Exquisite beaches and game reserves aside, the Eastern Cape province is on the fast track to taking pride of place as one of South Africa’s up and coming business tourism destinations.
The past few years have seen the Eastern Cape expand its business tourism opportunities, with brand new conference facilities and hotel developments in the process of being built.
The ‘friendly’ city
Port Elizabeth (PE), together with Uitenhage, Despatch and Colchester form the Nelson Mandela Bay district and the economic hub of the Eastern Cape. PE attracts local and international visitors to the region because, not only is it affordable, but the perfect combination of beach and bush surroundings offers incomparable natural beauty. The city is the gateway to the Garden Route, Langkloof, Baviaanskloof, the Sunshine Coast and the Karoo Heartland. The well-known Addo Elephant National Park, a stone’s throw from the city, is home to the Big Seven. With more than 450 elephants and a large number of the rest of the Big Five, the park includes a marine section where great white sharks and whales can be spotted.
Besides the obvious natural beauty, the city’s plans to expand its business tourism are in full force. The R1 billion Boardwalk Convention Centre and five-star Sun International hotel and spa development, located along PE’s scenic beach front, is set to open in December this year. The convention centre will be able to host approximately 2 000 delegates with the best state-of-the-art equipment and technology. According to Sadie Isaacs, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism Meetings Industry coordinator, this exciting new venue will undoubtedly increase business tourism to the city by a significant number.
“Nelson Mandela Bay with its private businesses, such as those in the motor industry, attracts numerous business travellers,” says Isaacs. She adds that the local Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) brings larger conferences and meetings to the region. As the academic heart of PE, NMMU is close to the casino, various beach front attractions and hotels, and is a short distance from the city’s international airport, making it the ideal spot for conference organisers. It remains a sought after venue for important conferences, product launches, exhibitions, seminars and other select functions. Each of the university’s three campuses can hold up to 1 000 delegates at any given time.
PE also has medium to smaller size upmarket venues that are available at various establishments. These include hotels, boutique hotels and guest houses. With so many available some of the more popular ones are the five-star Radisson Blu Hotel in Summerstrand near Pollock Beach. This exquisite hotel boasts 173 beautifully appointed guest rooms and suites, a fully equipped business centre with eight first class banqueting, conferencing and meeting facilities.
The Villa Tuscana Boutique Hotel and Conference venue is a quaint Summerstrand spot – perfect for smaller conferences and events. It combines luxury accommodation with excellent service and attention to detail and can accommodate up to 50 delegates in its banquet room.
Protea Hotel Marine’s excellent conference facilities can accommodate up to 90 people at a time. Rated among the superior beach front hotels, the sweeping views of Algoa Bay are spectacular and the hotel’s personal service is unparalleled.
One of the biggest things to happen to PE in the last couple of years was the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Being one of the host cities of this prestigious event not only put PE on the map but the whole Nelson Mandela Bay district. The Nelson Mandela Stadium has, since the World Cup, hosted many prestigious conferences and events, including important government meetings.
“Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism is in the process of bidding for conferences to be hosted in PE,” says Sadie. Private and public sectors have already been successful in attracting events to the city such as Ironman South Africa, the bi-annual Automative Week, the VW Rally and the IRB Seven’s, to name a few.
Known to many as Buffalo City, because of its position between the Nahoon River in the North and the Buffalo River in the South, East London is the Eastern Cape’s second biggest economic hub. The city has always been known for pristine, unspoilt beaches and laid back lifestyle and is now becoming a popular choice for business travellers too.
Since the opening of the East London International Convention Centre (ELICC) in 2010 the city has seen a dramatic rise in business tourism industry. Besides the convention centre, the R500 million development comprises world class accommodation at the five-star Premier Hotel ELICC and the adjacent four-star Premier Hotel Regent.
Located within the Marine Park Complex on the city’s Esplanade, the convention centre provides great views of the Indian Ocean and is a convenient 15-minute drive from East London Airport.
The high-tech state-of-the-art ELICC includes a 650-seater auditorium, an exhibition floor with space for 90 stands, a hall that can seat 850 delegates ballroom-style, and 2 200 cinema-style; as well as executive boardrooms, restaurants and kitchens. Convention attendees taking a break from the boardroom will be able to enjoy East London’s nearby beaches, game reserves, golf courses and museums.
Apart from the ELICC there are various other conference centres and hotels in the area that cater for smaller numbers. The four-star Blue Lagoon Hotel and Conference Centre in Beacon Bay, overlooking the Nahoon River, is one such venue. General manager Peter Gregersen explains: “In addition to being a four-star hotel, we also offer five conference rooms that have recently been refurbished to the standards required by business tourists.” Gregersen states that the ratio of business to leisure guests is in the region of 80/20 and in recent years the length of holiday stays has shortened and the start of the Christmas season seems to be happening later.
There’s more than meets the eye to this quaint Sunshine Coast village. Port Alfred already has so much going for it, what with the spectacular climate, the water, the beaches and the historical connections. But now, with its top-class shopping malls, sophisticated healthcare, a Royal golf course, intimate small-boat harbour, light industry, an international hospitality university and 43 Air School, Port Alfred has really come into its own.
It’s early days for business tourism in Port Alfred, but if places like MyPond Hotel are anything to go by, business development will be booming before we know it. MyPond Hotel is a state-of-the- art four-star boutique hotel situated at the Kowie river bank. The hotel is operated by one of the most prestigious hotel management schools on the African continent: Stenden South Africa.
Company owners can expect to project their businesses in a confident, trendy manner in the 120-seater Chat@MyPond Conference Centre, which opens onto magnificent views of the Kowie River. The hotel is currently in the process of building an additional high-end eight-seater boardroom.
Brand building in the bush
The Eastern Cape is home to a number of award-winning private game reserves that not only offer amazing game viewing, luxury accommodation and indulgent spa treatments, but also provide inspirational and memorable team building and conference experiences.
Shamwari Game Reserve
Approximately 45 minutes from PE, Shamwari’s team building experiences are like no other. According to Tracey Dewey, Corporate & Incentive sales manager for the Shamwari Group, Shamwari Game Reserve is an ideal location for a corporate getaway as it is not only an award-winning big five reserve set over 25 000 ha of malaria-free landscape, but also boasts seven five-star lodges that can cater for 60 singles or 120 sharing.
Longlee Manor Lodge, the largest on the reserve, is the ‘home base’ for bigger groups. So, when conferencing or enjoying a gala or boma dinner all guests will congregate at Longlee. An old barn was converted into the conference room, which can accommodate 35 delegates in a boardroom setting or 50 in a cinema-style setting. The barn opens up onto a boma area for outdoor dining.
For smaller groups Shamwari’s premier lodge Eagles Crag comprises a boardroom for up to 18 people. “If a group is staying at one of the other lodges at sole use these can easily be created into a boardroom-style set up too,” says Dewey.
Lobengula Lodge recently underwent a refurbishment and upgrade and now operates as a villa. “This is proving to be a very popular lodge for our corporate clients,” Dewey adds.
Shamwari Game Reserve offers a range of team building activities; the most popular being the Amazing Bush Race. Teams are divided into groups and set out with their rangers to complete a check list of activities within a certain time frame. The first team back to the lodge, having successfully completed the tasks, wins the challenge. Tasks could include anything from identifying animal prints to collecting animal droppings.
African Pride Pumba Private Game Reserve
The third largest privately owned Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape is located an hour outside PE. Pumba Water Lodge overlooks the dramatic Cariega Lake and is the ideal setting for a conference, board meeting, strategy planning session or workshop. The venue can accommodate up to 18 delegates at one time and is equipped with the latest audio visual technology.
Msenge Bush Lodge is surrounded by typical Eastern Cape bushveld on the edge of a flood plain and overlooking a watering hole. The lodge can accommodate up to 60 delegates.
Bush, beach, established conference facilities and fabulous developments to come, the exquisite Eastern Cape is truly a business and leisure tourist’s dream destination. There’s a lot more to be discovered so, watch this space…