Where do the top names of the luxury hotel world gather? At the annual conference of The Leading Hotels of the World, the consortium of 450 of the very best independent hotels, and some belonging to such exclusive collections as that formed by the Oetker family, and one-offs that happen to belong to top global groups like Kempinski and Orient-Express.
The 2012 conference was in Cape Town, which showed itself off brilliantly. Hoteliers might have arrived with chalk white faces, magnificently made up with Clarins or Clinique or whatever. To a man, and woman, they left with visages coloured by that golden sun which shone, and shone. And people smiled.
It started with style, with a Bond Girls classical crossover group called Sterling EQ (Electric Quartet), led by Carina Bruwer, entertaining at the welcome brunch at Table Bay Hotel, which looks out one way to the ocean and, the other, across the V&A (Victoria & Albert) harbour and marina to the distant flat-topped Table Mountain. The gal felt at home.
Main meetings were held at Cape Town International Convention Centre – CTICC, a massive building occupying about 15 acres right in the city centre. Opened in 1999, it hosts such mega-happenings as one of the world’s most important design events, Design Indaba, held every February (Indaba means gathering).
This week it has an international apparel exhibition, and a green expo, and a Pan Africa meeting of accountants. The Leading Hotels convention was much more fun. It was opened by Leading’s Chairman, Andrea Kracht, owner of the fabulous Baur au Lac in Zurich, which every summer hosts an outdoor sculpture exhibition. I am reminded of the modern South African sculptures I saw in the Mount Nelson’s grounds here only the other day.
The 250 hoteliers, owners and operators have come in from all over the globe, joined by such other big names as Laurent-Perrier and Vranken Pommery, from the bubbly world, and Molton Brown, purveyors of bathroom and spa toiletries.
Evian tells me they are expanding into spas – the Evian Spa in Shanghai’s Three On The Bund has been renamed but they already have one Evian Spa, in The Palace Hotel Tokyo, and they plan more. They have fascinating technology that allows water droplets, in spa reception areas, to fall as patterns. Seriously.
Newcomers this year include a quartet from the Shackleton & Selous Society, named for explorers. This invitation-only group of personal wild-luxury guides can take you wherever, Antarctica through to Zimbabwe, you name it.
The outstanding invited speaker was, without doubt, Cape Town’s own Ravi Naidoo, a charismatic promoter of this beautiful city. He it was who started Design Indaba, and who brought football’s World Cup here in 2010, and he has been successful in bringing the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design ’s Design City accolade in 2014.
He shared, at lightning speed and in the most Shakespearean of language, some of Cape Town’s own magnificent design achievement. One slide showed MMA Architects’ affordable housing for the townships, all built as much as possible from recycled components. Everything he showed elicited oohs and aahs from the audience.
He showed a Wimpey initiative to publicise its Braille menus. 15 buns were baked with Braille messages on top, written in sesame seeds. The video showed the visually handicapped reading their buns before eating their burgers – the video got over 800,000 social media hits.
Ravi went on to explain the culture of adulthood initiation in some of the many tribes in southern Africa. Traditionally the young men were decorated with bodypaint. Laduma Ngxokolo has adapted these patterns to hand-knitted sweaters made of local mohair.
Just as the Fair Isle sweaters worn by Sarah Lund (played by Sofie Grabol) in The Killing have become cult in a big way, so too have these sweaters. He told about three guys who, after their day jobs, get together to create on their Apples.
Calling themselves the Blackheart Gang, they produce the most charming and whimsical videos, mostly showing underwater creatures. Their clients include United Airlines.
Another local company is behind Virgin’s promotional ads for AIDS education, and even for their new Upper Class slip-over seat-beds. And yet another made the computerised ‘horses’ for War Horse. South Africa is a conundrum, says Ravi Naidoo. It is first world and third world.
The first night, Cape Town showed its old world. We were welcomed at The Castle of Good Hope, which was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company as a maritime replenishment station.
This is the oldest surviving colonial building in the whole of South Africa. It is still the HQ of the military. We walked in to the five-sided, football field-sized inner courtyard for tastings of some of South Africa’s magnificent wines – they are not all Pinotages!
I taste the Bouchard Finlayson that I enjoyed at Twelve Apostles, which is one of the country’s Leading Hotels. There were men walking around shucking oysters, one-man bands, one hand in a chain glove, a waist-held tub holding supplies, another waist-held tub acting as garbage pail.
There were cheeses and dried biltong and more than enough to eat. South Africa is over-generous when it comes to food…
And the band played on…After half a day of meetings, and a welcome brunch and the welcome evening reception, we all knew, already, it was a good decision to be here in beautiful Cape Town right now.
Luxury hotels, and the history and things happening all around all affirm the statement in the Daily Telegraph in the UK last week that this is currently the world’s top destination.