Where business and leisure collide

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Cape Town is one of South Africa’s main drivers of leisure tourism to the country, but there’s more to this city than meets the eye. Cape Town is also a bustling and growing business travel destination, as Helen Grange discovered.

Cape Town is renowned as a leisure destination, located as it is in one of the most beautiful regions on the planet. But an idyllic environment is also first choice for people doing business, and these days Cape Town competes with the likes of Melbourne in Australia and Vancouver in Canada for the title of ‘world’s most attractive business travel destination’.

2014 saw the Mother City retain its ranking as the number one destination in Africa for conferences, according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). Added to which, Stellenbosch was right up there at number 10 in ICCA’s 2013 rankings, an amazing feat for this picturesque winelands town 50 kilometres east of the city.

The accolades that Cape Town regularly receives add greatly to its appeal, as both a leisure and business travel destination. In 2014 the city was elected World Design Capital, as well as a top holiday destination by The Guardian and New York Times newspapers. And it was named ‘Best City’ in the Telegraph Travel Awards. Cape Town International Airport is consistently awarded as one of the best airports in Africa, and in April this year, readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted Cape Town the ‘Third Best Food City in the World’.

Tourism is a key economic driver for Cape Town and the Western Cape, and business travel is driven mainly by the conference and events industry, reflected by the impressive number of meetings held here (over 500 per annum at the Cape Town International Convention Centre alone), mostly in its peak conferencing season between October and March. Thus, Cape Town sits at 52nd position in the ICCA rankings, in terms of number of meetings, ahead of the likes of Geneva, Chicago and Dubai. 

Statistics from South African Tourism confirm this healthy position, showing a gradual increase in business tourists over the past few years, growing from 7.3% in 2012 to 12.1% in 2013. Tourism to Cape Town grew between 4% and 5% last year, according to Cape Town Tourism, with the majority of source markets being European.

Wesgro, the official destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape, is taking the lead in growing this share, with its new head Tim Harris armed with a R68m ($5.6m) budget and a dogged determination to make the city and the province one of the country’s most business-friendly destinations.

“We are flipping the idea that Cape Town is for weekends and Johannesburg is for business,” said Harris on his appointment late last year, adding that his plan is to work to help attract medium and large-sized companies, grow Cape Town companies through investment and exports, and help establish high growth companies.

Meeting this confidence, the city’s business tourism infrastructure, from the Cape Town International Convention Centre to its surrounding hotel offerings, is currently undergoing expansion and redevelopment on an impressive scale.

CTICC – the epicentre

At the very heart of business tourism in Cape Town is the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), which occupies about 6.1 hectares on the city’s Foreshore and is within easy reach of the V&A Waterfront and the rest of the city centre.

The CTICC has played an instrumental role in driving economic growth and job creation in South Africa. Since it opened in 2003, it has cumulatively contributed over R25 billion ($2.06b) to the national Gross Domestic Product. During the 2013/2014 period, the CTICC contributed R3.1 billion ($255m) to the GDP, of which R2.8 billion ($231m) was contributed directly to the Western Cape economy, according to CTICC CEO, Julie-May Ellingson. Since its inception, the CTICC has also created and sustained a staggering 83,000 jobs, she says.

Last July, the CTICC began an R832m ($68.6m) expansion which will double the centre’s existing exhibition capacity by adding 10,000m² of multi-purpose exhibition space and 2,000m2 of meeting space. By expanding, the CTICC will be able to stage more events, offer more flexibility and allow for an increase in the concurrent hosting of various sizes of meetings, conventions, exhibitions and other events.

“The expansion will also entrench our international reputation for sustainable business development, and make a real contribution to job creation and the coffers of the city and the province. Estimates put the contribution of the CTICC expansion to the national GDP at R1.98 billion ($163m) by 2020. The provincial GDP will also stand to benefit and it is expected that CTICC’s contribution to the Western Cape GDP by 2020 will be in excess of R500 million ($41.2m),” says Ellingson.

Another central plank to the CTICC’s objectives is promoting the development of the knowledge economy.

“Given the widespread acknowledgement that future global economic growth is increasingly reliant on intellectual capital, the MICE sector has a serious role to play as a key driver of knowledge sharing and intellectual growth in South Africa,” says Ellingson.

Of the 535 events hosted by the CTICC in the 2013/14 financial year, 33 were international conferences across a broad spectrum of sectors, including agro-processing, the green economy, ICT, property, mining and medical industries. Among the meetings booked for 2015 and 2016 are the International Intellectual Property Conference, the 11th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, the 19th World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine, the World Veterinary Poultry Association Congress, the International Society of Labour and Social Security Law (21st World Congress), and the 9th World Congress for the International Federation of Esthetic Dentistry.

Meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE)

Conferences, exhibitions, trade shows, concerts and other big events keep the CTICC busy all year round, but happily there is plenty of MICE market share to spread around. Cape Town’s MICE infrastructure is greatly supported by the business hotels in the area, which provide world-class meetings venues with up-to-date audiovisual equipment and free high-speed and wireless internet.

Whilst the CTICC dominates the Cape Town MICE scene, most of the branded hotels offer meeting and conference venues of various sizes.

That said, Cape Town’s conference offering is going to be taken to a whole new level, with the development of the high-tech new Century City Conference Centre (CCCC), due to open in February 2016. Strategically located on the N1 highway barely 15 minutes from Cape Town’s CBD in Century City, a 250-hectare mixed-use precinct set on the banks of picturesque waterways and canals, Century City Conference Centre & Hotel will be able to accommodate 1,900 guests across 20 different venues.

“Century City’s popularity as a hospitality node has grown phenomenally in recent years in tandem with the growth of the precinct, which is now home to more than 500 businesses, and with more than 260,000 square metres of offices is currently the third largest commercial precinct in Cape Town. The existing conference facilities at Century City, which range from 20-seat venues to a 300-seat facility, are unable to keep up with demand and have had to turn away business, particularly for larger conferences,” says Greg Deans, Director of the Rabie Property Group which owns it.

Over and above the new Century City Conference Centre & Hotel, the mixed-use development will include offices, showrooms, residential apartments and service retail, as well as a five-level parking garage with direct access to the CCCC. The entire development will be set over a super parking basement which, together with the structured parking, will provide a total of 1,300 bays.

“The CCCC will have a fibre optic backbone running throughout the conference centre terminating in strategic positions in order to give guests the best possible experience, connectivity wise. High-speed wireless services will be available in every room and all services can be customised to suit every event’s specific needs,” says Deans. All going as planned, the first conferences are expected to be hosted at CCCC in early 2016.

Accommodation

Cape Town offers over 20,000 bedrooms in total, with 6,000 located within the city centre area and 3,000 within easy walking distance of the CTICC. And there is massive expansion in the hotel industry currently, with much excitement around the new Radisson Red Hotel V&A Waterfront – part of the new R1.5 billion ($123m) ‘Silo District’ development – due to open its doors in early 2016.

According to South African Tourism, Cape Town is the most popular destination in Southern Africa for new hotel investment, with 11 new hotel projects – providing about 2,102 rooms – in the pipeline, due to open by 2018. This is expected to create a collective investment in excess of R3.5 billion ($288m), and more than 2,000 direct jobs.

The big hotel groups – Tsogo Sun, Sun International, Kerzner International, Hilton, Carlson Rezidor, Protea, Three Cities, City Lodge and Legacy – are all represented in Cape Town, some of them boasting a clutch of properties, each with their own individualized appeal.

Protea Hotels, for example, with its 11 strategically-located hotels across the greater Cape Town area, caters for all manner of business traveller, from mid-range (3-star) Protea Hotels to the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Brand and top-end luxurious hotels like the two African Pride properties – 15 On Orange (CBD) and Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa (Century City).

Similarly, Tsogo Sun has seven properties in the greater Cape Town area, with four Southern Sun hotels – Cape Sun (CBD), The Cullinan (Waterfront entrance), Newlands (in the southern suburbs), and Waterfront Cape Town – leading the way. Complementing that more ‘full service’ offering are the Garden Court Nelson Mandela Boulevard, the SunSquare Cape Town, and the more budget-friendly StayEasy out at Century City.

Off the back of its Radisson Red announcement in April, Carlson Rezidor is an international hotel group building an imposing presence in Cape Town. It already has the Radisson Blu Waterfront, whilst 2013 saw the group take over and refurbish the Le Vendome Hotel in Sea Point – a short distance from the Waterfront – which opened as a Radisson Blu property in April. Further to that, Rezidor has the Park Inn by Radisson properties in Newlands (southern suburbs) and at the Foreshore.

Looking at the other big groups, City Lodge has four properties, with City Lodge hotels at the Waterfront and in Pinelands, and Road Lodge properties at N1 City and Cape Town International Airport. Similarly, AHA/Three Cities has three properties, with its Bantry Bay Suite Hotel, Inn on the Square, and Mandela Rhodes Place Hotel & Spa all located in and around the city.

With around 24 million visitors per annum, the V&A Waterfront is a popular location for business travellers, due to the range of hotels and proximity to the CBD and highways. Besides the Waterfront hotels already mentioned, Newmark Hotels is well represented there with the Victoria & Alfred Hotel, Queen Victoria Hotel, and Dock House Boutique Hotel & Spa. Legacy Hotels & Resorts also has a significant footprint, with its Commodore and PortsWood properties – both popular with business travellers.

The Waterfront is also not short on high-end luxury, with Kerzner International’s One&Only, Sun International’s Table Bay Hotel, and the Cape Grace leading the way. If you’re staying at the One&Only and conferencing at the CTICC, grab a water taxi for just R40 ($3.2) each way. It beats having to hail a cab or ask the concierge for assistance, and leaves every 20 minutes from in front of the hotel. One&Only also offers a very attractive meeting venue, with the hotel bar and coffee lounge offering a breath-taking view of Table Mountain.

The Table Bay also has its share of spectacular views, as well as a diverse choice of haute cuisine. Its state-of-the-art conference facilities, catering up to 300 guests, are complemented by three top drawer restaurants and two bars which have been continually refurbished over the past few years.

“Our occupancy rates reflect the appreciation of our guests and popularity of the hotel,” says Michael Farr, Group General Manager, Corporate Brand and Communications for Sun International, which also has the GrandWest Casino & Entertainment World outside Cape Town in Goodwood.

The Cape Grace will be 20 years’ old at the end of next year and has built an impressive reputation, with its Bascule Bar popular with locals and business travellers alike. If you’re looking at iconic stand-alone Cape Town properties, then the Belmond Mount Nelson is arguably the city’s most high profile, located a short distance from the CBD, with an international reputation that results in a steady stream of business. Also in that category is the exclusive Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa in Camps Bay, if your budget can manage it.

Another stand-alone property – whilst a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts group – is the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel & Residence, located in Green Point, a few minutes from the Waterfront, and offering apartments as well as standard hotel rooms. The Preferred group also has The Last Word Constantia, The Last Word Long Beach, and 26 Sunset Avenue Llandudno in its stable, with the latter property a boutique offering in the exclusive and highly sought-after area of Llandudno, with its break-taking views and isolated beach.

Also in Sea Point is the 4-star Winchester Mansions, a grand old property with delightful courtyard and excellent location, particularly if you fancy a walk or run on the famed Sea Point promenade. A short distance from Winchester Mansions are Dream Hotels & Resorts’ Peninsula All-Suite Hotel and the New Kings Hotel, a boutique property with only 42 rooms that also enjoys great ocean views. A bit further along, you’ll find the well-known Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay.

If you’re staying at the Waterfront and the water taxi is not for you, or if you don’t fancy a trip of any sorts, you can’t beat the 5-star Westin – a Starwood Hotels property – situated adjacent to the CTICC. Its services are outstanding, location central, and you have great views of the harbour and Signal Hill, whilst taking in your morning breakfast or working in your room.

Views of the harbour and iconic Table Mountain are a huge drawcard for Cape Town’s hotels, and Hilton’s property is another that offers great vistas, from its location about five minutes’ drive from the Waterfront.

“The Hilton Cape Town is located at the foot of Table Mountain, and is ideal for business travellers wanting to experience the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Cape Town. Some of our rooms, which include sophisticated executive suites, feature spectacular views of the city and the mountain,” says Joyce Moggridge, Cluster Marketing & PR manager, South Africa and Namibia, for Hilton Worldwide, which also has the DoubleTree by Hilton – Upper Eastside in Woodstock, a short distance from the CBD.

The Cape Town CBD itself has plenty of options, with the Pepperclub Hotel & Spa, the Cape Milner, the Taj Cape Town, and the 4-star Townhouse Hotel catching the eye, with great central locations. In the more mid-market range is the Holiday Inn Express Cape Town City Centre and the Best Western Cape Suites Hotel (a village-style hotel with 123 rooms and suites), while, if you fancy something a little out of the ordinary, consider the Daddy Long Legs Boutique Hotel in Long Street.

The big recent news, from a CBD point of view, was the announcement that Tsogo Sun had reached agreement with the owners of the site of the recently-demolished Tulip hotel for the construction of a new 500-room hotel complex. The new hotel will consist of two products in one complex, a 200-room SunSquare hotel and a 300-room new generation StayEasy hotel. Construction is expected to begin in May and should be completed by September 2017.

If you need to be in close proximity to Cape Town International Airport, Hotel Verde is worth considering, with its progressive and unique approach to responsible hospitality, offering a ‘carbon-neutral stay’, along with luxurious rooms and conference facilities. It bills itself as ‘Africa’s Greenest Hotel.

Airport Experience

Business travellers to Cape Town are primarily received via Cape Town International Airport, South Africa’s second-largest airport after O.R. Tambo International in Johannesburg, and the third busiest airport in Africa. In 2012 it was named Africa’s leading airport in the World Airport Awards.

In preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Cape Town International Airport was extensively expanded and renovated. The main focus was the development of a Central Terminal Building, which linked the formerly separate domestic and international terminals and provided a common check-in area. The expansion was much needed, as by the end of 2015, 14 million passengers are expected to pass through Cape Town International.

CTIA is serviced by 21 airlines and has direct flights to several destinations in Africa and Europe, including London, Amsterdam and Windhoek. Locally, the airport has direct flights to Johannesburg and Durban, as well as to smaller centres such as Port Elizabeth and George.

Along with SAA, the national carrier, and its low-cost partner Mango, Comair’s Kulula and BA offerings have dominated the lucrative Johannesburg-Cape Town route. That is until the launch of two low-cost competitors in the past few months, in the form of FlySafair and Skywise, which will make for a more competitive environment, which could see the business traveller benefit.

The airport does offer Wi-Fi hotspots, but there are also three good lounge options airside in the domestic departures terminal, in the form of the Bidvest Premier, SAA Baobab and SLOW lounges, with the latter recently revamped and opened with a much-improved offering.

Getting Around

From a car rental point of view, all the big brands, such as Hertz, Avis, Budget and Europcar, are represented at Cape Town International Airport, whilst roving shuttle cabs are available to transport passengers directly from their car to the terminals. The MyCiTi bus rapid transit system connects the airport to the city centre, running every 20 minutes from 16h20 to 22h00, and metered taxis and private shuttle services are also available.

The car rental services continually tailor their offerings to meet changing needs, so it’s important to look for the deals, such as Hertz’s ‘30Thirty Plus’ package, a 30-day rental deal at a highly affordable rate.

“This deal is well suited to movie production crews arriving in Cape Town for extended shoots, for example,” says Sherl Camera, Hertz General Manager, Business Development.

Further to that, car rental fleets are expanded during high season to meet the demand.  

“Both local and international business will continue to grow, and this means we will continue to grow our fleets in the Western Cape, particularly in time for high season,” says Lance Smith, Sales Executive for Avis.

Personalised transfers are a popular service for short-stay business travellers. A good example is Neils Transfers, which offers shuttles to and from the airport, or to and from meetings or dinners.

“Chauffeured drives can be booked for clients, and we offer vehicle charters to event organisers who have transport requirements for their programmes. In August we are going to update the fleet with new model Corollas, and people will be able to self-book on our website soon,” says George Kellerman,
Operations Director at Neils Transfers.

Other preferred operators include Uber, booked via smartphone, Exite Taxis, SPORT taxis and Marine Taxis. To give you an idea of cost, a metered taxi from Cape Town airport to the city centre costs between R300 ($25) and R400 ($33).

Verdict

Still think Cape Town is only a leisure travel destination?

Time Out

It’s nearly impossible to be all work and no play on a business visit to Cape Town. Relaxation, adventure, wine, food and culture are all easily accessible from most business centres in the city, so be sure to allow yourself some free time. If you download The Official Cape Town travel app, it gives you some excellent recommendations of what to do and where to go.

Eat out: Cape Town is a food lover’s paradise, confirmed by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler. At the V&A Waterfront alone, there are over 80 eateries to choose from. Check out eatout.co.za or dining-out.co.za for a recommendation.

Sundowners: Arguably the best bars in the city are at the V&A Waterfront, the CBD and Camps Bay. Try Harald’s Bar & Terrace at the Park Inn by Radisson Foreshore. Other excellent bars, particularly for cocktails, include Vista Bar & Lounge in the One&Only, Asoka in Kloof street, Bascule at the Cape Grace, HQ in Shortmarket street, and Caprice in Camps Bay.

Wine: For a short wine trip try the Constantia Wine Route, no more than 20 minutes drive from the city.  Or visit the Signal Hill Winery in the city centre, the only urban winery in South Africa. Alternatively, if you have more time, head out into the winelands, with the likes of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek offering a host of inviting options.

Relax: Try the One&Only Spa, a hotel spa that has built an impressive reputation. Other excellent hotel spas include the Belmond Mount Nelson’s Librisa Spa, the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, and the spa at the Cape Grace. If you’re at the V&A Waterfront, try the Mangwanani Boutique Spa, well known for using only African-sourced oils.