Meetings Are South Africa's New Big Game

SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS November 2007 At 61,000-acre Shamwari Game Reserve, located in South Africa's Eastern Cape region, a group was about to enjoy cocktails at sunset (with a makeshift bar set up on the hood of their Land Rover) when, out of nowhere, a couple of rhinos crashed the party. As a mother rhino and her young one slowly lumbered through the brush (no more than 75 yards from the gin-and-tonics), the guide urgently recommended a relocation to safety inside the vehicle, and then back to the Shamwari's lodges.

Shamwari's six upscale lodges vary in size from four to 22 rooms, so groups can easily buy out one or more. Each has a distinctive style ranging from colonial to tent camp (but definitely not camping). And the reserve is only one among many, including Thanda, Kwandwe, Mpumalanga, Ulusaba-as well as Grootbos, a 4,200-acre private, coastal preserve about a two-hour drive east of Cape Town, with 28 ocean-view suites and conference facilities for up to 60 people. (Such corporate stalwarts as Unilever and Porsche have held meetings there.)

And a safari-rhino optional-is only one of the many opportunities for groups holding meetings, conventions, and other events in South Africa. At Indaba 2007, Africa's largest travel trade show, held last May in Durban, exhibitors offered a dizzying array of other activities as well: golfing, spa treatments, fine dining, wine tasting, hot-air ballooning, luxury train trips, whale watching, whitewater rafting, and rock climbing; as well as opportunities for voluntourism. In Cape Town, South Africa's prime tourist destination, plans to almost double the size of the Cape Town Int'l Convention Centre are proceeding; in July, the government approved a critical land-use change. The expansion is scheduled for completion in early 2010, prior to the World Cup. At present, the center contains more than 107,000 sf of exhibition space; a 21,000-sf ballroom (divisible by two); four meeting rooms, each of which can accommodate up to 330 people; 13 meeting rooms, each of which can accommodate up to 25 people; and two auditoriums, one seating 1,500 people, and the other seating 620 people.

South Africa has its fair share of upscale hotels. Claire Abrams, CMP, meeting services manager for Chicago-based American Association of Endodontists, grew up in Cape Town, still visits friends and family there, and recommends the Cape Grace, the Table Bay, and the Victoria & Alfred in Cape Town's Waterfront district; the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay; and the Mount Nelson on Table Mountain.

Meanwhile, two new properties, the Radisson SAS Hotel Sandton, in Johannesburg's upscale business district, and the Radisson SAS Hotel Port Elizabeth, are expected to open next year with boardroom and conference space.

And, according to Bill Gallagher, spokesperson for Southern Sun Hotels (among whose 70 properties Durban's Southern Sun Elangeni is included), mainly all the new-builds in South Africa in the last 10 to 12 years are wheelchair-accessible.
"There are plenty of facilities in South Africa for people in wheelchairs who want to take anything from a safari holiday to a city holiday to a beach holiday," says Gallagher. "That includes all the international convention centers and most of the conference centers and other kinds of meeting venues."