Five years ago, when the magic of the FIFA World Cup descended on Cape Town, the talk of the day was about the thousands of vuvuzela horn-blowing soccer fans wildly showing off their soccer love.
But ever since the glory days of soccer madness, the picturesque coastal city has continued to attract large groups. Deepak Chopra, the New Age guru, showcased his wisdom at the Cape Town International Convention Center in March, and in April the world’s most popular boy band, One Direction, took center stage at the Cape Town Stadium for its On the Road Again tour.
So what’s behind the allure?
Located in the Western Cape Province on the southern tip of Africa surrounded by the swirling waters near the Cape of Good Hope, the city is enveloped by its signature landmark, Table Mountain, and is also situated near some of the world’s finest wine routes. A temperate climate and a mélange of cultures with a vibrant cosmopolitan flair have all made Cape Town, an English-speaking city, an ideal place to conduct business.
Considered the digital gateway to Africa, Cape Town has been dubbed a future Silicon Valley for its thriving digital industry as Fortune 500 companies like Amazon set up shop. In 2014, The New York Times ranked Cape Town as the No. 1 place to visit, while Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel list placed the Mother City as third-best city in the world. To boot, last year Cape Town also served as the World Design Capital.
“Cape Town is the most vibrant and captivating city in the Southern Hemisphere,” notes Johan du Toit, sales manager, MICE, One&Only Cape Town. “From cable-car rides, hang gliding and hiking Table Mountain to exhilarating wildlife adventures at World of Birds and Boulders Penguin Colony, great white shark-cage diving and shopping in the Victoria & Alfred Shopping Mall.”
It’s a value-for-money destination when it comes to infrastructure, sites to visit and leisure activities. This summer Cape Town is even rolling out free WiFi — made available at 61 buildings and numerous public access hot spots starting this month.
Only 12 miles from city center, the easily accessible world-class Cape Town International Airport handles nearly 5 million passengers annually. “We have a good international flight network and, due to European influences, the business customs and etiquette are similar,” observes Rykie van Tonder, hospitality manager, the historic Boschendal Wine Estate, located in the heart of the Cape Winelands. One of the oldest wine estates in South Africa, between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, the newly refurbished property hosts workshops, auctions and small meeting groups.
The latest report from the International Congress and Convention Association ranks Cape Town and the Western Cape as the No. 1 business events destination in Africa. “The hospitality industry has been steadily growing and is expected to continue growing,” says Mayor Patricia de Lille in the new joint report, “A Room with a View: Cape Town Hotels and Tourism,” released in September 2014 by Wesgro (the Western Cape marketing agency), PricewaterhouseCoopers and the City of Cape Town. She adds, “Travelers to the Western Cape are attracted to Cape Town due to the tourism industry’s various offerings, which include gorgeous landscapes, enjoyable weather, rich bio-diversity, outdoor activities and favorable exchange rates.”
According to South African Tourism, international business traveler arrivals to the Western Cape increased from 12.1 percent in 2009 to 16.6 percent in 2012. “The share in business travelers representing key international source markets reflected robust growth,” says Mmatšatši Ramawela, chairman, Hospitality Investment Conference Africa and chief executive officer, Tourism Business Council of South Africa.
The Western Cape reported 1.35 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2012, which “A Room with a View” accounts as 15 percent of all South African foreign tourist arrivals, the largest segments coming from Asia and Australasia (34.8 percent) and the Americas (13.3 percent).
Last year, U.S. tourism arrivals increased 9.8 percent from 2013 for the period January through March. The Western Cape experienced strong growth in foreign tourist arrivals in 2013 due to an improvement in global economic conditions. “Our research puts the directly measurable foreign-tourist spend in the Western Cape at more than R18 billion [about $1.5 billion] per annum,” reports “A Room with a View.”
For meeting venues, planners have plenty of choices, particularly around the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, South Africa’s oldest working harbor and one of Africa’s most successful urban redevelopment projects. Every year nearly 23 million arrivals visit the 300-acre property.
The city is also in the midst of new developments, one of which is the $123.7 million Silo Project, a mixed-use development of waterfront silos scheduled for completion in 2017. Plans include the recently opened local design hub called Watershed which showcases 150 trendy stands and the future home of Africa’s largest contemporary art gallery, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, opening in 2016.
Situated by the V&A Waterfront, the Cape Town International Convention Centre will double its capacity in the next two years with a $68 million facility upgrade. “The CTICC’s expansion is set to raise the global competitiveness of Cape Town as a premier world-class meetings and events destination, and it will allow the center to meet the growing demand to stage more events,” says Julie-May Ellingson, CEO, CTICC.
David Green, CEO, V&A Waterfront, reiterates how the development strategy centers on providing an experience. “(It’s) making the V&A Waterfront an attractive place to eat, live, work, play and stay.” The V&A Waterfront area boasts several 3- to 5-star hotels such as One&Only Cape Town and Table Bay Hotel.
Opened in 1997 by the iconic former South African president, Nelson Mandela, the 5-star Table Bay Hotel features five function venues. Located on the world-famous bay, the 329-room property has experienced more international bookings in the six months from July 2014 to February 2015 compared to all of last year. The property also trades on its close proximity to the convention center and location by the V&A Waterfront.
Also along the waterfront is the award-winning 131-room One&Only Cape Town. The luxury property offers various incentive travel programs such as meeting a cheetah and exploring the Cape Peninsula on a Harley-Davidson.
In addition, Hands Up Incentives, specializing in incentive trips, runs award-winning sustainability-focused programs in the Cape Town area. “There are many opportunities for companies to give back and improve their corporate social responsibility reputation,” says Christopher Hill, founder, Hands Up Incentives, who notes over the past five years such give-back trips around Cape Town increased 300 percent. Groups can volunteer for socially sustainable travel experiences incorporating wildlife and communities.
There’s no doubt Cape Town is on the cusp of a renaissance. No one would blame the city for tooting its own vuvuzela.
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