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Club Med Will Expand into New Market With First South Africa Resort

After a decade of planning, Club Med has confirmed plans to build its first resort in sub-Saharan Africa. The global resort operator has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a local partner, as yet unnamed, to construct a resort north of the coastal city of Durban, in South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province.

While the finer details have not been disclosed, it’s expected the new resort will offer upward of 350 rooms, with extensive conference facilities on-site. It will be situated on a 30-hectare coastal site, six miles from King Shaka International Airport. Emirates and British Airways both offer direct flights to the city.

But perhaps more interesting than “what” is the “why”: Why has Club Med chosen South Africa, why KwaZulu-Natal, and why now?

The expansion into sub-Saharan Africa certainly fits with Club Med’s aggressive strategy.

“Club Med’s development policy, and the tradition of Club Med, is to open three to five resorts each year. That is the plan globally,” explained Olivier Hannaert, managing director of Club Med Southern Africa.

It’s been slow off the mark when it comes to Africa though. Of the 69 Club Med resorts across the globe only five are situated in continental Africa, with none south of the equator.

The planned resort ticks the “Africa” box, but the warm seas, tropical reefs, and established demand for coastal resorts would suggest Kenya or Tanzania — particularly the island of Zanzibar — are the more obvious choice for growth. Why South Africa?

“Yes, it’s natural to open a resort in Zanzibar, but our competitors are already there, and in Kenya we have not yet found a property that fits with our expectation,” said Hannaert. “We believe Club Med is a strong enough brand to open a resort where nobody has opened a resort before us. We create the market; we create the destination. South Africa makes good sense because of the combination of bush and beach experiences. We also have an office in South Africa, and the domestic market is strong.”

Within South Africa it’s the Western Cape province that draws the bulk of inbound and domestic tourism, but its cold, wet winters make it a highly seasonal destination unsuitable for a large resort needing year-round occupancy. KwaZulu-Natal also offers the benefit of combining a beach destination with the “Big Five” safari reserves in the north of the province.

“The KZN north coast offers year-round sunshine and is accessible as a self-drive destination,” said John Ridler, spokesperson for tour operator Thompsons Holidays. “This will make the Club Med experience more affordable for local travelers and will be excellent for incentive travel. Club Med will no doubt also attract international visitors which will expose South Africa to a much wider audience.”
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