x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

South Africa seeks more Middle East tourists

The South African hotels and resorts company Sun International is trying to drum up business from the Middle East.

The South African hotels and resorts company Sun International is trying to drum up business from the Middle East as it looks to tap new markets during a downturn in demand from Europe. Sun International was founded by Sol Kerzner, who eventually sold his stake and went on to form Kerzner International, the company behind the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

There has been a wave of interest in South Africa, which hosts the soccer World Cup next year, as a destination, including much regional interest after the news that the QE2, owned by Dubai World, will go to Cape Town for 18 months. "She needs a lot of work," said Ian Anderson , the marketing director at Sun International, speaking about the former cruise liner. "Somebody is going to need to invest a lot of money in it. It needs serious refurbishment. We had a look at it."

Sun International has luxury hotels and resorts across southern Africa, including its flagship Sun City resort near Johannesburg, bordering the Pilanesberg National Park. It also has a resort on the banks of the Zambezi River, within walking distance of the Victoria Falls. The company recently expanded into Nigeria and Chile. "I think every country has been hit quite hard with this recession and so has South Africa. We have dropped off in occupancy," Mr Anderson said.

He said that demand from the UK, its key source market, had fallen by 20 per cent over the past year. At the same time, there had been around 13 per cent growth in demand from the Middle East. "The Middle East region will still see a slowdown now, but it's an emerging market for us in a growth phase," he said. Mr Anderson said that he expected to see growth of 8 to 10 per cent over the next year, which he attributed partly to improved air links to South Africa as well as investment in marketing the company's product in the Middle East. Sun International was tailoring family and suite packages to suit its Middle East market, and would also consider setting up prayer rooms in its hotels, he said. "I want to turn this into one of our biggest source markets," Mr Anderson said.

Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the company's main focus, he said, and there was a possibility that Sun International would look at expanding into the region in the future. "We have looked and we will continue to look at the market," Mr Anderson said, adding that Sun International had seriously been considering developing in the Middle East when it was working in partnership with International Financial Advisors (IFA) of Kuwait on a resort at Zimbali in South Africa. However, the company ended up handing its interest in the project over to IFA.

rbundhun@thenational.ae