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The time is right for groups ready to experience the horizon-broadening excitement of meeting overseas. The great international cities featured on these pages have seen recent wide-scale developments in infrastructure, including new or renovated hotels, meeting venues and transportation options. In addition, planners will find myriad deals and affordable attractions to help keep budgets under control. Dust off your passport and consider the possibilities of meeting at the following five destinations.
Cape Town, South Africa
www.southafrica.net Cape Town sits on South Africa's southwestern coast with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and 3,562-foot-high Table Mountain on the other. South Africa's second most populous city is an international business hub with rugged wilderness around the corner.
> Why Now?
Fresh off its successful stint as host of the 2010 World Cup, Cape Town is bristling with new hotels (16 have opened since 2008, with four more set to debut in the next few months) and a citywide room count of around 32,000. A strong infrastructure for meetings includes the currently expanding Cape Town International Convention Center.
The city has held the International Conference and Convention Association's top ranking spot for global gatherings in Africa and the Middle East for the past two years (49 international meetings took place here last year), and next month, Site will hold its annual conference here.
> Recent Developments
In 2009, Cape Town International Airport completed a US$230 million terminal in preparation for the World Cup. The new facility includes a retail mall and a CCTV system for improved security and safety. In addition, the airport features a new US$14 million baggage sorting system. In other news:
• The One&Only Cape Town opened in April 2009 on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town's working harbor. Overlooking the marina and featuring panoramic views of Table Mountain, the 131-room property includes 12 spa treatment villas, a 3,767-square-foot infinity-edge swimming pool and the first Nobu restaurant in Africa. Conference facilities include a 2,798-square-foot meeting and banquet room for up to 200 guests, an adjacent boardroom for 20 and a second boardroom for 12.
• In Century City, just a 20-minute drive from Cape Town's City Center, the 184-room Protea Crystal Towers Hotel opened last December with a meeting room that seats up to 300.
• The 137-room Coral International Hotel opened last December with 9,396 square feet of meeting space across 11 meeting rooms and four boardrooms.
• The 177-room Taj Hotel opened in January with two restaurants, two bars and meeting space that accommodates up to 150 people.
> Tips for Groups
Table Mountain is Cape Town's larger-than-life showpiece attraction that offers not only an impressive backdrop to the city's business district, but also its own array of group venues. While accessible on foot via a rugged hike, groups can make a speedy ascent via the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, which fits up to 65 people at a time and takes only five minutes to reach the summit.
Once groups have made it to the top, they can settle into any of four outdoor venues (the largest fits 400 guests) or the indoor Summit Lounge, which accommodates up to 120 people and includes a bar area and three private balconies.
Sitting at the foot of the mountain and in the heart of Cape Town's harbor, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is where shopping, entertainment and business merge. The neighborhood features more than 80 restaurants and some 450 retail stores, in addition to the handful of waterfront venues available for groups.
• The Two Oceans Aquarium is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month and showcases some 3,000 sea animals. Up to 250 guests can sip cocktails while ragged-tooth sharks swim around the room in the I&J Predator Exhibit. On request, aquarium divers will swim by viewing areas holding a company banner.
• For an offshore excursion, the Sea Princess charter boat can accommodate up to 145 guests for tours around Table Bay. The 77-foot-long catamaran includes two onboard barbecues and an air-conditioned saloon with couches and a buffet area.
• The value added tax, or VAT, is 14 percent; all visitors can claim a refund at the airport before departure.