Business trip: Johannesburg
Johannesburg is finally getting its day in the sun. Just three years after South Africa joined the BRIC countries (changing its moniker to BRICS) and successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the city is reaping the benefits of increased revenue and changing global perceptions. The sporting event alone had nearly a 40 million rand economic impact on the city.
The 2013 Anholt-GfK Roper City Brand Index, an annual survey measuring the national image of countries, recently ranked the South African city 44th in its list of the world's 50 top business cities, moving up one spot from 2012, an indication that Johannesburg’s reputation for being violent and dangerous is fading. Similarly, the third annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, released in June 2013, ranked Johannesburg as the most popular destination in Africa, with a projected 2.54 million international visitors in 2013, up 53.6% from 2009. This substantial increase means it is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
Joburg or Jozi (the two names commonly given to the city by locals) is the third largest city by population on the African continent (surpassed by Cairo, Egypt, and Lagos, Nigeria). It was also the home of the late Nelson Mandela for a number of years, who continued to promote the image of the city while spreading a message of hope and peace globally. His recent passing will no doubt fuel increased interest in the city as tourists plan visits to pay their respects.
While Joburg’s distance from other major world centres is often a hurdle for international visitors, passenger traffic passing through the city’s main airport OR Tambo International is expected to reach 24 million annual travellers by 2015, up from 19 million in 2012.
National carrier South African Airways flies to cities throughout Africa and connects the continent to the rest of the world with daily flights to New York, Washington DC, Sao Paulo, Mumbai and Beijing among others. The airline’s recently updated business class lounge provides exceptional views of the runway and a separate arrivals lounge for inbound passengers looking to refresh after a long flight. New flat-bed seating on its long-haul aircraft is an appreciated perk for flights that can often range between 10 and 14 hours as they crisscross between hemispheres.
Overall, nearly 55 international airlines fly to Johannesburg, making it one of the easiest cities to access on the African continent. The airport has been undergoing significant refurbishment to handle the massive Airbus A-380 aircraft flown by airlines such as Air France, British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa, bringing even more passengers with every flight.
The Gautrain, Africa's first and only high-speed rail system and a symbol of the city's progress, opened in 2009, connecting the airport with all corners of Joburg, including the popular Sandton business district. With only two stops en route, the 20-minute, 125 rand journey is a better option than the 200 rand, 30km taxi ride that can take up to an hour depending upon traffic.
About 10km south of Sandton in the historic Westcliff neighbourhood, the Four Seasons is set to open its first South African property, the 117-room Four Seasons Hotel Westcliff, in mid-2014. With room balconies that offer panoramic views of the Johannesburg Zoo, this is as close as some business guests may get to South Africa’s wilder residents, including elephants, giraffes and rhinos. Plans for the hotel include a day spa, plentiful meeting space with high-tech business features, and a formal restaurant helmed by a yet-unnamed celebrity chef.
The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa is a garden-like oasis shrouded in tall trees and flower blossoms set on 10 acres in the Sandhurst neighbourhood, 1km west of Sandton. The hotel, once a private home, hosted the late Nelson Mandela as he completed his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Today, diners at the hotel's Qunu Grill are treated to an elegant African grill experience under the helm of chef David Higgs as they nosh on plates of curried lamb shoulder, peri-peri chicken and biltong-spiced springbok loin. In June 2013 the restaurant launched a business lunch menu promising a full meal in less than 60 minutes, or the tab is on them.