3-star City Lodges and 4-star Courtyard Hotels. The group has 52 properties across South Africa, including the following in Johannesburg: three Courtyards, six City Lodges, three Town Lodges and three Road Lodges.
Legacy Hotels & Resorts’ footprint in the Sandton area includes quality properties in the form of the 5-star Michelangelo, DAVINCI Hotel & Suites, Michelangelo Towers, and Raphael Penthouse Suites. Their two other Johannesburg properties are the Sunnyside Park Hotel and the Airport Grand Hotel, giving the group a nice spread across the city. If you’re looking for an alternative Sandton option, and want to get away from a traditional hotel, Westpoint Executive Suites is well worth considering, offering luxury apartments and self-catering living. Ideal for a long stay. 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. Closer to the CBD, but still only 10 minutes down the M1 highway away from Sandton is 10 2nd Avenue Houghton – another boutique property worth considering, as is The Residence. Just a short drive up the road, opposite the Johannesburg Zoo, is the Westcliff, which boasts arguably the best view in the city from its elevated terrace.
A notch or two down the star scale, Faircity has three properties – all in the three and 4-star range, with one in the Johannesburg CBD and two in Sandton. Interesting that Faircity has that CBD presence, as not many of the other big groups do, although Lonrho Hotels’ easyHotel Rissik Street is sure to make a big statement when it opens, albeit in the budget range. Orion Hotels has The Devonshire, which is well situated in Braamfontein, should you want access to the CBD, whilst Hotel Lamunu popped up in the last couple of years, and has provided a fresh new offering, with its funky décor and functional design, as well as attractive meeting facilities.
The Rosebank node, about 15 minutes’ drive from Sandton, has a good selection of quality hotels, with the Hyatt Regency, the Holiday Inn, the
Courtyard, 54 on Bath, Mantis Collection’s Monarch Hotel (which underwent renovation in 2012), Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank, and the Clico Boutique Hotel, which has a good reputation and has an intimate conferencing offering. “I like the Crowne Plaza in Rosebank,” says Young. “It’s good value (less than $200/night) and has an excellent restaurant, the Butcher’s Block. They have a rather odd bar, but the spa and health centre are very good. The rooms are average and the service very polite.”
Lastly, should you find yourself looking for a smaller boutique property in the areas of Hyde Park, Craighall or Parkhurst – about 15 minutes’ from Sandton – then make sure you consider The Hamilton or Ten Bompas, which both fit the bill, and are excellent alternatives to the bigger hotels.
Crime is a constant concern in South Africa, and travellers should be wary – but not paranoid – in major cities. Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, especially at night, and be cautious of displaying electronics or jewellery in public. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in shops, hotels and restaurants, so there’s no need to carry large amounts of cash with you, unless travelling in rural areas.
There aren’t many health issues to be concerned about in South African cities – the tap water is drinkable and there are no major diseases to guard against. If you are travelling in rural areas, stick to bottled water where possible, and consider a Hepatitis A vaccination against water-borne diseases. Yellow fever is not present in South Africa.
Capital: Pretoria/Tshwane (administrative); Cape Town (legislative); Bloemfontein/Mangaung (judiciary)
Population: 49 million
Time zone: GMT +2
Plugs: Three-pin round socket
Dialling code: +27
Currency: South African Rand. Exchange rate: US$1=ZAR9.8
Language: 11 official languages, but English is the language of business
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54 on Bath – tsogosunhotels.com
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Crown Plaza Johannesburg – therosebank.co.za
Faircity – faircity.co.za
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Hilton – hilton.com
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Hotel Lamunu – lamunu.co.za
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InterContinental – ichotelsgroup.com
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Premier O.R. Tambo – premierhotels.co.za
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Soweto Hotel – sowetohotel.co.za
Ten Bompas – tenbompas.com
The Devonshire – orionhotels.co.za
The Hamilton – thehamilton.co.za
The Maslow – www.suninternational.com
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