South Africa hopes its hosting of last year’s World Cup will trigger the sort of tourism surge last witnessed after the Rugby World Cup 15 years earlier. It hasn’t happened yet but the football fiesta stimulated new luxury hotels and tourism facilities that stand the country in good stead
When Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman star in a Hollywood blockbuster about a sport that Americans don’t really care about, you know something extraordinary has happened.
The film, Invictus, recounted South Africa’s hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, an event that helped unify the country and stimulate tourism.
Paul Gardiner, whose father founded Shamwari, the game reserve that was responsible for the resurgence of the safari experience in the eastern Cape, believes that sporting event saved it from closure.
And so Gardiner, who is now marketing manager of Mantis Collection, the luxury accommodation group that includes Shamwari, looked to the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa with high expectations.
The day I arrived in Cape Town, U2 were packing out the new Greenpoint Stadium. Such Wembley-esque musical shows are likely to become regular fixtures.
Extravagance now permeates Cape Town. Locals complained of the expense of hosting football’s biggest competition but it led to a much-needed upgrade of the airport and roads, and sparked the emergence of new luxury hotels such as the Taj and Protea Hotel Fire & Ice.
Boutique shops and hip restaurants have replaced the hostels of Long Street. And the pioneers of top-end luxury, such as the Cape Grace hotel, stepped up their game as the world’s cameras zoomed in.
With a range of top accommodation and improved infrastructure, the magic of Cape Town – especially the township-originating music that now fills its streets – is all the more enjoyable. The public buzz created by brilliant buskers around areas such as the pavement cafes of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront contrasts well with the private tranquillity of top hotels such as Table Bay and Cape Grace, which was revamped with the help of local artisans.
Cape Grace global sales manager Jene Barnes said competition from the likes of Taj and One&Only had highlighted the need to keep reinvigorating the property and search for genuine ‘wow’ touches.
The hotel is packed full of them, from chandeliers fashioned out of antique crockery and buffalo horn to handpainted fabrics in the lobby. And, according to Gardiner, the rise in luxury competition in the city has pushed down rates.
Exploring the cape
The coastal resorts of Camps Bay and Clifton have become the glitzy stamping ground of the world’s A-list – Cheryl Cole had just left when I visited – but they don’t offer the warm surfing rollers of Muizenberg and St James.
Elsewhere, clients can share a beach with penguins at Boulders Beach or enjoy a practically private beach at Noordhoek.
A stone’s throw from the centre of Cape Town is Constantia, which has some of the country’s top wine estates, internationally famous restaurants and three championship golf courses.
Led by a mountain goat of a tour guide, Sarah Seymour from Kudu Travels, I hiked through Silvermine, which forms part of the vast Table Mountain Reserve.
The view to Hout Bay across Chapman’s Peak is there for all semi-fit people to see, guide or no guide, but if your client cares about the intricacies of the surroundings, it’s worth investing.
Seymour’s encyclopedic knowledge of the flora and fauna revealed an astounding and largely unique array.
Wine country, just a 40-minute drive from Cape Town, is led by the Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch estates.
Stellenbosch is a model of Cape Dutch architecture abuzz with restaurants and galleries. Paarl is less well known but is home to South Africa’s two biggest wine producers, Nederburg and KWV.
It was also the birthplace of the Afrikaans language and the place where Nelson Mandela spent his final days in captivity.
And it is home to Mantis Collection member Grand Roche. All vineyards offer tastings and many have picnic areas and walking trails, but the Cape Winelands are not solely the preserve of the wine connoisseur.
This vast landscape is perfect for everything from hot-air ballooning to horse riding.
If architecture is what your customer craves, there are hidden gems such as Tulbagh, Riebeck West and Robertson.
The GARDEN ROUTE
Time-poor travellers can fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to the city of George, in the western Cape; however, they would miss out on the beauty of the Garden Route.
The route is one of the world’s great drives and is said to be the only place where you can spot the big five, whales and dolphins in the same day.
The town of Knysna is an hour’s drive from George and home to the hotel that hosted the French football squad.
Klaus D Martin, commercial director of Pezula Hotel & Resort, said: “It will take work to capitalise on the exposure but it will help to show there is more to South Africa than Cape Town and Kruger.”
Close by are a number of world-class beaches, golf courses and malaria-free luxury game lodges. And the super-rich can rent Pezula’s private castle overlooking Noetzie Beach.
South Africa has a new confidence and energy since the World Cup. The expected boom may not have fully materialised but these are tough times globally. South Africa today offers a feast of luxury hotels, resorts and restaurants that finally match its perennially world-class natural beauty.
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