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Affordable Island Vacations

World Leisure Holidays continues to invest heavily in its suite of island hotels despite the economic slowdown. Accountant turned hospitality fanatic Johann Strydom (World Leisure Holidays MD) has kept a tight rein on the numbers at the chain of hotels to ensure these have not shrunk during the economic downturn. Its chain of hotels are owned and managed by Sun Resorts, which also owns World Leisure Holidays.

“I began my career as an accountant and financial director, but always had the desire to move into general management. Once I got into the hospitality business, I’d found my niche,” says Strydom. “Our most recent addition in late 2011 was the R600 million five star Long Beach hotel on the west coast of Mauritius, followed by the R110 million refurbishment of four-star Ambre Hotel on the east coast, still under way,” says Strydom. It also owns two prestigious ‘Leading Hotels of the World’: the Le Touesstrok in Mauritius and the Conuhuia Hotel in the Maldives, as well as five-star hotel Sugar Beach hotel and four-star La Pirogue, both in Mauritius.

He is especially proud of the Long Beach hotel which has a unique design developed by a South African firm of architects, which won an international design competition. It nestles into a natural basin and blends the three natural colours of the island: blue (sea and sky), green (foliage) and white (beaches).

It also follows the latest trends of hotels, incorporating the whole-village concept with its own town centre. There’s a piazza surrounded by international styled restaurants (Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Mediterranean and Mauritian seafood) – no stale buffets – as well as bars, home crafts and entertainment. “The concept is to offer a day at the beach followed by a night on the town,” adds Strydom.

One of the other trends being developed at The Ambre is an over-16s hotel for those without children. Strydom explains that this is slightly out of character for hotel operator Sun Resorts, where all its other hotels boast a strong family and child-friendly character.

“However, there is demand for such hotels, especially in Europe. It offers an all-inclusive ‘get away from it all’ peace of mind.” So confident is international holiday group TUI that it has already booked out half the rooms for the next three years for the European market, and acquired a dedicated passenger jet to charter guests in.

That’s not to say its normal hotels do not offer the same: Strydom explains that its hotels offer a ‘kids club’ where children are cared for and intensively entertained from 9am to 9pm. Children can be booked in an out at any time during the day and have supervised activities from crab running to art to football. “Kids love it because they are made the centre of attention with a highly personal approach.”

New investment and new concepts do not portray an industry suffering a global recession, but Strydom says it has been hard hit. “The industry is evolving towards greater value for money and we have moved fast in this direction. Previously an island vacation in Mauritius or Maldives was considered exotic and not for the man in the street. We have trimmed our costs wherever possible and brought an island holiday into a realm where every middle class South African family could afford one – without sacrificing quality.”

With its focus on island vacations, World Leisure Holidays also offers packages to other islands where it does not own hotels: Zanzibar, Dubai, Thailand, Bahamas and Mexico. It also has a lone South African asset – the One and Only hotel – in Cape Town.

“World Leisure Holidays is very closely associated with its hotel brands, and the nice thing about our operation is we have a relatively small number of hotels and run a close-knit operation. In this manner we can guarantee consumers a remarkable vacation. Because I’m in daily contact with all our hotel managers, there are no surprises,” adds Strydom.

It has an exceptionally wide distribution network, which includes the bulk of retail travel agencies, as well as a special arrangement with Discovery’s Vitality programme through which Discovery offers its members a substantial price discount. “Holidays are rated as ‘healthy’ activities,” explains Strydom. Other activities which generate a considerable amount of business include the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) industry, as well as weddings.

“We have to work all the time to keep an island holiday both affordable and exciting. I do not believe the leisure pie is increasing, so we are constantly introducing new ideas and improved quality to grow our market share. We fall plumb into the category of discretionary spending, and during tough times a holiday is often the first thing to be cut or bought-down. The important concept behind selling an exotic vacation is that we’re selling a lifetime’s worth of memories,” he says.

“We intend to keep on investing because I believe the global economy is on the cusp of turning. One has to always bear in mind – this is just a stage in a cycle that will turn.”

Author: Eamonn Ryan