Luxury is common bond of firm's S. Africa hotels

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Senior editor Barbara J. Mays recently visited three of Sun International's South Africa properties. Her report follows:

un International, which has offered deluxe lodgings in South Africa for more than 20 years, boasts four- and five-star properties in several parts of South Africa.

A view of the architecture of the Palace of the Lost City hotel at Sun City. On a recent trip, I was able to sample three Sun International properties: the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town; the Zimbali Lodge and Country Club, about 26 miles north of the Durban seaport, and the firm's flagship resort, Sun City, which is slightly more than 100 miles northwest of Johannesburg and sits adjacent to the wildlife-rich Pilanesberg National Park.

My first two nights in South Africa were spent at Table Bay, which is ideally situated at Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a marina area with restaurants, shopping and attractions.

All 329 rooms afford scenic views, with half facing the working harbor and Table Mountain, and the other half looking out on to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner.

Dinner was in the hotel's recently renovated restaurant, the Conservatory.

"We made subtle changes to the restaurant," said Philip Georgas, divisional director, resort, for Sun International. "[We] moved out some booth seating arrangements as well as the partitions at the entrance and added soft goods and paint.

"What we have done gives it a roomier feel but with the same cozy ambience," he said.

Rates at Table Bay Hotel are from about $350 per room, per night for a twin room with a mountain view to about $1,500 for a hillside suite.

We flew off to the Zimbali Lodge and Country Club the next morning.

The 2-year-old Zimbali Lodge is located on about 850 acres in the Kwa-Zulu Natal region.

One of the public areas at the Zimbali Lodge.
According to Ian Anderson, Sun's manager of national and international sales, Zimbali is the hotel firm's first venture into the boutique hotel business.

The decor of the 76-room property was a mix of colonial and African styles, complete with animal skin floor coverings; large wood-carved pieces in public rooms, and Afrocentric art hangings.

Another interesting touch was the paw print of a Masmango monkey in the sand-filled ash trays and on random brick tiles on the floors.

Zimbali Lodge is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Durban and several game parks.

Resident manager Richard Mills said the hotel is concentrating on improving occupancy levels.

"We have not had many foreign visitors yet but expect to see that change," he said.

"We have an ideal location on the coast, which would be good for small groups. Groups can hire out the entire property," Mills said.

The lures for this group market, he said, are a milder climate due to hot winds from Mozambique plus a golf course, country club, conference rooms and a spa.

Among the interesting aspects of this property is a lake created by a dammed section of the Indian Ocean.

The Zimbali Lodge also is constructing a gated beach area for guests.

Rates here are about $90 per room, per night, double.

I felt lost upon arriving at the Sun City complex.

Sun City comprises four hotels: the deluxe 338-room Palace of the Lost City; the newly renovated, 340-room Sun City Hotel; the 242-room Cascades, and the Cabanas, which offers 144 standard rooms and 236 deluxe cabanas and is primarily a family resort.

Features at the Sun City resort include a man-made beach, a bus system to move guests around the resort and a simulated earthquake -- three or four times a day, smoke rises from the ground and the rumblings of an earthquake can be heard as guests literally feel the earth move beneath their feet.

Guests can take guided tours of the Sun City complex, and Pilanesberg National Park is only a 15-minute drive from its front gate.

Anderson said Sun City's occupancy level is holding at 72% to 80% throughout the resort.

Since "we have a high repeat-client level, we are now focusing on developing [Sun City's] golf aspect," he said.

"We have a good course, and will again host the Ned Bank challenge, a multimillion-dollar event," Anderson said.

Georgas said business at Sun City is up 14% at the high end and 54% at the low end.

Rates at Sun City resorts are on a per room, per night basis.

Rates at the Palace of the Lost City are from about $300 midweek for a standard room to $450 for a suite. Rates at Cascades range from about $250 to $1,000; Sun City Hotel ranges from about $1,605 to $8,010 for the presidential suite, and Cabanas is from about $200 to $300 for family units with lake views.

Much of Sun International's business is generated by the group and convention market, according to Georgas.

He said he has seen an "overall 17% to 18% gain in incentive business, especially in the off-season."

Georgas added that Sun International is looking to expand within Africa, naming Egypt as a possibility.

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