South Africa - taking travel to new heights
In the final chapter of our four-part series, author and explorer Levison Wood discovers how South Africa’s travel and tourism scene is surprising locals and visitors alike.
Part IV: South Africa — taking travel to new heights
Mention of ‘South Africa’ immediately conjures up images of epic safari experiences, awe-inspiring landscapes, a vibrant culture and rich, authentic food. But how about its Manhattan-style rooftop restaurants, pop-up art galleries and tours, secret jazz clubs, hidden coastal hideaways and sky-high adventures?
This lesser-known side of South Africa is exactly why Levison Wood is undertaking a tour of a region. Having visited over 100 countries, Levison is intrigued by South Africa’s changing landscape. This is a place where peaceful, rural beauty meets busy, cosmopolitan life – and he’s keen to find out what kind of experiences are on offer to the discerning traveler.
South Africa’s ‘hidden gem’ factor
According to STATS South Africa: Tourism and Migration, March 2019 report, over the last 12 months South Africa attracted 3.5M+ visitors – a combination of domestic and overseas visitors with overseas taking the lion’s share. The number of tourists increased for six of the ten leading countries (top ten includes UK, US, Germany, France, Netherlands, Australia, China, Canada, India and Brazil) – and the growth rate is encouraging. So what is driving this growth and how can visitors optimize their SA experience?
In Johannesburg, Levison meets CEO of Soul Traveler, Siphesihle Penny Ndlela – an entrepreneur disrupting the South African travel and tourism sector. Having built a career in public relations working with luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Fendi, Penny is clear on what drives the region’s appeal: SA’s “hidden gem” factor. Penny explains: “I quickly spotted a gap in the market: when a business meeting is over, visitors want to discover off-the-beaten path, unique experiences that would give them an instant fix of South Africa at its best. Within a limited time too. After scouring the region and visiting its corners, I discovered a landscape full of surprises – many of which resident South Africans don’t even know about. That’s when I realized that South Africa can offer genuine, once-in-a-lifetime trips for every type of visitor. New experiences emerge every week.”
“South Africa is a place where quiet, rural beauty meets busy cosmopolitan life.”
Emerging travel experiences
As someone who visits multiple destinations every month, Levison is driven by discovering even more memorable, authentic moments. In his opinion, there’s something unique about South Africa: “The atmosphere in South Africa is incredible – it feels so alive, it’s really flourishing.” Penny reveals the reason: “there’s a melting pot of cultures here. We have a real burgeoning creative economy – different sectors meet in different spaces. For instance, the rejuvenated Maboneng district has radically transformed. It’s like a slice of Manhattan: refurbished warehouses, rooftop bars, underground clubs and boutiques. It has a thriving art scene that brings together game-changing people and ideas. And from these ideas emerge more new meeting spaces, places where influencers can network drive more innovation. Soul Traveler is dedicated to connecting travelers to totally unique places that make an impact on your personal and professional life – and of course your soul.”
The edge on travel
As an explorer, Levison is open-minded to trying brand new experiences. In the affluent province of Gauteng, also one of the most connected areas in the region, lies Soweto, South Africa’s biggest township. This is also the site of the Orlando Towers, a set of coal mining cooling towers built in 1935 and a remnant of the industrial era. The towers lay dormant from 1998-2008 until their transformation into a leisure and business adventure site. Standing at 33 storeys high, the mural-clad towers are now the destination of a unique ‘vertical’ experience – in other words a bungee jump - for the thrill-seeking visitor. As Levison and Penny ascend the towers, the 360 view of Johannesburg is an awe-inspiring sight alone. Having never bungee jumped before, Levison manages to film the entire experience on his handheld camera. The short trip to Soweto, the views and the jump fall under the definition of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s a certain draw and feeling of connectedness to South Africa - Levison may return sooner than expected.
“There will always be a human desire to connect – and where better than in South Africa, at the cradle of humankind? It’s where innovation happens.”
Developing connections for good
As South Africa’s travel experiences expand so do the number of reasons to meet here. Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, Chief Convention Bureau Officer, SANCB South African National Conventions Bureau, explains what makes South Africa a unique place: “There will always be a fundamental desire to connect with one another. And where else do you want to connect than South Africa, at the cradle of humankind? This is where innovation happens. We have meeting spaces overlooking Table Mountain – it’s like a catwalk to the sky, we have architects mingling with engineers – in South Africa, sectors and experts blend together - with the ultimate aim for good.”
South Africa continues to cement its position as a world-leading business and leisure destination. Find out more about Levison Wood’s trip – watch his full experience here: