This year marks a special milestone: Southern Sun Resort’s 35th anniversary as a leader in the fixed-ownership timeshare industry in South Africa. Working in partnership with thousands of discerning timeshare owners, we are on an exhilarating, evolving journey, one that began a lifetime ago in 1982 when our first timeshare venture opened for business at uMhlanga Sands. Since then, Southern Sun Resorts has grown to become an iconic part of our timeshare owners’ holiday experiences and family memories, with a portfolio of six resorts, 44,000 timeshare weeks, and among this some of the most recognised vacation properties in the country. Southern Sun Resorts is part of Tsogo Sun, Tsogo Sun the leading hotels, gaming and entertainment group in South Africa, encompassing 14 casinos and over 100 hotels in South Africa, Africa, the Seychelles and Abu Dhabi.
We spoke to our Operations Director, Adam Fuller, to take stock of the road traveled so far and look to the continuing journey ahead.
Editor: Southern Sun Resorts turns 35 this year. What does that number say?
Adam: That you can trust us: we have 35 years of experience behind us, and we don’t let people down. As a Southern Sun timeshare owner, you don’t own fluff in the cloud. You have a tangible product, like a car, that gives you pride and security of ownership. As with a car, you have to look after it. You can trust us to do that for you as your managing agent – to take care of your timeshare unit and resort, and make sure they’re good for tomorrow and the years ahead.
Editor: Our timeshare journey began at uMhlanga Sands, where you were a general manager in the early days. Your reflections?
Adam: What’s amazing nowadays is that I come to an office of mine at uMhlanga Sands, and I’m seeing third-generation kids whose grandparents I knew back then. It’s incredible! There’s a huge synergy between us and our timeshare owners – we listen to them, we hear what they want. Right from the beginning we’ve had a close relationship with the owners. Over the years, timeshare has evolved and gone through ups and downs, and we’ve been there, doing what we set out do: taking care of those owners and making sure they have a fantastic holiday with us.
Editor: Change, evolution … What are some of the main differences between “then” and “now”?
Adam: Well, a major difference is that in those 35 years we’ve expanded our resort portfolio and the choices we offer. Here, a big change from the old days is the opportunity for owners to exchange their timeshare, and through SunSwop we’ve improved that flexibility no end. You can easily swop out into another Southern Sun resort or an affiliated external resort. Our overseas timeshare exchanges have to be the deal of the century. The fee is rock-bottom compared to accommodation costs elsewhere in the United States, Europe or the Far East.
Editor: The profile of staff and owners will have changed too.
Adam: Definitely. As a division of Tsogo Sun, Southern Sun Resorts has Level 1 BEE status. We have a workforce that’s reflective of South Africa, and we’re delighted, for instance, that Pine Lake Resort has appointed its first black general manager, Thuso Moroe. We’re seeing much more ethnic diversity at our resorts. It’s exciting and opens great new opportunities for timeshare ownership.
Editor: And the resort buildings themselves – they haven’t exactly stayed frozen in time, have they?
Adam: Not at all. Beacon Island is a good example. It stays on the edge and always has a refurbishment programme on the go. Every time you walk in, there’s some new “wow factor”. At Drakensberg Sun, a highlight development was the addition of timeshare apartments to what was then purely a hotel. And with Sabi River Sun, the development of the golf course has been a never-ending journey – even now we’re busy completing a new clubhouse and swimming pool. We’re always looking at each resort, speaking with owners, and asking: Where is the resort now and where can we take it in the future?
Editor: Still thinking “then and now”, what have the subtler changes been in style and approach?
Adam: Some things haven’t changed, of course – our warmth to owners and guests, our core values of ensuring that properties are well-maintained and that we provide entertaining holidays. But what has changed, for example, is how we entertain children. Thinking of uMhlanga Sands, back in the day we would’ve had things like arcades and bowling alleys. Nowadays the resort has a new product called Xscape, which takes it all to a new level. It involves a range of kid-focused activities, whether it be shows by a professional entertainment team or experimenting in a specially designed kitchen … The aim here and with other things we do is to make timeshare generation-proof.
Editor: What do you mean by “generation-proof”?
Adam: The guys who bought with us 30-odd years are not getting younger, although we try to make them feel younger when they’re with us. They have children and grandchildren, and times change – so the resort experience has to change with it. We want to keep making it relevant to the teenager, the young adult and to a new generation that’s coming through. Southern Sun Resorts moves and morphs with the times – and aims to stay ahead of them.
Here, what helps us – a lot – is that the biggest changes over the years have been in our company as a whole. Southern Sun is now Tsogo Sun: it’s immensely big, it’s listed on the stock exchange, and it’s a very dynamic company. It’s different to where we were ten years ago, 20 years ago and certainly 35 years ago. It’s growing fast. And that linkage to Tsogo Sun feeds back to the resorts. It offers a huge corporate resource-base that we can draw on – for legal expertise, compliance expertise, the best human talent, you name it. We really are playing the A game here.