For each ‘Planner’s Pick,’ Prevue interviews a planner for their choices of compelling, high value destinations.
PLANNER: TODD BLACK
First Incentive Travel International
Predawn hours chill the khaki-clad couples bumping across trails of jungle detritus in an open-air jeep deftly maneuvered by the ranger guide. The local tracker quiets the conversation, sniffs the air and points meaningfully at snapped twigs and crushed leaves. The hunters grasp their weapon of choice, aiming at the female lion sauntering nearby. Click. Click. Victory is the day’s first photo.
By the time the sun is up long enough to bake mieliebrood (corn bread), the medical group on a week-long South Africa incentive trip will have watched 20-foot high giraffes nibble on trees and a herd of zebras race across the plains. And by 10am, the group of 104 mostly middle-aged American couples head back for tea and a hardy brunch at the luxury safari lodge Sabi Sabi, led by Todd Black, president of First Incentive Travel International. “African shields and spears adorn dark wood lobby walls. The guestrooms are incredible. Mosquito netting canopies the four poster bed. Practical, yes, but it also sets the tone,” says Black.
Before arriving on Sabi Sabi’s private airstrip, the group spent several days in Cape Town.
Mother City of South Africa, Cape Town bears influences of Malaysian, French, Dutch, British and German settlers, as well as Bushman, Hottentot and northern Bantu tribes.
Everyone checked into the 201-room Mount Nelson Hotel, nestled in the shadow of Table Mountain, before setting off for the 15-minute helicopter transfer over Cape Town to the Groot Constantia wine estate. The highlight of the pairing dinner was grilled ostrich, which you might think tastes kind of exotic.
“Ostrich sounds exotic, but it’s lean, tender and tastes almost like a filet steak,” says Black.
History and culture infuse many of Cape Town’s group activities, such as a ½-hour ferry ride to Robben Island where former inmates relay their personal experiences at the political prison where Mandela was held for 27 years.
That evening, the group partied at The Castle of Good Hope, the oldest surviving building in South Africa. Then they recreated the 100 year-old Cape Malay Carnival, a unique Cape Town party à la Mardi Gras, “with a junkaroo type band, whistles, ghoema drums (handmade drums resembling a tambourine) and brightly colored costumes,” says Black. “Even on the servers.”
Coordinating the week’s diverse events would have been impossible, he acknowledges, without the assistance of South African Airways and the inbound DMC Dragonfly Africa.
“Dragonfly did the impossible,” lauds Black. Proof was the final Cape Town soiree held at The Groote Schuur Estate—the official residence of the President. Black explains, “Not everyone can get clearance to use the Estate, and definitely not when the President is home. Dragonfly exceeded expectations.”
Early morning, the attendees received official looking invitations bearing the Presidential seal. Vintage cars, one per couple, drove everyone to the red carpet steps where 1940s-attired paparazzi photographed them with period cameras and oversized bulbs. With the royal military band welcoming their arrival, each lady received a rose as she ascended, and then couples were escorted to the gardens. White-jacket servers passed champagne and canapés before the 5-course formal dinner under heavy security.
“But rather than making anyone uncomfortable, the security added to the pomp of the circumstance,” says Black.
So how does one top that?
“Take them on safari in the bush. There’s the real magic of South Africa.”