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Affordable South Africa

July 19, 2011 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent
 


 

Fairmont Zimbali Resort
Fairmont Zimbali Resort’s beach is not safe for swimming but there are several pools on site.

 

Here are some ways to get your clients real value for their money.

 

Tips for Cost-Effective Trips

We asked ITT’s Rung Button for her secrets on making a trip to South Africa cost-effective:

1) Limit the number of days with transportation/guides included, and when booking guided tours, try to find services which are sold on a ‘seat-in-bus’ basis rather than the private services.
2) Ensure that the itinerary sequence is planned to be as cost-effective as possible. The itinerary needs to be planned to take advantage of direct (domestic) flights where these exist, and avoid backtracking (driving the same road twice) as far as possible.
3) Focus on one—or maximum two—regions. South Africa is a big country, and trying to combine too many areas will increase the cost due to the transportation.
4) Avoid peak season (especially December 10 to January 10). Many lodges and hotels offer low season rates from May 1 till August 31 each year, so this is the cheapest time to travel.
5) When booking city/town hotels, go for the “BB” option rather than include dinners in the prepaid services. There are often cozy and affordable restaurants around the corner from your hotel, offering meals a lot cheaper than the hotels. Obviously, if accommodated in country areas where there are no alternative dining options, the hotel/lodge must be booked on “DBB” basis.
 
The biggest mistakes an agent can make when organizing a tour of South Africa are:
1) Not being aware of the size of the country and trying to squeeze too many areas into too short an itinerary.
2) Not being aware of limited air service to many cities and neighboring countries. (So combining countries should be done with care.)
3) Booking a safari lodge without expert advice. (A safari experience comprises several elements: the standard of the lodge/room, the size of the area used for traversing, the quantity of game, how well the game is habituated to vehicles, the quality of the game rangers, and the topography and vegetation of the area. A private safari lodge can be awesome even though it isn’t in the top price bracket, but be careful about booking a safari just on the price.)
4) Booking cheaper hotels in the big cities (as many are in parts of those cities where your clients wouldn’t want to be).

 

For many people, a trip to South Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime event that requires years of saving. But if travelers (and their agents) are willing to look beyond the big-name game reserves, they can find plenty of cost-effective options. This spring, Travel Agent toured KwaZulu-Natal on the country’s eastern coast with Rung Button of International Travel and Tours (ITT) and her partner Julius Le Roux of Julnic Tours and discovered some hidden gems.

About 40 minutes from Durban, the Fairmont Zimbali Resort, is a high-end and good-value property with both a Resort on the beach (plus a few residential homes) and a Lodge up in the rainforest. (Note: The beach is not safe for swimming, but is great for a walk. There are several pools at the Resort and Lodge for swimming.) Shuttles bring visitors into Durban for shopping and other perks of urban life.

The Resort is ideal for families. Top rooms are the Penthouse Suite (#6022) and the Presidential Suite (#3009). Good for families: Some standard rooms can be connected for parents and kids. The 10-room Willow Stream Spa is good for mother-daughter events (kids are welcome) and offers special programs for bridal parties. A popular treatment is African Potato Anti-Aging Body Treatment—a traditional African  therapy that includes a purifying scrub, an application of marula oil and rooibos extracts, a herbal wrap and a massage. To book, contact Spa Manager Peta Carrera (011-27-32-538-5000, peta.carrera@fairmont.com).

Up the hill, the Lodge is a slightly older property, but is much more suited to honeymooners and couples who want peace and quiet and nature right outside their door. The main dining room’s windows look out onto a solid wall of greenery, and it has a classic, intimate vibe.

Private butler service is available in these rooms, and golf carts can be used for getting around the property. Also, the Lodge is significantly less expensive than the Resort, but is no less appealing.

Travel agents should reach out to Senior Sales Manager Robyn Turner (011-27-82-678-5524, robyn.turner@fairmont.com) or Sales Manager Sanjaca Cameron (011-27-82-903-0467, sanjaca.cameron@fairmont.com).

Our next stop was a nearby hidden gem, the Coco-de-Mer Boutique Hotel, a gated property right off the beach. The hotel has some high-ceilinged rooms and lovely soaking tubs in the open-plan bathrooms, but only a part-time reception desk. (This makes it difficult to schedule wake-up calls before going to bed. Also, Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby, so this would not be an ideal hotel for business clients.) Agents should contact General Manager Sara Barendse (info@coco-de-mer.co.za). 

The next day, we visited Shakaland, which was built as the set for the 1986 TV miniseries Shaka Zulu and later turned into a tourist attraction and a three-star Protea hotel with 55 traditional huts for guests to stay in. (The “huts” are more like cabins, and have all the standard amenities one would need to be comfortable.) We walked through the re-created village, attended a performance of ceremonial dances by the locals and learned about traditional Zulu life. Bonus: Guests staying in the cabins can spend more time learning about Zulu culture and watch more performances. It’s a complete inter-active experience.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

The next morning, we met up with our guide Trevor from Heritage Tours & Safaris to go on a drive through the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (also spelled Umfolozi) Game Reserve, the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where visitors can see all of the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo). The entry fee to the park is less than $20 for adults, and there are lodges inside for longer visits.

Moment to splurge: Visitors to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi can legally go on self-drive tours through the park—your clients can rent a car and go exploring at their own pace—but they shouldn’t. The animals in the park can cause a lot of damage, and unless your clients know how far away to stay from a napping lion or what to do when an elephant gets cranky, they could get seriously hurt. Tell them to hire a trained guide for the day.  A guide can take them to all the best spots, or help them find whatever they want to see.

We spent the night at the Ghost Mountain Inn, a four-star property with a lot of five-star elements (huge rooms, private verandahs, floral gardens and lots of very tasty food). Bonus: Everything at the Inn is on a single story, making it ideal for those who don’t like navigating stairs.

 

Getting There

South African Airways is the best option for flying to South Africa, and the airline connects directly to Durban from Johannesburg for easy access to KwaZulu-Natal. Encourage clients to opt for the Business Class between the U.S. and Johannesburg—the 14-hour flight is more comfortable with more space.

 

The Executive and Garden rooms are the most popular options at the hotel, and the latter are best for families and groups. (Nannies are available for kids, and there are even special bedsheets for children—think Barbie or Spider-Man.) The Inn’s Suite has a standalone tub in the huge bathroom and an outdoor shower in the garden.

The Inn’s spa has two treatment rooms (the staff lives on site, so last-minute bookings are rarely a problem), and we hear the Signature Massage is a popular treatment, as is the Africology exfoliation and body wrap with natural South African products. Even better: The spa has a private enclosed garden for post-therapy relaxing.

For inquiries, contact General Manager Christine Maucher (011-27-35-573-1025, Christine@ghostmountaininn.co.za).

A Garden room
A Garden room is the best option for families at Ghost Mountain Inn.

 

Note: In the evening, local wild nightlife (cute little lizards and frogs) roam around the gardens and terraces (and, occasionally, the rooms), so warn your guests to watch where they step.

 

Agent Advice

Jan and Terry Umbach, a husband-and-wife Africa specialist duo from TravelMasters in British Columbia, joined us on our tour of KwaZulu-Natal. They offered some advice for planning an affordable South African vacation—primarily, knowing what your client wants and knowing your own limitations.

“South Africa offers way too many things to do for any one vacation. The most economical trip will likely be a packaged group tour but that may not offer what a client wants. A client who tries to arrange his own trip to the country can easily try to do too much and end up wasting time and money. Using a travel consultant who has traveled in South Africa extensively is very worthwhile. Having understood the client’s wish list, the experienced consultant can suggest a realistic custom itinerary that maximizes the experience while minimizing the time and money spent.

“The travel consultant will also most likely be working directly with a local South African ground operator who has the best pricing for accommodations and tours and transfers, who knows what will and will not work, and who will be there to quickly help the client should anything go wrong.”

 

In the morning, we set off with Safari Manager Jean Toucher for a boat ride on the nearby Lake Jozini to look at elephants, impala and buffalo. Jean, who knows the animals of the area intimately (she called out to various elephants by name), shared fun stories about various safaris she’s guided. Guests at the Inn can go on boat rides or game drives in both Mkuze and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserves.

A Private Game Reserve

On our final night in KwaZulu-Natal we stayed at Amakhosi Safari Lodge, a Big Five, five-star property on the Mkuze River with a private landing strip for chartered flights. The lodge’s eight cabins are massive, with three rooms alone dedicated to bathroom facilities—one room has a soaking tub, toilet and two sinks; another has a shower stall; and the third serves as a guest powder room. The living room has a refrigerator where snacks are deposited throughout the day. The windows look out over the river and there’s plenty of wildlife to be seen around the site. The area is a haven for all kinds of birds (more than 420 species in the reserve), and while tracking down the Big Five can be a challenge, bird-watchers will have a blast.

A word about meals at Amakhosi: Because of the timing of game drives, meals are arranged a bit strangely. Tea and biscuits are served at 6 a.m. before the first drive and a full breakfast (more like a brunch) is served at around 9:30 a.m. upon return. Since a noon lunch wouldn’t be appropriate so soon after a large meal, a high tea is served at around 2:30 or 3 p.m. The evening drive runs from around 5 to 8 p.m. and dinner is served upon return.

Another note: Internet access is only available in the reception area and there is cell phone signals are weak at the reserve. Agents should reach out to Lodge Manager Linette Swart (info@amakhosi.com, 011-27-34-414-1157).

Heading back to Durban, we stopped off for some quick shopping at Zaminphilo, an outdoor market organized by local artists in Hluhluwe. Unlike many other markets in South Africa, the vendors here don’t hassle shoppers and the very reasonable prices are non-negotiable—a very comforting aspect for tourists who are unaccustomed to haggling.

 

 

Amakhosi’s spacious, amenityladen cabins
Amakhosi’s spacious, amenityladen cabins look out over the Mkuze River and wildlife.

 


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