Meetings Africa 2013: Johannesburg & Cape Town

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Table Mountain & Lagoon Beach Hotel
Table Mountain & Lagoon Beach Hotel

The annual Meetings Africa conference is a global showcase of South Africa held in Johannesburg to promote the country’s position as a preferred international destination for meeting and incentive planners. With its incomparable nature, wildlife, adventure and diversity, the region is an enviable experience offering affordable luxury, impeccable weather and authentic cultural experiences. Mostly, South Africa is a nation of genuine, service-oriented people who strive to ensure happiness with quiet grace.

Bringing nearly 350 international, regional and local qualified hosted buyers, Meetings Africa 2013 fulfilled its “Advancing Africa Together” theme. The buyer numbers were nearly 70% over 2012, and new exhibitors flew in from the continent’s best meeting and incentive offerings. The conference and exhibition opened with a “BOND” Business Opportunity Networking Day of learning followed by an opening gala where keynote speaker and marketing legend Thebe Ikalafeng spoke the words that resonated deeply: “Changing the face is nothing. Facing change is everything.”

Ikalafeng also advised, “Think locally, act globally. Take pride in your country. Your heritage makes you distinctive. Support each other.” Great advice for any destination.

While at Meetings Africa, I spoke with Thulani Nzima, CEO of South African Tourism, to inquire about business promotions for international meetings/incentives.

“We use our influence to put the key players together,” he says. “Airlines, venues—each with the right pricing structure in place—all these parties together will strengthen the process…. We also have a new budget for subvention, allocated based on the importance of the each event. It’s fairly new and a small budget now, but it will continue to improve.”

While gathering in Johannesburg, all of us were impressed by this culturally rich destination that will uplift and inspire anyone to support others. The iconic Soweto township represents ground zero of South Africa’s struggle against Apartheid, and it offers groups an incredible cultural experience. Established in 1904, many black South Africans were forcefully relocated from the city to Soweto, earning the nickname, “So Where To.”

Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers offers several immersion tours to explore the neighborhoods and rows of tin shanties by bicycle or tuk-tuk. It’s truly a phenomenal opportunity to learn more about this remarkable community that led the way to freedom with the 1976 student uprising. It was also home to two Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A great local spot for lunch, the vibrant Sakhumzi features true kasi (township flavor), with local home cooked foods, traditional music and dancers for up to 450 participants.

THE MASLOW

Launched this January as a game changer for meetings and play, The Maslow is an ultra-modern, 281-room hotel that achieves everything it set out for and more. Impressive, innovative and enduring from check-in to check-out, there isn’t a detail missed. The alluring overnight rooms indulge you with extra length beds, elaborate glass showers, comprehensive workstations, high ceilings, loads of natural light and black-out drapes.

Its sleek elegance exudes success, yet lavishly welcomes guests to dive in and be social or simply relax in tranquility. Outdoors, The Maslow Gardens and pool create a stunning environment for small events and quiet repose.

Leveraging Sun International’s 30 years of meetings, incentive and conference experience, The Maslow offers state-of-the-art space for up to 650 that will enhance and enrich business and inspire guests and planners alike. The interconnected conference center offers a 5,200-sf ballroom, 2,400-sf conference room and 12 meeting rooms, including a 45-seat auditorium, refreshment lounge and “The Incubator” alternative space for exploring new ideas.

Meetings are priced inclusive of venue space, standard high-tech equipment, dedicated butler, free WiFi, a fridge filled with healthy snacks, espresso and wine. The Maslow has set the bar for executive groups in Johannesburg.

THE DIVINCI

Located in the pulsing center of Sandton in Jo’burg at the prestigious Nelson Mandela Square, The Divinci is a modern-day, fashionable knockout hotel where the world really is black and white… with a few shades of grey.

This 166-room posh palace boasts all the luxuries long-haul international travelers could desire in one appealing package. While it is a boutique property, The Divinci is immense in opportunities, featuring high-tech conference rooms for groups up to 120, a boardroom for 12 and knowledgeable can-do staff. Hard-to-please planners will feel as if they simply pushed the “easy” button.

Once business is done, savor the black and white lobby cafe and lounge, soak in the sun beside the sleek black infinity edge swimming pool, sweat it out in the gymnasium, be pampered in the wellness spa or dine at the Euro-Asian fusion Maximillien restaurant. Whether you’re like me and forgot to pack your converter, or just a savvy shopper, you’ll be thrilled with the direct access to Legacy Corner Mall and the Sandton City Shopping Centre with over 88 exclusive stores and fine restaurants.

“Location, style and a brilliant and amazing team differentiates the hotel,” says GM Robert Hodson, who’s proud of his cultivated and cultured team that ensures “all guests have fun and enjoy themselves. Our team would be devastated if they didn’t.”

CAPE TOWN

Truly one of the most striking cities in the world, Cape Town exceeds all aspirations. The third largest city in South Africa on the western coast is only a 2-hour flight from Johannesburg.

There are few better places in the world to host an event or simple tour than at the top of Table Mountain, one of the world’s “New 7 Wonders of Nature.” Getting to the top is half the fun aboard one of two aerial cable cars carrying 65 guests in circular cabins, which rotate 360 degrees during the 5-minute journey to 3,500 feet above sea level.

Visitors can walk three different trails at the top. For more serious adventure, there’s hiking, rock climbing, caving and mountain biking.

Breathtaking, awe-inspiring views over the city, Helderberg Mountains, 12 Apostles rock formation, Camps Bay, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head greet guests from every direction. Quite impressive, the top of Table Mountain is a level plateau approximately two miles wide encircled by imposing cliffs, perfect for events up to 400.

For indoor events, the Summit Lounge is a U-shaped venue with two balconies overlooking Devil’s Peak and the 12 Apostles (120 pax). Friends of flora and fauna will be delighted by the mountain’s abundant biodiversity that makes Table Mountain a World Heritage Site, with an estimated 2,200 species of plants.

Back inside Cape Town, Bo-Kaap (Malay Quarters) is a unique multicultural neighborhood from the 17th century, characterized by both Dutch and British homes, Muslim shrines and eye catching mosques. Mainly comprised of descendants from its initial settlers, this neighborhood is an astonishing place to walk around, chat with locals and discover the dynamic ethnicity that makes it so special.

A great new venue at the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, Moyo is an authentic African restaurant that enlivens patron’s African spirit and delivers a true taste and feel of Africa through an environment rich with art, music, dance and sustainable foods. There’s a butcher, baker and fishmonger inside, and aquaponic lettuce growing throughout. And I love the open air souk with 20 street food stands.

Groups will enjoy the social vibe dining at long wooden tables and participating in hand washing rituals and face painting. Specialties include Botswana free range beef, kudu sirloin and lamb tagine.

THE WESTIN & CAPE TOWN CONVENTIONS 

Just 20 minutes from Cape Town Int’l Airport, The Westin Cape Town offers 483 rooms in the heart of the city with breathtaking views of Table Mountain, Lions Head and the lively V&A. Well known for its superb rooms, outstanding conference facilities and healthy F&B, this contemporary hotel never ceases to embrace you with a familiar serenity, yet local flair and pizazz.

For 2013, The Westin has augmented its executive meeting space with seven new venues for 6-14 people offering a fresh modern style with high speed WiFi, 60-inch LCD screens, built-in video projectors and screens, and adjustable light settings. An unrivaled venue, the 19th floor Westin Executive Lounge offers striking panoramic views and exceptional service for up to 50 guests.

Steps away, the Cape Town International Convention Center began a $73 million expansion this spring to increase its facilities by 225,000 sf of additional space. The plans include adding 107,000 sf of multipurpose, convention/exhibition floor space, a 5,300-sf banqueting hall and a barrage of meeting rooms

When speaking about Cape Town during Meetings Africa, Stephen Sorenson, Sourcing Supervisor for CWT Meetings & Events from Hastings MN, was impressed.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprised with the developments and infrastructure. It’s been really great. The diverse experience in Cape Town, from helicopter rides to Harleys and the game reserves—it’s really unique and like no other…. It’s an experience, not just a trip, and it fulfills people’s bucket lists.”

LAGOON BEACH HOTEL

An sublime retreat just minutes from the city, the 200-room Lagoon Beach Hotel offers a sophisticated beach oasis where guests are greeted by salty seabreezes, crashing waves and the delight of those young and old enjoying an afternoon in the sun at the beach. This is Cape Town’s second largest conference venue with over 10,000 sf of total meeting and event space.

Lagoon Beach Hotel is the only major hotel in Cape Town with direct beach access, combined with excellent meeting and leisure facilities and stellar service. The most spectacular event venue for up to 440 and a great place to relax or play, the beachfront pool deck offers an unmatched view of Cape Town, Table Mountain and the ocean.

In 2012, a thorough renovation transformed the hotel’s lobby, conference rooms and restaurant and lounges to convey a stylish nautical theme that’s gracious and relaxed.  Hard and soft good renovations for all accommodations will be underway through August, delivering a fresh, all-new hotel complete with four restaurants and wellness spa.

VERGELEGEN

For a day trip well spent, just 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, the most popular of the major wine routes in South Africa are Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. As the hustle and bustle of the city is left behind, you can’t help but be absorbed into the surrounding landscape of clear blue skies, rich gold fields, majestic mountains and lush green vineyards that delight the senses with anticipation of what’s ahead.

Dating back to 1679, Stellenbosch is the second-oldest wine producing region in South Africa. It’s a postcard-perfect small town rich in history with neo-Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture.

Vergelegen is a resplendent, 312-year-old estate that dazzles visitors with its historic homestead, natural beauty and extensive gardens. It will also please even the most discriminate palates with a bevy of extraordinary flagship, reserve and premium wines.

Led by our sommelier, our group tasted five wines from this winery that competes with the top 100 wines of the world. My tasting notes: A un-wooded Sauvignon Blanc has refreshing hints of kiwi and tropical fruits, and a mildly oaky Chardonnay has touches of citrus and minerals. The velvety Shiraz Reserve showcases berries and a bit of spice, while a Bordeaux blend named DNA is exceptionally well balanced and fruit-forward with surprisingly less earth than one would think, consisting predominantly of Cabernet Franc. Of course, I picked up a few for myself and friends, especially the editor of my favorite meeting industry trade publication.

Interactive (i.e., drinking) cellar tours and two distinct dining options are open for private groups. For informal fare, try the Stables at Vergelegen Bistro Restaurant. Haute cuisine is served at the elegant Camphors at Vergelegen, fully renovated last November.

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