5 Reasons to ‘Buzz’ About the South African Bush and Beyond

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South Africa, meeting and incentive planners
Victoria Falls, photo credit: Ninara @ Flickr

Nearly 2,000 people attended Meetings Africa 16, a high-energy trade show held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg this past February. Exhibitors came from South Africa and 15 other countries, all under the banner, “Advancing Africa Together.”

Here’s a sample of what had meeting and event planners buzzing:

Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff

It’s the “it” place for celebrities, rock stars and business groups seeking a luxurious retreat in the city of Johannesburg. On a hillside overlooking the zoo and the city’s trademark canopy of trees, the reflagged landmark has undergone a multi-million dollar facelift from its colonial past into a sophisticated urban resort with contemporary South African art and safari-chic décor. Expect 117 updated rooms and suites (with zebra-stripe drapes and ottomans in some of them) and group gathering spots such as the purple-accented Jacaranda Room inspired by the hotel’s famed jacaranda trees. Gorgeous gardens, oversized bathrooms, destination spa, expanded garden terrace and a three-Michelin star chef add up to a memorable 5-star experience for groups.

Mixed-Use “Place of Light”

Tourists rub elbows with artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and hipsters in Maboneng, or “Place of Light,” a mixed-use community in inner-city Joburg. Ground-zero for urban renewal, and including a swank boutique hotel, the high-energy district is a creative hub for music, art, fashion and food. It’s especially bustling on Sundays at the food and design emporium, Market on Main, where groups will find everything from Ethiopian coffee vendors and South African braai (barbecue) to local craft beer brewers and honey-makers, African spices, fabrics and beads.

Increased Lift to Victoria Falls

Perennially popular, Victoria Falls is becoming more accessible thanks to a $150-million upgrade nearing completion at Victoria Falls International Airport in Zimbabwe. Making news is the addition of new service including Lufthansa (via a code-share with South African Airways) and the low-cost carrier, fastjet Zimbabwe, which this month introduced twice-weekly flights from Johannesburg. Improvements include a large, state-of-the-art terminal building and a 2.6 mile runway fitted with lights to facilitate the airport’s emergence as a 24-hour operation.

Naughty & Nice Boutique Bites

Gourmet milkshake bars, snip your own culinary herbs and indulgent champagne and caviar breakfasts—they’re all part of the edgy, experiential vibe at Marriott’s lifestyle boutiques Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and Protea Fire & Ice! Menlyn, which opened last year near Pretoria. Among more than 100 Protea hotels in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa now eligible for Marriott Rewards, the Fire & Ice! brand properties boast vibrant design elements and quirky touches designed to appeal to Millennials and young at heart groups.

Good Gifts

Products from community-based industries that employ and empower local workers are treasured gifts at meetings and conference events. Among them are the aprons, bibs and napkins (known as serviettes in South Africa) made by the women of the Soweto Sewing Company. Also popular is Amarula Cream, a liqueur, known as “the spirit of South Africa,” that’s made from a native fruit that grows in only one place on the planet. The ripe yellow amarula fruit, a particular favorite of elephants, is gathered each summer by the women of Phalaborwa, a rural community near Kruger National Park, who benefit from the proceeds of their picking.

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Globetrotting journalist and Detroit News travel blogger Susan R. Pollack has covered travel for 30 years, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 47 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, Africa, the Galapagos, and New Zealand to Thailand, Tasmania and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jet-lag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel news and adventures with readers. Her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in The Detroit News, Dallas Morning News, Toronto Star, Chicago Sun Times and other major newspapers and magazines such as Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Golf for Women and Michigan Meetings + Events. She also has contributed chapters to three books, including Rand McNally's "The Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide."