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, Ms Stuff Cleague, was celebrating her birthday on April 8, celebrations kicked into 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.”
She has travelled extensively throughout the Americas and the Caribbean but this is her first trip to Africa. She was surprised to learn that she is the first American to visit Sun City in over a year, and even more surprised to learn that the complex had been completely shut for five months, saying “I can’t imagine this place without people”.
Sun International’s 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.”
The 2014 movie Blended, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, which was filmed on location at Sun City, was the impetus for Cleague’s visit. “I couldn’t believe it was a real place, it had such incredible architecture and the environment and scenery, with all the antelope, cheetah and elephants. I saw it was filmed at The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa so I called my travel agent and said, can you get me to that place? I wanted to see the room that Adam Sandler stayed in, in the movie.”
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 practicing simple hygiene is my number one prevention against the disease.”
As a health worker, Cleague had her first vaccination just prior to leaving, with her second due when she gets back home. She required a negative Covid-19 test before she was allowed to fly on her journey that required three flights. She travelled from New York to Atlanta, Georgia to Amsterdam and finally to Johannesburg in South Africa.
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 5, and spent time lounging at the pool.
Cleague said Covid-19 had encouraged her to ‘seize the moment’ and live her life so that she didn’t have any regrets. “I know it’s hard and Covid-19 is scary, but we can still come together to experience joy in our lives. We have lost a lot of time because of the pandemic so if you have an opportunity, you grab it. I’m glad I took my opportunity now and didn’t wait for tomorrow to come.”
Cleague, whose time in South Africa only consisted of her April 4 to April 10 trip to Sun City, said although she was not on social media, her daughter, back home, was sharing her pictures and videos. “She’s telling me that people are jealous of my life right now. My co-workers are astounded by the way South Africa is treating me – well, I invited them! I have FaceTimed them so they know exactly what is going on.”
Brett Hoppé, General Manager for 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,” Hoppé said.
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, General Manager at 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.”
Cleague’s final advice is: “Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Wash them before you eat. Wash them after you eat and wash them every time you touch an object that is a hotspot. This is the number one definitive action you can take so do it. Just be safe.” Footage courtesy of SABC News – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC284ffDmpM