Government ministers, business people and representatives from the media joined a host of entertainers, including fire throwers, stilt walkers, dancers and a scattering of Miss South Africas, past and probably future, at Sun City this week to celebrate the resort’s relaunch after a R1-billion makeover.
The jewel in Sun International’s crown, which opened (as a much smaller version of itself) in the then nominally independent bantustan, Bophuthatswana, in December 1979, has shocked, awed and delighted a steady stream of international and local guests, as it has hosted, fed, pampered and amused them.
The oasis in the desert in the North West Province had grown a little shabby since the early years when it was a place where the young and old stole off to indulge in all sorts of naughtiness, including watching topless showgirls and pornographic movies, and trying their luck at gambling.
All of this “scandalous” behaviour was not allowed in the apartheid-era Republic of South Africa, which was morally corrupt in much more meaningful ways.
The overhaul goes beyond giving the “pleasure palace” a facelift, however.
Wednesday night’s launch introduced guests to the “new Sun City”, which hopes to widen its appeal further with a lot of effort directed at expanding its share of the growing conventions business in South Africa as well as attracting families and the millennial generation.
The five-year, R1-billion refurbishment looks to position Sun City more firmly as a business destination with dramatically upgraded and improved conference facilities.
High tech, state-of-the-art facilities at the resort include the Sun Parks centre, perhaps best described as Meccano or Lego-style build your own event venue space.
Sun City is really upping its conference game with this facility that can be built into into any style of venue in just a few hours.
Similar parks are being built at Sun International properties around South Africa.
With the Sun Parks centre as well as many state-of-the art auditoriums and meeting spaces in the Sun Centre, Sun City hopes to entice big and small conferences and events.
Rob Collins, Sun International’s chief operating officer, explained that the variety and flexibility of the spaces meant there are few limits, whether it be a folk music festival that is planned, a million dollar golf tournament, extreme sports events or wild game auctions, to mention but a few.
It’s not child’s play, but Collins also chose a playful metaphor, using a teddy bear, when explaining the concept.
To give an example of the modern idea of simple but detailed customisation, which underpins the Sun Parks concept, Collins said: “When you wanted a teddy bear you used to buy one; now you build one.”
Many of the other facilities included in the new upgrade are designed to appeal to whole family, including new rides in the Valley of Waves, action-packed watersports at Waterworld, mini golf, racing go-karts and a Lego room, a climbing room and an X-Box room.
Teenagers and other adrenalin junkies will likely enjoy Adrenalin Extreme, the new adventure hub.
The entertainment centre, which was built at a cost of R30 million and inaugurated by ‘Ole Blue Eyes’ himself, Frank Sinatra, in July 1981, has been given an overhaul too, and now includes a variety of family experiences, including a South African Hall of Fame honouring South Africa’s outstanding sportspeople and performing artists.
The museum-like exhibition here is complemented by interactive exhibits with virtual reality spaces allowing visitors, for example, to race against South Africa’s great runners or improve their golf swing.
The original hotel has been rebranded Soho hotel and repositioned as the resort’s ‘always on’ party zone. It includes an exclusive new dance venue, Encore, where the globally popular South African DJ Black Coffee helped to light up the dancefloor on Wednesday night, getting the attention of at least some of those elusive millennials.
Also at Soho, the Sun City Casino, which was the first in South Africa to introduce million-rand jackpots, and the Prive Salon have been revamped.
Rooms in the various hotels have been redecorated, and restaurants and bars have been spruced up, many of them rebranded to keep with modern tastes, times and technology.
Michael Farr, Sun International’s general manager for brand and communications, said: “We have put this investment into making the resort even more attractive to families, gamblers, convention visitors and a host of new niche tourists, such as adrenalin-seekers, ecotourists and millennials.
“We are confident that with this massive refurb and upgrade, Sun City will not only retain its status as South Africa’s favourite leisure destination, but will also recapture its place as the premier convention venue in the country.”