Three little girls from school are we, it could be said, as the gal meets up with friends, here, in the lobby bar of Table Bay at the Waterfront, the luxury hotel that towers over Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront development. On the left is Jocelyn Myers-Adams, the Ontario-born chef of the hotel who is married to a Cape Town local. She has been foraging on Table Mountain today, taking a group to see what they can find that is edible (Noma‘s René Redzepi did this too in Japan when he was doing a six-month pop-up restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo). Alison Gilmore, with only one more day of ILTM Africa to run, is sitting down for a rare few minutes.
Ah, Table Bay. I look out of my window – suite 834, up in the eaves of the eight-floor beauty – at a view that could only be Cape Town. No wonder this cosmopolitan city, a blend of national tribes, Cape Coloureds and Afrikaners, Indians and British and other European-heritage, plus tourists, is unique. Nowhere else in the world has a view like this. And at times like this no-one else has the weather, although in the early mornings the mist can roll in. Capetonians have some definite characteristics. Late breakfast, word hard, visit one of the latest hole-in-the-war bars after leaving the office, and head for the beach, or perhaps the vineyards, at weekends.
The hotel, also, is unique. When it was opened, by Nelson Mandela, in 1997, it did have something of a Disney-movie set about it but now it has matured into a strong personality. At least part of this is thanks to the GM – add another unique character – Sherwin Banda, a strong-willed, perceptive local, a lawyer and retail specialist who is as at home in the USA as here (he is always recognisable for his seemingly-endless succession of jackets, often tartan, with complementary bow ties). He has commissioned a beautiful book, 25 Years, by Tudor Caradoc-Davies, to celebrate the hotel’s quarter-centenary and it is fascinating to see the evolution from deserted wharf to the thriving V&A Waterfront, of which the hotel is part.
This is one of the few luxury hotels that is conjoined, walk through a retail corridor, with an absolutely firstclass mall. I coincided at the 328-room hotel with a buy-out incentive from China. They had found the mall, and cleaned the Pick’n Pay supermarket of baby milk powder, any size, and the jewellery stores of merchandise, any design, any price. Hey ho…
Luxury hotels and safari camps from most of the 47 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa gathered in Cape Town April 13-15, 2015, for the third, and largest, annual ILTM Africa, produced and overseen as always, says the gal, by the indefatigable Alison Gilmore (although she could not have done it without her three right hands, Lucy, Marco and Natalie. It was Natalie who stage-managed the opening Forum, which had two fascinating solo presentations, a geophysical overview by Anita Mendiratta and an emotional explanation by former banker Kevin Chaplin, now heading the Amy Biehl Foundation (after her death, Amy’s parents were brought to reconciliation by Archbishop Desmond Tutu).
Then Michaela Guzy hosted a panel of tour guides and conservationists discussing transformative, more generally known as responsible, travel. Michaela dressed, as always, to thrill rather than kill – she has discovered Kenyan designer Anna Trzebinski and onstage she wore a calf-length coat of, well, feathers. I think they were black or navy blue but I do know they were complemented by leopard skin-look stilettos. At other times during ILTM she touched up shorts or whatever with a long-long floating Trzebinski scarf with masses of feathers at each end that kept on getting caught under chair legs. Goodness knows how Michaela will cope with all this gear when she goes on into the bush, because she is headed once again for AfrikaBurn, which sounds as if Glastonbury is a five-star hotel by comparison.
The finale to the Forum was truly memorable. About 50 school kids, I guess early teens, came on down the auditorium steps singing as they came. Their chorus master was like a length of thin wire made of bendy rubber – you could hear him tweezing the right notes out of them. They sang, they danced they sang again. They were having a whale of a time and then someone who looked like their headmistress-mama, with a big turban, came and joined in, and if Natalie, in charge of it all, had not turned up the auditorium lights we would have been there all day, perhaps even joining in with the festivities. But then it was hard work. Computer-fixed speed-dating, 20 minutes each session, a top international travel buyer getting to know a glorious hotel or camp or private jet company.
But as we know all work and no play is no good and every night ILTM arranges something special. The first night was at the Aquarium on V&A Waterfront, and there were speeches in front of gigantic fish and turtles swimming just behind the dignitaries. There was more dancing, this time from grown-up young ladies, and it was, well, lots of fun and doubtless lots of the luxury hoteliers there wanted to join them.
The 20th floor of the InterContinental Osaka is where the buzz takes place. There are constant comings and goings in the airy space of this stunning modern luxury hotel. Full-height windows wrap around it. Emerge from elevators from the ground floor and ahead is reception. Turn to your left and you see an all-day bar that becomes, at times, an installation art location (what will the next cultural offering be here, pop-up theatre or another make-a-wood-tree or what?). Turn left again to the all day dining. Back to reception, turn right and you have the main bar, Adee, separated off by a wall of solid stone blocks, deliberately left with ‘windows’ between, covered with last year’s Advent Calendar art works.
There is more stone in the 200 bedrooms. Yes really. Each has a four-foot-high ‘stone block’ that holds lacquer-fronted doors for supplies. On top sit the tray, pot and cups for your Japanese tea. Make it when you want. Your bathroom, by contrast, is marbled, with a wet area with the bathtub and two-heads shower complex. The sound-proofing, by the way, is so good that all is completely silent here in your temporary room. Head out into the corridor, as I did to go to the 24/7 gym, and there is soft music playing, such a soothing touch – why don’t all hotels have music in their corridors, you may ask? They cannot, because older hotels not only have poor sound-proofing but they deliberately left gaps under doors to allow newspapers to be pushed under, so corridor music is a no-no.
There are so many unique things about this hotel. It is integral with the most amazing activities, as opposed to retail, mall. Yes, you can buy things, like have Asics running shoes specially designed following an intensive medical analysis of your feet. But you can also drop in, to interactive kids’ theme parks here, to an art gallery there (is that a Tim Burton display on now?) and so on. What also attracted me was an inspiration lab, The Hub. There are about 2,000 members, who do pay heavily but they can come in, anytime, to work at long shared desks, or at private chill-out-booths, or in glass-front conference rooms. There are suits and ties holding board meetings a few yards from stubble and open neck incubators, all working towards taking Japan’s, or at least Osaka’s, economy forward.
On my way out of this exciting environment I passed a Subway sandwich station. Now for the uninitiated, Subway is the chain that invented taking a basic, tasteless, single-portion white baguette and making V-shaped cuts along its top. Take off the resulting ‘lid’, fill with filling and put lid back on. This Subway is different. It grows its salad ingredients, for the fillings, right there. Thought. How many luxury hotels grow salad ingredients right IN the hotel rather than on top of them, as at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, or around them, as at Royal Sonesta in Houston?