Asia Outlook talks to Pete Richardson corporate sales manager at Legend Lodges, Hotels & Resort, a unique, world-class resort that is home to the world famous Extreme 19th.
By Ian Armitage
Golf tourism is very popular in South Africa and it is easy to see why. This is an almost perfect golfing country - ideal weather, wonderful scenery and a population obsessed by sports and the outdoors. Add in Gary Player - one of the world's all-time great champions - as a national sporting hero, and it is little wonder that South Africans and tourists alike flock to play on some of the world's best and most affordable courses. There is even the option to mix it up a little - golf, spa and safari.
This is exactly what Limpopo-based Legend Lodges, Hotels & Resort has to offer.
Pete Richardson, the firm's corporate sales manager, also looks after PR.
He says Legend offers "something different".
And why doubt him? Legend is regular winner at the prestigious World Travel Awards.
"We're a unique, world-class resort situated in the African bush and boast a world first signature golf course, a unique 10-hole tribute golf course, the world famous Extreme 19th, and a host of other facilities and activities," says Mr Richardson.
"We like to think we are something that is a little bit different."
The Extreme 19th is the world's longest and highest par 3, played from the top of a mountain.
The only way to the tee box is by helicopter and you play to a green that is the shape of Africa.
"We have such a unique proposition in terms of the golf industry which is the Extreme 19 and the world's only 18-hole signature golf course, designed by the world's top golfers. We find that the Extreme 19th in particular is on a lot of peoples' Bucket Lists - i.e. something to do before they die. This morning we actually had a guy who flew out from the UK and landed in South Africa on Monday morning, flew into us by helicopter this morning, played the Extreme 19th and then he is flying back to the UK tonight. It's a true story. The Extreme 19th is an amazing experience and it has been the talk of the golfing world for some time. If people come to South Africa for business or a holiday, they know we are accessible. You can come here for a night, play golf and then go somewhere else. You can also link it with your safari experience. We've made an impact in terms of PR and marketing with the Extreme 19 and it's had a fabulous effect."
The first quarter of this financial year is the busiest Legend Lodges has ever had, says Richardson.
"Our bookings for 2013 at this stage are looking superb," he explains. "We had our busiest January ever and February is set to look the same. It is our busiest first quarter ever.
"What do I think this is down to? Several factors, really. I think it is a combination of hard work over the last three to four years, getting the mixture right in terms of the offering to our clients – both businesses, golfers, independent travellers - and it's the economy picking up a bit globally. I think we're beginning to see the effects of the FIFA World Cup from 2010 too. People thought that event would mean that 2011 and 2012 were great years but actually I think it has taken a little bit longer for people to get their brochures and realise that South Africa is a fantastic country. Let's not forget that the weather is great also!"
Work has taken place on improving Legend's online presence and it has launched an online booking service as well as several social media campaigns.
"We've noticed an increase in bookings following that," says Richardson. "We now have a department that specialises internally in terms of our online presence. We engaged with a company who are our online social media arm. We've invested a lot of money over the last 12 months and we're beginning to see things moving. The new internal reservations system has had an immediate effect on online bookings."
In terms of Legend's conferencing facilities, that offering too has been enhanced, with the building of the R10 million Queen of Sheba Conference Centre which adds to the existing 300-seater Sofala Conference Centre and 400-seater Monomotapa special event venue.
"That was built to satisfy massive demand for a more 'African environment' to host events," says Richardson. "It was opened last March and we built it in just 29 days. We had a booking that was looking to go into a specialist facility and we couldn't cater for the booking so we made sure we finished it for this specific event and it's been busy every since.
"Conferencing is a growth area for us and we believe we have an excellent offering. If you want a conference in an authentic bush environment - proper African bush - there are very few places that can cater for more than 100-150 people. We targeted this market. This is why we built it in the middle of Limpopo and in the middle of a 22,000 hectare Game Reserve."
One of Legend's big attractions is Big Five Entabeni Safari Conservancy. Investment too has been put into this arm of the business with the purchase of new game vehicles from Toyota.
In total, Legend spent R15 million on a mixture of game vehicles, minibuses for transporting guests and logistical vehicles for staff use.
"We brought some of the game vehicles from Toyota and some also came from Hyundai and we brought some Iveco Trucks," says Richardson. "It brings total number of vehicles we have to 52.
"We actually purchased 28 11-seater Toyota game viewer safari cruisers, each with built-in radios, canvas roofs – to ensure all-round visibility – and top-of-the-range safety equipment. We did that in the last quarter of 2012. All the game vehicles are the same brand but overall it is a mixture of Toyota and Hyundai. Hopefully this fleet will last three-five years. Three years ago we bought 20 game viewers and these new ones are an addition to our existing fleet. They're used every single day.
"Have they been well received? They have, but as they are a different colour to the previous vehicles, the animals were quite curious about them at first! The new ones are brown and our last fleet were green. At first they were inquisitive but now nothing. They just get on with their lives in the bush. They very soon became accustomed."
Legend has a lot going on - resorts, game and safari lodges, country lodges, coastal hotels and lodges, and cultural villages and shebeens, golf, and an airstrip – you name it.
Understandably Richardson is excited by the future.
"You can see from our investments last year that we're optimistic and are investing," he says. "We built the new conference centre, we invested in those new vehicles, and then we have our new clubhouse which has cost us around R25 million. If you don't invest then you go backwards. We know our product is as good as it gets and we're very proud of it. We know people will come and the amount of enquiries and visitors we get is increasing by the day. We're very optimistic."
Thousands of people each year enjoy the adrenaline rush of Legend's unique golfing experience. The resort also now boasts almost 250 luxury rooms. To book your stay visit http://www.legendlodges.co.za.
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