Latest News | 12 Apr 2021 | By Sun International

Stars and Stripes fly high over Sun City Resort

Sun City Resort welcomes Sun International’s first American tourist since the COVID-19 lockdown began.

Sun City rolled out the red carpet for a health care worker from Buffalo, New York, this past week, as she became the first American tourist to visit a Sun International property since March 2020.

When staff realised that solo traveller Stuff Cleague was celebrating her birthday on 8 April, celebrations kicked into an even higher gear, starting with an upgrade to the Royal Suite at The Palace – complete with butler services – and sightseeing trips.

“I’m overwhelmed and speechless. I’m used to hotels, but this upgrade has been incredible,” Cleague said.

Cleague has travelled extensively throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, but this is her first trip to Africa. She was surprised to learn she was the first American to visit Sun City in over a year and that the complex had been closed for five months. “I can’t imagine this place without people,” she said.

Sun International COO for Hospitality Graham Wood said: “The occasion deserved a celebration and we hope that it will be a catalyst for the revival of our battered tourism industry. If anyone had told us a year ago that Sun City would close its doors for five months, after 40 years of 24/7 operation, we wouldn’t have believed them. We hope that everyone who hears Cleague’s story will be inspired to visit our country.”

The 2014 movie Blended, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, which was filmed on location at Sun City, was the impetus for Cleague’s visit.  “I couldn’t believe it was a real place. It had such incredible architecture and the environment and scenery, with all the antelope, cheetah, and elephants. I saw it was filmed at The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa so I called my travel agent. I wanted to see Adam Sandler’s room from the movie.”

Cleague said people back home had been shocked to hear she wanted to come to South Africa. “I spent time researching the country and reassured myself it was going to be fine. As a health worker, I know that everyone has taken all the necessary precautions to protect each other. I could see and feel it and have felt safe throughout my journey. Simple hygiene is my number one preventative measure against the disease.”

Cleague had her first vaccination prior to leaving, with her second due when she gets back home. She required a negative COVID-19 test before she was allowed to embark on her three-flight journey: from New York to Atlanta, USA, to Amsterdam (Netherlands) and finally, to Johannesburg in South Africa.

Experiencing different cultures is important to her, and she particularly enjoys local cuisine. “I also researched the food and drinks. The food is wonderful here. I recognised biltong in my welcome tray, which I knew was similar to our jerky. I wanted to try it even though I don’t eat meat,” she said.

Cleague even overcame her fear of heights to go on a hot air balloon ride. “It felt like I was floating on a cloud sitting with the angels,” said Cleague, who also went game viewing in the Pilanesberg to spot the Big 5 and spent time lounging at the pool.

Cleague said COVID-19 had encouraged her to “seize the moment” and live her life without regret. “I know COVID-19 is scary, but we can still come together to experience joy. We have lost a lot of time because of the pandemic, so if you have an opportunity, grab it. I’m glad I didn’t wait for tomorrow.”

Cleague, who was at Sun City from 4 to 10 April, said although she was not on social media, her daughter, back home, was sharing her pictures and videos. “She’s telling me that people are jealous of my life right now. My co-workers are astounded by the way South Africa is treating me – well, I invited them! I have FaceTimed them so they know exactly what is going on.”

Brett Hoppé, General Manager of Sun City, said: “We need brave people like Cleague to set the trend and start travelling again so that we can get occupancies up and get back to what we do best: being a world-class holiday and entertainment destination. Easter was the first time since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic that Resort occupancy was above 98%. We hope that Cleague is the vanguard of a flood of new tourists.” 

Optimistic outlook

Others in the travel industry were optimistic about the recovery.

Natalie Lee, SITA World Tours Product Manager, Africa and the Middle East, said the company was finding a definite uptick for outbound American travel, especially to South Africa, where the borders have been open for months now. “It certainly is gratifying to see the increasing interest in travel to Africa for both first-time and repeat clientele who missed their annual African holiday in 2020.” 

Ryan Thole, General Manager at Thompsons Africa, said travel to Africa was slowly picking up. “We should start to see some recovery by the third quarter. Interest is from North America and Africa currently.”

Health care worker Cleague gave some parting advice to South Africans battling the pandemic. “Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after you eat and every time you touch a hotspot object. Take this definitive action and be safe.”