Anne Scott [AS]: Wrenelle, it’s so nice to meet you. And thanks, you brought beautiful weather with you today.
Wrenelle Stander [WS]: It’s my favourite time of the year, that time between summer and winter. Lovely to be at One&Only!
AS: Obviously, the hotel was closed during hard lockdown, but as soon as there was permission we opened up. We’ve been going at full force since December and are really enjoying welcoming back [people]. Americans started to travel first, and the Brits.
WS: We’ve seen that pattern in the airlines coming to the Western Cape as well. In the travel industry, the recovery rate is about 61% of 2019, internationally. And for the past financial year, we’ve seen the recovery in the US market. At Wesgro, our marketing focus has now shifted to the US market. We have a unit called E-access focused on getting direct services to the Western Cape. We have made 27 direct connections to the Western Cape and, of the 27, 23 are back.
AS: That’s wonderful.
WS: We work very closely with Cape Town Inter-national Airport in particular, and they were saying that the recovery is between 70 and 75%, which I think is phenomenal.
AS: The US market, specifically, is fascinating because these are multi-generational groups of families coming, at least two generations, but often a third generation as well. They want three- to four-bedroom suites, or connecting rooms. In other words, this is a bucket-list destination, and people want to come to Cape Town because it is seen as the gateway to a great South African or African adventure.
WS: What I think a lot of people don’t realise is that the Western Cape has a very big services sector. It’s more than tourism — it’s actually been quite phenomenal how renewable energy and the tech industry have taken off.
AS: Our inquiry chain has exploded in the past four months. As I’ve said, people see Cape Town as a bucket-list place to go. They know if they have an event here, people will come. As One&Only, we have some really beautiful banquet facilities, but we tend to be at a higher price. [Cape Town hotels] are now all racing to get back up to full capacity. Wrenelle, what’s your career path that brought you to this role, at this point?
WS: I’ve worked in two industries, primarily — the energy sector and the aviation industry. And those are quite tough industries, very technical and, I suppose, very male dominated. When I was in aviation, except for my last role, I worked mainly in the government sector. I did quite a few interesting things. While I was there, I negotiated the first agreement between South Africa and China, the air services agreement. I travelled to Beijing at that time and it was a very different place to the Beijing of today. I am always fascinated with how quickly Beijing transformed and became modern.
AS: I worked in China for a year and a half. I worked in Sanya on Hainan Island, down at the bottom of the South China Sea. There’s a beautiful tropical-beach atmosphere on Sanya. I never knew that China has white sandy beaches and palm trees and coconuts. It’s a very special place.
WS: At the Great Wall of China — obviously, that was one of the places we went to see — there’s a marketplace. Do you know that the Chinese have this tradition that the first customer of the day must buy something? I wanted two masks. I was negotiating so hard and so well that I drew a crowd. I have such lovely memories of China. I’m longing to go back.
AS: It’s a very exciting corner of the world.
WS: Then I also worked in the energy sector and spent over 10 years at Sasol Limited. And now Wesgro. I’ve worked in the private and the public sector, and now I’m getting to do both of those things at the same time.
AS: The wonderful thing about the hotel business is that it gives you incredible opportunities to travel. As you can tell from my accent, I’m from the UK — Scotland is my home. My blood is 100% whisky. I’ve worked in hotels all of my life, I’ve never wanted to do anything else. But then I had a big birthday, and I thought, “I might live in London forever, which wouldn’t be so bad, or maybe I’m going to go and have an adventure.” I went from Knightsbridge, London, to Chiang Rai, Thailand. I was so out of my comfort zone. I opened my first hotel there, Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort. What are the places that make you think, “Okay, I’m richer and wiser for that experience”?
WS: I’ll never forget, in China I decided to go into a busy marketplace and there was a hotpot where you have to cook your own food. And of course I spoke no Chinese. By the end of it, I was cooking my meal with everybody trying to tell me what to do. Travel just opens your horizons. When I went to Japan, I couldn’t believe how spoiled for choice you are. If there’s one cellphone cover, there are thousands. Because of the earthquakes, when you walk in the street, there’s music playing because those are the sound systems through which, if there’s a disaster, they will make announcements.
AS: What I love about travel is, you make friends for a day, or because you’re both sitting in an airport waiting for a flight. Sometimes they’re your friends just for half an hour, but for that half an hour, you take care of each other. I did a trip back to the UK last year when it was at its very worst in terms of lockdowns. It was a six-hour queue through immigration at Heathrow Airport, and it was the nicest, most positive crowd of people I’ve ever met. There was a woman with a baby and somebody halfway up said: “Does anybody have an issue if we let this lady to the front of the queue?” And the whole crowd parted. Travel brings out the best in us. It can bring out the worst, too, but in the right circumstances, it really can make us demonstrate our human kindness.
WS: Another place that stood out for me was Rwanda.
AS: Yes. I went to Rwanda last year, where we have two One&Only sister hotels, including One&Only Gorilla’s Nest — 30 absolutely gorgeous bedrooms 25 minutes away from the gorilla base camp. You made me think, when we were talking about Asia — once you live somewhere or travel somewhere, you find hidden secrets. When I was in Asia, I would hear people talk about a place called Luang Prabang, in Laos, on the banks of the Mekong River. You take a river boat from northern Thailand, it takes two days to go down the Mekong River. At about four o’clock on the second day, the captain said, “Okay, we’re here now.” I remember looking around and thinking, “We’re not anywhere, what do you mean?” I could only see the riverbank and palm trees, but I could hear monks chanting. So I went up the steps and sure enough, there was this little town that had this incredible French ancestry together with this Asian culture. I’m not sure I would have known of this place but for the benefit of just meeting interesting people.
WS: Another amazing place for me is the West Coast. There’s just something so calming about it.
AS: I climbed Table Mountain in December. The climb up was quite good fun, and then I took the cable car down. How lucky are we to live in this beautiful place?
WS: We are so lucky! I mean, I have the SANParks Wild Card. You can go to the West Coast National Park, to the Kruger National Park, and into Silvermine Nature Reserve. There are so many lovely walks, you just pack some water and some protein and off you go.
AS: And then have a delicious glass of Western Cape wine at the end.
WS: Yes, exactly.
• Anne Scott the general manager at One&Only Cape Town and has years of experience in the global hotel industry.
• Wrenelle Stander is the CEO of the Western Cape Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Wesgro).
• From the May edition of Wanted, 2022.