We have just returned from the long awaited Hospitality upskilling visit to Cape Town. The objectives were varied although to caption them I would say we were looking at all aspects of the industry with a view to bringing back information, inspiration and a way forward. This ranged from health and safety through to customer service and food styles.
10 Saints from all aspects of the industry joined me on the adventure.
Our expedition was a great success, to the extent that I didn’t have time to update this blog whilst on the road. The sheer variety and volume of experiences have intrigued, enticed and inspired our group.
To say the trip has changed lives might be a tad overstated, however the initial signs are pretty positive.
Cape Town in May can be cold and damp. This is a point many of us forgot and I for one spent much of the first week wishing I had packed warmer clothes and especially my socks!
Day one covered a trip down to the Two Oceans Restaurant on Cape Point, this restaurant serves up to 1000 very high quality meals a day in a fantastic setting, miles away from anywhere (sound familiar?). The difficulties of getting supplies and staff were discussed and comparisons made with St Helena.
We also spent a morning at the Cape Grace Hotel on the Waterfront. This was a highpoint for me as we have had a special relationship with the Cape Grace team and three of my sudents were spending part of their visit working in the kitchens of the hotel.
The morning commenced with breakfast in Signal, the hotel’s main restaurant. There was much to be impressed with as the hotel has been voted one of the best in the World! We didn’t even start to dent the buffet which contained fruits of all varieties, cakes, pastries and breads, cereals and yoghurts, meats, fish, fresh juices and much more. The choice of main courses is no less impressive with the full breakfast including steak being a favourite!
The tour of the basement whiskey bar and bedrooms gave the group some idea of the quality at which international Five Star Hotels operate. The talk by Barry Ross, the Head of HR was inspiring with an insight into why the hotel is one of the busiest in Cape Town and why it receives so many accolades: it’s all about the customer.
Weekends in Cape Town are all about food and getting out and about. The Old Biscuit Mill is one of the most popular destinations and rightly so.
. It certainly gave our visitors ideas on how to start a small food business with next to nothing and what quality can be achieved even though the stall is a couple of planks resting on boxes!
Wish we had more of these places in the UK although I guess the hygiene police would put a damper on the proceedings………..I didn’t see many coloured chopping boards!
I recently visited the airport site which is just under two years from being open (Feb 2016). It is being built by the South African construction company Basil Read at a cost to the British Taxpayer of around £200Million.
Visiting the site and what can be seen so far reflects the impressive accomplishments which have taken place. Just thinking about the logistics of quoting for a job like this makes your head spin. Basil Read have had to import much of the equipment via their own ship which comes in around once a month from Walvis Bay in Namibia. Then the equipment had to make its way up to the airport site which meant there had to be a new road built before anything could start up here.
One of the greatest achievements, which is still work in progress is the filling of Dry Gut which is a valley which just happens to be in the flight path of our potential aircraft landing. Therefore Dry Gut needs to be filled. Its not just being filled, it has to be filled in layers and then tamped down and then left to settle and then checks made for subsidence. The photos give some idea of the scale of this part of the project.
So far the Airport build is on time and with no accidents which considering the location and challenges here is marvellous.
The Airport terminal is currently being erected and has been located in a way that the building is shielded from much of the island’s view to keep things tidy. The building seems larger than I imagined so I guess they are preparing for more than the planned one or two flights a week which is what’s being talked about at the moment.
The runway is currently being widened and lengthened as the original runway plan didn’t meet requirements for longer haul aircraft. I think the 737-700 is the plane of choice at the moment. There are many more stringent requirements for planes to fly to St Helena as there is nowhere to make an emergency landing so fuel loads will be maximised. Also the location dictates that air services to St Helena will have to operate to the requirements of Extended Twin Engine Operations System, (ETOPS)
Critical to the success of the new airport will be air traffic control’s ability to land aircraft in the challenging weather conditions the island experiences. Given the isolation of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, diversions due to weather could be extremely costly in terms of additional fuel burn. Honeywell systems have the contract to provide landing support with a product called Smartpath.
I think by the time the airport opens, the world will be watching this little speck of an island in the South Atlantic. Many people have vowed to visit once the airport opens and in fact our tourist office here is already receiving enquiries as to where tickets can be bought. Less than two years to go and so much to do!!
As a lonesome female visiting South Africa the dangers of sightseeing alone were conveyed to me more than once by more than one person before coming out here. In retrospect it seems safer than in my small Somerset town of Yeovil where on most days of the week I can pass angry looking youngsters with can of cider or lager in hand as I make my way gingerly to the local shops. So relinquishing the notion of renting a car and going on the great tour of South Africa alone I have made do with local tours.
The Cape of Good Hope is on most people’s “must do” list as its the end of Africa and we all like to visit the extremities of countries though what logic there is behind it I don’t know. There were other stopping off points on the way and plenty of stunning countryside between. I made friends with another lone traveller, Sebastian who as a member of Emirates Airlines had just flown 400 or so passengers from Dubai. Sebastian preferred the escapade of a tour rather than sleeping off his journey in a Cape Town hotel room before heading back up to Dubai.
My second major trip was far more remarkable and one I would do again in a flash! Diving with great white sharks was never on my list. As a keen photographer and one who has in interest in whales and the like, the idea was to do the trip, take some shots and stay in the boat. I had not reckoned with Doug and Jane from Durham (sorry Jane I kept calling you Liz!). When the captain asked for three to make up the numbers diving in the cage Jane grabbed me and shouted “we’re a three!”
Wet suits were donned and into the cage we went. A large female great white had already been spotted so we knew there were sharks around. Instructions were given about not putting hands outside the cage......easy on land but when you are trying to stay under water to see the creature your hands tend to grab anything! “DOWN DOWN” was the call from above; we submerged and saw looming through the murky water, with jaws open, the great white shark of our dreams or more likely nightmares! This didn’t just happen once but around five or six times in a couple of hours on the boat, quite remarkable, and reportedly one of the only places in the world where this phenomena can be frequently seen. My photographic attempts on the boat were far better than underwater although I am happy to have records of both.
As an aside, this tourist attraction is strictly regulated here in South Africa, both from the safety aspect and the conservation aspect so there are minimal risks. As my Mother said, “you were probably safer in the shark cage than walking around Cape Town by yourself”.