by Leo Jakobson | February 05, 2014
There are many incentive destinations with motivational power, but few experiences are as bucket-list-worthy as a trip to South Africa. Whether it’s visiting a big game reserve in the north of the country or seeing Cape Town in the south, there are many ways to provide an experience that participants are unlikely to have on their own; it’s one of the key goals of incentive travel.

After the association market, corporate incentive travel is a top priority for South Africa’s new National Convention Bureau, says Executive Manager Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo. “We can host amazing and unique incentive programs,” she says, adding that the country has the infrastructure and destination management expertise to handle even very large programs.

The U.S. market is one of South Africa’s top priorities, along with the U.K., Europe, and, increasingly the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries, she adds.

The National Convention Bureau’s internal research on the corporate incentive travel market bears that out. Thirty-four percent of the companies interviewed by the bureau selected South Africa as an incentive program destination in 2013. That’s up a bit from the 30 percent in 2012, but more than double the 14 percent in 2010. Recent years have seen business from China and India double, Kotze-Nhlapo says.

One reason for that is that “we are affordable,” she says. “To have a five-star product and program in South Africa you really pay a four-star price, or even lower. The expertise that is on offer makes us a very attractive destination. We see that more of the big companies are coming back.”

One of those was a European company in the steel industry, which brought 800 guests to Sun City in May 2012 for a trip that won a prestigious Site Crystal Award this past December. It began with a welcome from a Zulu king.

After exploring Sun City for two days of golf, spa treatments, and animal encounters, the group’s Dutch incentive firm, De Feest- & Eventarchitect, arranged a 50-Jeep game drive through Pilanesberg National Park, including a surprise dinner in the bush. This was followed by a gala dinner in Sun City’s Superbowl, featuring a laser show and traditional dancing. Finally, the group visited students at a school in Soweto, near Johannesburg.

Cape Town and the bush are the most popular incentive destinations, says Laura Saeger, manager of meeting and convention sales, North America, for the South Africa National Convention Bureau. She adds that there is growing confidence in South Africa’s ability to host large groups and not just small, high-end incentives.

Of course, the big hurdle to overcome when considering South Africa for an incentive trip is the distance — the flight is approximately 15 hours from New York.

“It will always be an issue,” says Kotze-Nhlapo. “But you will make it up with the experience of the country. We believe that when people come here we will give them the treat of their lives.”