A health worker from Buffalo, New York, was the first US tourist to visit any Sun International property since March 2020 when she booked into Sun City from 4 to 10 April.

What made her visit even more special, was that it coincided with her birthday on 8 April. When Sun International’s staff realised this, they upgraded her to the Royal Suite at The Palace – which has its own butler – and arranged some sightseeing trips, including a hot air balloon ride.

“The occasion deserved a celebration and we hope that it will be a catalyst for the revival of our battered tourism industry.”

Sun International’s COO for Hospitality Graham Wood said, “The occasion deserved a celebration and we hope that it will be a catalyst for the revival of our battered tourism industry. The effect of the pandemic has been unbelievable. If anyone had told us a year ago that Sun City would close its doors for five months, after 40 years of 24/7 operation, we would not have believed them. We hope that everyone in America who hears Ms Cleague’s story will be encouraged and inspired to visit our country.”

Sun City traditional dancers celebrate with Sun International’s first US tourist since lockdown, Ms Stuff Cleague, outside The Palace.

Ms Stuff Cleague, who was on her first African trip despite being a frequent traveller, said, “I’m overwhelmed and speechless. I’m used to hotels but this upgrade has been incredible.”

The 2014 movie Blended, which was filmed on location at Sun City, was the motivation for Cleague’s visit. She says, “I couldn’t believe it was a real place, it had such incredible architecture and the environment and scenery, with all the antelope, cheetah and elephants. I saw it was filmed at The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa so I called my travel agent and said, can you get me to that place? I wanted to see the room that Adam Sandler stayed in, in the movie.”

“As a health worker I know that everyone has taken all the necessary precautions to protect each other. I could see it and feel it and have felt safe throughout my journey. I also know that practicing simple hygiene is my number one prevention against the disease.”

Cleague admits that people back home had been surprised by her decision to visit South Africa, but she felt confident about it; “I spent a lot of time researching the country and reassured myself it was going to be fine. As a health worker I know that everyone has taken all the necessary precautions to protect each other. I could see it and feel it and have felt safe throughout my journey. I also know that practicing simple hygiene is my number one prevention against the disease.”

Brett Hoppé, General Manager for Sun City, said, “We need brave people like Stuff to set the trend and start travelling again so that we can get occupancies up and get back to what we do best, being a world-class holiday and entertainment destination. Easter was the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic broke, that the Resort was above 98%. We hope that Stuff is the vanguard of a flood of new tourists.”

Cleague had her first Covid-19 vaccination just prior to departing from the States and will have her second dose when she returns home. She needed to obtain a negative Covid-19 test before she was able to travel to South Africa.

Cleague adds, “I know it’s hard and Covid-19 is scary, but we can still come together to experience joy in our lives. We have lost a lot of time because of the pandemic so if you have an opportunity, you grab it. I’m glad I took my opportunity now and didn’t wait for tomorrow to come.”

“It certainly is gratifying to see the increasing interest in travel to Africa.”

Travel to Africa is slowly picking up, especially from the North American market, says Ryan Thole, General Manager at Thompsons Africa. Natalie Lee, SITA World Tours Product Manager, Africa & The Middle East adds, “It certainly is gratifying to see the increasing interest in travel to Africa for both first time clients, as well as repeat clientele who missed their annual African holiday in 2020.”

READ: ATTA’s 2021 Travel Recovery SnapShot survey (March)