The old adage holds that one should never mix business with pleasure.
But that outdated view of things has been firmly tossed out the window. These days more and more people that have to travel for business reasons, are killing two proverbial birds with one stone: combining their business journey with leisure travel activities or a short holiday. So popular has the concept become, it even added an entirely new word to the English language: bleisure travel.
South Africa is ideally placed for bleisure travel and has an abundance of options to offer business travellers with limited leisure time available, whether they are on business in the country from abroad or are travelling locally for business purposes. As a tourism sub-sector it is also one of the fastest growing ones.
Basically this concept means that when your employer sends you to another city or country for business purposes you add on a few days with your employer’s consent but at your own expense to enjoy some of the local tourist attractions. Or if your company needs to organise a conference or team-building exercise or a product launch, it can do so in one of the country’s great game parks, seaside resorts or in any one of a number of stunning locations usually associated with leisure tourism.
For this South Africa has become a big favourite internationally. For instance, with the proliferation of world-class conference centres and hotels in South Africa, an increasing number of international business and other conferences are being hosted here. And with the country’s outstanding and varied tourist offerings, many of these conference-goers spend an additional week or so in the country visiting local attractions.
But increasingly locals are also making use of such opportunities. An employee based at the company head office in Gauteng, for instance, and sent on a business assignment to Cape Town may schedule the business part of the visit to end on a Friday and then add on the weekend to explore the city, its beaches and other attractions, or visit the Cape Winelands, or undertake a leisurely tour of the nearby West Coast, and so on.
Adding to this boom in bleisure travel is another relatively new and fast-growing concept: airline stopover packages, some of it completely free and others at highly discounted rates, depending on the length of the stay and what it consists of. Nowadays airlines are offering great incentives to add on mini breaks to your travel schedule along the way. When the London Sunday Times listed its 20 best stopovers last year, Johannesburg via Addis Ababa featured at number 5.
Business travel by itself continues to boom. Despite rising airfares, increases in accommodation prices, global economic concerns, growing political instability in many countries and other factors, research conducted globally shows that business travel is not about to slow down either globally or in South Africa. In fact, hundreds of senior corporate executives interviewed around the world have indicated that the boom in business travel will continue. Analysts now predict that spending on corporate travel could reach an astonishing US$1.6 trillion by next year.
So it makes sense that airlines, hotel groups, tourism agencies and other tourism-related entities are focusing a large part of their marketing efforts on enticing the business travellers to add some leisure travel to their itineraries. For erevyone involved it’s a win-win situation.
Industry experts across the board agree that bleisure travel made great strides in 2019, and this year they expect it to grow even more in popularity, spend and numbers of travellers. Research by the National Car Rental company and published in their second annual ‘State of Business Travel Survey’ showed that 90% of millennials have engaged in bleisure travel in the past year compared with 81% of Generation Xers and 80% of baby boomers.
An ongoing survey conducted by Travelcheck.co.za has revealed that business is cited as the primary purpose of travel for 14% of the South African travellers surveyed, while more than 30% say they travel for both business and leisure… or bleisure. Local hospitality brands such as South African hotel, gaming and entertainment group Tsogo Sun have been quick to get in on the act with business and leisure add-on packages and experiences designed to get workers out and about after the business is done.
So, most people traveling on business this year will definitely also add in some leisure travel. And South Africa and any of its many attractions, cities and regions will be among the favourite destinations.
Best bleisure packages
On the bleisure travel front, South Africa is uniquely positioned to offer some of the greatest packages in the world, whether for international or local business travellers. The country is blessed with superb climate and weather conditions, exquisite and greatly varied natural scenery, wildlife experiences second to none, a coastline of almost 3,000km, vibrant modern cities, and an abundance of conservation and wilderness areas, game parks and nature reserves to name just a few of its wonderful natural attributes.
South Africa has it all…from the giant Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third largest canyon, and the nearby Kruger National Park in the northeast; to the massive and exquisitely beautiful iSimangaliso Wetland Park next to the Indian Ocean in the sub-tropical east; the awesome Drakensberg mountain range cutting across several provinces; the breath-taking, unspoilt Wild Coast further southeast where time stands still among the rivers, cliffs and sand dunes and the rolling grassland hills dotted with centuries-old traditional villages; the world-famous Garden Route along the southern coast with its marvellous coastline, lakes, forests and mountains; the beauty of the Western Cape with its winelands and 300-year old gabled homesteads, Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Point and world-famous beaches; up the West Coast with its sheltered bays, turquoise sea and little whitewashed cottages; to the shifting red sand dunes of the Kalahari desert across which roam the Big 5; the Cradle of Humankind in the North West Province; and on to the rugged and forlorn landscapes of the Richtersveld in the northwest, a World Heritage Site, transfrontier park, the only arid biodiversity hotspot on earth, and a unique mountain desert through which flows the might Orange (Gariep) River.
Add to this a large number of world-class international and domestic airports connected to major centres around the world and served by most of the world’s leading airlines, excellent road infrastructure, outstanding communication and internet networks, first-world healthcare and medical facilities, Uber and Airbnb service providers, all of the world’s leading hotel chains, famous brand car-hire and luxury coach firms, world-class financial and banking services, and some of the best conference and exhibition facilities in the world.
Together these two advantages – natural abundance and modern infrastructure – allow the country to offer some of the world’s best bleisure travel opportunities and packages.
Conferences & exhibitions
South Africa is widely renowned for its world-class MICE industry (meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions). There are modern international convention centres in all of the country’s major cities, such as, for example, the Cape Town International Convention Centre or Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre Complex. Among the other highly rated venues are Sandton Convention Centre (Johannesburg), Tshwane Events Centre, East London International Convention Centre, and CSIR International Convention Centre (Pretoria), to name but a few.
Major international exhibitions, conferences, political or business events, concerts and other events are regularly hosted at these facilities. Some of the past global events have included the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, the 21st AIDS Conference at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban in 2016, the World Economic Forum on Africa 2019 in Cape Town, the 3rd International Conference on Global Food Security, also in Cape Town, to name a few. Major global conferences have taken place in South Africa in respect of just about everything from various science disciplines to medicine, health and wellness, transport, mining, engineering, finance, various business disciplines, education, gender issues, law, the environment, and more.
In addition all the many world-class hotels around the country have state-of-the-art conference and business centres. And there are excellent conference venues in almost every game park or nature reserve.
For instance, about a two-hour car drive north of Johannesburg lies the Sun City Resort with its large conference centre. Here you can attend a business conference or seminar or meet with clients in meeting rooms during the day, go on a game drive in the adjacent Pilanesberg National Park in the late afternoon with enough time left for a round of golf on the Gary Player designed golf course, and then spend the evening playing blackjack or the roulette tables in the casino.
South African National Parks (SANParks), offers excellent conference venues, facilities and accommodation throughout the Kruger National Park at the Bateleur Rest Camp, Mopani Rest Camp, Letaba Rest Camp, Olifants Rest Camp, Shingwedzi Rest Camp, and two venues at the Skukuza Rest Camp, namely the Goldfields Auditorium and the Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre. Imagine sitting in the cool interior or shaded areas of any of these conference facilities while just a few meters away lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos or other wild animals are passing.
Many of the renowned wine estates of the Western Cape also have conference venues. Then there is also the Constitution Hill Precinct in Johannesburg. Its conference venues can accommodate large and small groups and include colonial and apartheid era prison cells still with bars on the windows. During your conference breaks you can take in the permanent displays that will take you on a historical journey of South Africa, from colonialism and apartheid to democracy.
Unusual conference venues
One of the most unusual conference venues in South Africa that combines the most luxurious business and leisure travel with the moving feast of the country’s ever-changing scenery, is the world-famous Blue Train. The train can comfortably accommodate up to a dozen delegates in its Observation Car that converts into a conference room. When chartering the train, you can choose between the standard or your own routes. This makes for a business conference like no other on earth!
Venues that combine business with cruising on water are also popular. For instance, the Featherbed Company in Knysna on the Garden Route can accommodate up to 100 people cinema style or 25 people conference room style on board its old-fashioned paddle boat. When business is done it departs the jetty for a cruise around the Knysna Lagoon.
Or you can opt for the Shayamanzi Houseboats that cruise the waters of Lake Jozini, alongside the Pongola Nature and Game Reserves while you hold your conference or team-building event. Of course, in the summer months the large cruise ships that operate up and down the South African coast and on to the Indian Ocean islands, also have great conference facilities on board.
Other unusual conference venues across South Africa that combine business with some of the most splendid natural and leisure attractions, include Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium in the V&A Waterfront; venues around the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind; outdoor venues on top of Table Mountain offered by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway company; on the historical Robben Island with its prison-turned-museum; at the Tiffindell Ski Resort on the snow-covered slopes of the Drakensberg near Barkly East; or on the KwaZulu-Natal historical battlefields. There are also venues at fly-fishing resorts, various dive resorts, in stadiums and theatres, or in the heart of the Great Karoo.
You can literally close your eyes and place a finger anywhere on a map of South Africa and there’s bound to be a super conference and business centre within a 50km radius plus plenty of leisure attractions.
Adding sport into the mix
With South Africans’ love of the outdoors and almost every conceivable type of sports, and with their competitive nature, great sports stadiums and internationally winning teams, sports tourism is also bound to be big in the country. And naturally, with so much sporting events happening all the time, it can be easily factored into any travel itinerary. This will give travel consumers an unbeatable combination of fitting in a top local or international sporting event, a business conference or event, and a visit to some unparalleled natural, historical and cultural attractions… all in one single trip.
South Africa is one of only a few countries in the world and the only one in Africa to have hosted multiple sporting world cups. In 2010 it became the first African host of the FIFA World Cup, while it has also hosted world cup events in women’s golf, bowls, rugby and cricket, as well as major international events in athletics, swimming, tennis, motorcar and motorcycle racing, equestrian events, boxing, martial arts, and many other sports codes.
Major national teams from different countries across various sporting codes regularly compete in South Africa. It also is home to two great horse race meetings each year, the famous Durban July and Cape Town’s Sun Met, apart from a busy racing calendar on a number of racecourses all year round.
For the dedicated worshippers of whacking that little white ball, a trip in or to South Africa can also include playing on some of the world’s best golf courses designed by golfing greats like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Ernie Els, to name but a few.
Among its top golf classics are the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the South African Open, the Alfred Dunhill Championship, and many more. South Africa is a well-established and sought-after golf tourism destination, already three years ago ranking 14th in the world’s most popular golfing destinations, according to IAGTO. With around 470 golf courses countrywide and counting, almost every town in South Africa has a golf course, and the bigger towns and cities each have multiple courses.
Golf tourism in South Africa is promoted and marketed by the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) and its SATSA Golf Council (SGC). A snap survey via Google shows there are literally dozens of golf holiday promoters and agencies active in South Africa. And promotion of South Africa’s golfing attractions in other countries has undergone something of a revolution during the past five years.
One of the most unique golf courses is the Skukuza Golf Course, situated just outside the Skukuza Rest Camp inside the Kruger National Park. The course is not fenced in and is surrounded by a wildlife sanctuary that is home to, among others, the Big Five, hippo, impala, warthog, baboons and a huge variety of birds.
At the Leopard Creek golf course, designed by Gary Player and situated on the edge of the Kruger National Park, golfers also do not only have to avoid the usual sand bunkers, water holes, trees and the rough field: golfing hazards here, as with Skukuza, also include crocodiles, hippo, buffalo, baboons and elephant.
Among the many top golf courses around South Africa you will find courses like Fancourt at George on the Garden Route; the Durban Country Club; the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City; St Francis Links at Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape; the Arabella Golf Club near Hermanus; the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington; Blair Atholl Golf Estate in Centurion; Pearl Valley in the Cape Winelands; the Wild Coast Sun; Simola in Knysna; Pezula at the Heads in Knysna; Pinnacle Point at Mossel Bay; among many, many more.
So, next time your boss sends you somewhere to work, look forward to the quick holiday at the end!