Sun City rolled out the red carpet for a health worker from Buffalo, New York, this past week as she became the first US tourist to visit any Sun International property since March 2020.
When staff at the resort realised that solo traveller, Stuff Cleague, was celebrating her birthday on April 8, celebrations kicked in to an even higher gear, starting with an upgrade to the Royal Suite at The Palace, which has its own butler, and setting up sightseeing trips.
“I’m overwhelmed and speechless,” Cleague said. “I’m used to hotels but this upgrade has been incredible.”
Sun International COO for Hospitality, Graham Wood, said: “The occasion deserved a celebration and we hope that it will be a catalyst for the revival of our battered tourism industry. The effect of the pandemic has been unbelievable. If anyone had told us a year ago that Sun City would close its doors for five months, after 40 years of 24/7 operation, we would not have believed them. We hope that everyone in America who hears Ms Cleague’s story will be encouraged and inspired to visit our country.”
Cleague said people back home had been shocked to hear she wanted to come to South Africa, “I spent a lot of time researching the country and reassured myself it was going to be fine. As a health worker I know that everyone has taken all the necessary precautions to protect each other. I could see it and feel it and have felt safe throughout my journey. I also know that practising simple hygiene is my number-one prevention against the disease.”
Cleague had her first vaccination just prior to leaving, with her second due when she gets back home. Experiencing the culture of different places is important for her, and she particularly enjoys tasting the local cuisine. “I also researched the food and drinks. The food is wonderful here. I recognised biltong in my welcome tray, which I knew was similar to our jerky. I wanted to at least try it even though I don’t eat meat. It wasn’t bad. It was actually good,” she said.
Cleague even overcame her fear of heights to go on a hot-air balloon ride. “It felt like I was floating on a cloud sitting with the angels.” She also went game viewing in the Pilanesberg to spot the Big Five, and spent time lounging at the pool.
She said COVID-19 had encouraged her to ‘seize the moment’ and live her life so that she didn’t have any regrets.
Brett Hoppé, General Manager of Sun City, said: “We need brave people like Stuff to set the trend and start travelling again so that we can get occupancies up and get back to what we do best, being a world-class holiday and entertainment destination. Easter was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic broke that the resort was above 98%. We hope that Stuff is the vanguard of a flood of new tourists.”
Natalie Lee, SITA World Tours Product Manager, Africa & The Middle East, said the company was finding a definite uptick for travel outbound by the American market, especially to South Africa, where the borders have been safely open for many months now. “It certainly is gratifying to see the increasing interest in travel to Africa for both first-time clients, as well as repeat clientele who missed their annual African holiday in 2020.”
Ryan Thole, GM of Thompsons Africa, said travel to Africa was slowly picking up. “We should start to see some recovery by the third quarter. Interest is from North America and Africa currently.”