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A luxury Big Five game safari with a twist

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Game drives are unique, as travellers get a history lesson about the Zulu Kingdom. Picture: uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve.

I am seated in a green game vehicle, soaking up the view of the rugged wilderness before me. For someone who has been on more than a dozen safari trips throughout South Africa, you’d think I would tire of seeing the “Big Five” and natures other charming creatures. But my trip to uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve, on the other hand, was different.

Having spotted the endangered white rhino, a cheeky elephant answering the call of nature and dozens of impala, it was the area’s rich history that piqued my curiosity.

The Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park, known as Africa’s oldest proclaimed nature reserve, contains the legacy of King Shaka and Dr Ian Player – the global conservationist who founded Operation Rhino. Player helped protect the white rhino from extinction in the late 1950s.

Our game ranger Artist Gqwetha, who has accumulated a wealth of knowledge in his 10 years on the job, brings the vehicle to a halt and turns to our group of intrepid explorers.

A family of elephants captivate guests with their antics. Picture: uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve.

He points to the valleys King Shaka once called his home and where he encountered many battles. Shaka was at the forefront of conservation and played a critical role in how man interacts with the wild today.

Game drives at uMfolozi merge culture and wildlife seamlessly, painting a perfect picture of conservation and the strides locals have made to protect the area.

Game drives are unique, as travellers get a history lesson about the Zulu Kingdom. Picture: uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve.

Barry and Sonja Theunissen are the brains behind the uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve concept, which falls under the Mantis Collection portfolio. In less than eight months, they have launched two new lodges, Mthembu and Biyela. Zulu, a luxury tented camp, opens next July. The lodges, named after the five descendants of King Shaka’s chiefs, who offered their tribal land to enhance conservation in the uMfolozi Wilderness, prides itself on community development.

“It benefits everyone, especially community members who are hired to work at the 5-star lodges,” chief Mthembu tells our group later that afternoon, during a mandatory sundowner break overlooking the grand White iMfolozi river.

“It is the start of something extraordinary,” he says, raising a triumphant toast to our group of seven.

History with luxury 

As we arrive at Mthembu Lodge, the staff gather around – serenading us with songs that pay homage to Africa. They are in a joyous mood and prepare to treat us to an authentic African bush experience. Walking into the lodge feels surreal. The modern furnishings, coupled with fresh plants, transforms it into a paradise for any traveller. A refreshing drink in hand, we get a tour from managers Dave and Christina.

Mthembu Lodge, which opened in October, has seven private villas and two family villas. The villas mirror the original Zulu dwellings. Each villa is named after a Zulu King who played a pivotal role in the province’s history. Hand-built by members of the Mthembu tribe, the villas are tastefully decorated with African art and contemporary furniture.

I was booked into the King Solomon villa, which has mesmerising views of the wilderness. The villa comes standard with an oval-shaped bath, outside shower, air conditioning, stocked mini bar, wi-fi and a private deck perfect for when you want to escape for a few hours, with a good book and a G&T.
For those who prefer to explore, the lodge’s infinity pool is ideal for a mid-morning swim. Mthembu offers special boma dinners on request, with energising performances from the youngsters of the tribe.

The villas were built by the tribe. Picture: uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve.
uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve provides an authentic African safari experience. Picture: uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve.

I couldn’t help feasting on the grilled prawns and spicy chakalaka, while others tucked into the braaied meat. The next day, we drove for an hour to Biyela Lodge. Biyela Lodge, which opened in May, caters for the modern safari traveller. Tiered on a descending cliff, overlooking an oxbow lagoon in the White iMfolozi River, Biyela is the perfect escape for travellers wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

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The villas each had a distinct wildlife theme. I stayed in one that lent itself beautifully to the magnificent zebra.

Boasting 12 villas, the lodge offers guests spa treatments, stargazing, and will soon launch walking safaris. Travellers have the option of booking into the honeymoon suites, with broad views of the park and wilderness areas, or the river frontage that offers astonishing views of wildlife. Guests can choose to skip game drives as you can view the game from the comfort of your deck chair. And the elephants and various species of antelope frequently pop by to quench their thirst.

Enjoy a soak in the bath, while taking in the views of the private pool and hillside. Nine of the villas come standard with a plunge pool.

All villas come standard with outdoor showers, a lounge and spacious bathrooms, and a viewing deck. Three of them are without a pool. However, it has night beds for those who want to sleep under the stars. The lodge’s infinity pool, with 180-degree views of the plains, is Biyela’s most attractive attribute.

Breakfasts – an elaborate affair – offers everything from fresh fruit, cheeses and baked goodies, followed by a hot breakfast of your choice.
Drinks and snacks flow freely throughout the day to keep your stomach satisfied until the afternoon’s high tea spread. Dinner at Biyela allows travellers to dress up and tuck into a mouthwatering fine dining meal – fit for a chief. We ended the night making S’Mores by the fire pit.

Clinton Moodley 

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Hospitality & Tourism

Radisson Hotel Group unveils Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle, its second brand in Morocco

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Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle (Source: Saadiyah Hendricks)

Radisson Hotel Group is proud to announce the debut of its second brand and third hotel in Morocco with the signing of Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle in partnership with Al Hoceinia Hospitality. With construction already underway, the hotel is scheduled to open in 2023 and will consist of 133 guestrooms and suites.

Located in the heart of Casablanca’s vibrant and exclusive Gauthier district, one of the prominent corporate, financial and entertainment districts, Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle is just 2.5 km from the glistening La Corniche, the charming Old Medina, and Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world. The hotel will offer a unique view over the Arab League Park and will also form part of La Citadelle, a new, premium mixed-use development which will comprise of residences, offices and retail outlets.

Ramsay Rankoussi, Vice President, Development, Africa & Turkey, Radisson Hotel Group, said, “Morocco is a strategic bridge between Europe and the rest of Africa, and a key focus market in our African development strategy. We aim to grow our Moroccan portfolio to over 15 hotels within the next three to five years, and Casablanca is a key city where we are looking to expand our footprint to more than five hotels. Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle is the Moroccan debut of our fastest-growing brand in Africa, and marks our third hotel in the country, joining our other two successful properties, Radisson Blu Hotel, Casablanca City Center and Radisson Blu Hotel, Marrakech Carré Eden. We expect to introduce each of our remaining three brands but also cover all segments, from business hotels to resort properties, as well as serviced apartments. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our partners, Al Hoceinia Hospitality, for their trust as we look at working together to reinforce our presence across Morocco with additional properties.”

Hamza Laghrari, Managing Director of Al Hoceinia Hospitality, Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle managing company said, “It is with great pleasure that we commence this journey and long-term relationship with Radisson Hotel Group and together introduce the upscale Radisson brand to the Moroccan market. The hotel which will be equipped with the latest innovation to accompany the changing expectations of business customers, will provide a new and an ideal venue for business and leisure guests and an enhancement to the city of Casablanca. As part of our group’s diversification strategy, the tourism industry is an important growth sector in which we see opportunities in the near future, and we are pleased to partner with Radisson Hotel Group to introduce this property and eventually many more. We aim to open a total of five hotels by 2025 in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech and Tangiers.”

The Scandinavian-inspired, upscale brand, Radisson, will make its Moroccan debut with the new build, 133-room hotel, consisting of contemporary superior rooms and suites. Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle will enable guests to focus on a work/life balance and find harmony in their travel experience, while enjoying the hotel’s modern, state of the art technology, and design. Various cuisine options will be available at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, patio as well as its panoramic rooftop restaurant. Meetings and event venues will include a large conference and function room as well as five meeting rooms. Perfectly equipped for guests to strike a healthy balance, the hotel will offer both a fitness room and a rooftop pool.

Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle (Source: Saadiyah Hendricks)

Radisson Hotel Group’s top priority is the continued health, safety and security of its guests, team members, and business partners. The Group applies its Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol created in collaboration with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, and recently unveiled its new comprehensive testing program as the first hotel group to roll out a rapid testing service for meeting and event attendees at properties across its EMEA portfolio.

 

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Radisson Hotel Group renews partnership with SGS and continues global application of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol

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Radisson Hotel Group is proud to announce the extension of its partnership with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity, and the continued global roll out of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol to further strengthen Radisson Hotel Group’s existing rigorous sanitation, cleanliness and disinfection program across its portfolio around the world.

In 2020, Radisson Hotel Group worked closely with SGS to conduct a thorough review of all existing health and safety processes and worked with a team of experts to develop and validate the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol, a comprehensive series of 20-Step and 10-step protocols for hotels and for Meetings & Events. These enhanced protocols which include comprehensive health and safety procedures such as increased cleaning and disinfection especially in high touch point areas, sanitizing stations, team member personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing measures and hybrid solutions for meetings, improved air circulation, and strict food safety procedures, have all been validated by SGS, building on local requirements and recommendations to ensure guests’ safety and peace of mind from check-in to check-out. In addition, Radisson Hotel Group has adapted the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol specifically for Resorts, with attention to services like sports, spa facilities and kids’ clubs.

The Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol is an official cleanliness and disinfection label which can be used by hotels only after an in-depth centralized validation process has been conducted by SGS. In addition, selected hotels receive the additional SGS Disinfection monitored & Cleaning Checked label upon completion of a comprehensive local audit including on-site testing using the latest technology.

“At Radisson Hotel Group, the health and safety of our guests, team members and partners continue to be a top priority. The world has been fundamentally changed by COVID-19, so it is key that we continue innovating and striving to deliver a clean and safe environment to all who walk through our doors, stay in our hotels and conduct meetings in our properties. SGS has been a key partner to ensure our hotels are providing the best and latest health and safety measures, and we are proud to renew our partnership for a second year,” says Federico J. González, CEO, Radisson Hotel Group.

Frankie Ng, CEO of SGS, adds that: “Expert and documented validation by SGS of health, safety and prevention protocols related to COVID-19 has allowed the Tourism industry and Radisson Hotel Group to inspire trust and confidence to travelers around the world.  The goal of our continued partnership is to ensure that the highest hygiene standards are met, and to protect guests as well as Radisson Hotel Group team members and partners.

As part of the Group’s ongoing commitment to the safe return of travel and to allow for a swift return to business, Radisson Hotel Group recently launched its new comprehensive testing program as the first hotel group to roll out a rapid testing service for meeting and event attendees at properties across their EMEA portfolio. In addition, hotels will be able to direct guests to an easily accessible and affordable PCR testing location. The comprehensive testing program for guests is groundbreaking in its coordinated approach across EMEA to reinstall confidence and peace of mind to travelers as the world returns to business by providing a safe environment and seamless testing facilitation.

Radisson Hotel Group continues play a key role in the development of the World Travel and Tourism (WTTC)’s “Safe Travels” and “Seamless Travel” health and safety protocols, a global framework and stamp for a safe return to business and to create consistency across the Travel and Tourism industry. The WTTC’s Safe Travels stamp is currently endorsed by over 200 destinations around the world.

 

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Reimagining the Future of Sustainable Tourism in Africa

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Photo by kureng Dapel from Pexels

At Spurt! We are always looking to amplify solutions to critical and specific challenges in Sub Saharan Africa. This week, we reviewed Why Tourism Desperately Needs a New Performance Metric Post-Pandemic by Lebawit Lily Girma. The wake of COVID-19 and its effects on the Tourism sector has unearthed realities that the sector’s metric for success needs to go beyond the numbers; the arrivals and GDP contributions. There’s a solid case for other sustainable ways for measuring success that is as inclusive and effective in capturing the real value add brought by tourist activities. The ongoing equity issue and the colonial legacy entrenched in the sector have to be front and centre to address these.

Tourism is one of the most important economic sectors. According to the UN, It employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more. Due to the anchor role it plays in boosting economies, it is imperative that key stakeholders, with the government taking a leading part, take active steps in safeguarding the growth and sustainability of the sector. The sector’s importance notwithstanding, transparency and cultivated trust, will be crucial in determining how the industry will bounce back from the global pandemic’s dire blow.

It is always subjective what the actual cost of a destination is. In Africa, there’s a pervasive question around the trickle-down effect of the money spent on tourism to the local communities and any transformative change that has occurred over time. Historically, the tourism value chain has always been fragmented. According to a McKinsey report, there has been limited coordination among the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up a large portion of the sector.

The information champions a more proactive government involvement in the industry through fostering creative alliances between the public and private sector. This cross-sector collaboration can act as an integral leadership centre in tackling emerging issues in the industry and mainstream responsible tourism. The Brookings Institution report on Africa’s tourism potential lauds the governments of Morocco, Mauritius, Kenya, and South Africa to prioritise the tourism sector as a critical driver of growth, allocating resources towards the development of the tourism sector.

Responsible tourism allows local communities to earn a modest income from the tourism activities while supporting conservation efforts. As Lebawit rightfully points out, all efforts geared towards building back the sector better will not be complete without local communities’ inclusion. As the call to decolonise the tourism sector become more substantial, it is becoming clear that innovative and localised tourism is key to a solid and resilient industry. Creative organisations like Turn Up Travel in Kenya are revolutionising responsible tourism through curating unique experiences through striking a balance between destination selection, commerce, conservation and community. More local organisations like Turn Up need to find the root is taking centre stage in diversifying the sector.

At Spurt, the conversation on championing responsible tourism excites us. Local MSMEs are front and centre in the drive to reimagine how a sustainable sector would look. We aspire to be the platform for fostering the growth of scalable local businesses in sub-Saharan Africa that adhere to the best performance and ethical standards. With our research and analytics capabilities, strategic advisory, stakeholder engagement, and implementation support, we are eager to work with local companies like Turn Up by convening, developing, and exciting the best young African thinkers passionate about working for their continent’s economic development.

Written by: Spurt!

 

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