After a mediocre 2016 season, the Springboks came bounding back in June this year with a decisive 3-0 test-series triumph against France. Earlier that month, courtesy of Tsogo Sun being proud hospitality partner to the Springbok squad, they spent a week at Beacon Island Resort in Plettenberg Bay for a training and teambuilding gala, bringing the coastal town to a standstill when thousands of fans turned out to watch them play at a local club (and prompting the team to escape the traffic jam by ditching their bus and sneaking back to the resort on foot along the beach). Question: Was it the BI magic that put the Boks back on the road to victory? Reinhard Visser, the resort general manager, takes us behind the scenes.
Having the Springboks over made a big splash. What was it like?
Reinhard: It was a phenomenal experience to host them. When people heard the Boks were coming, there was a rush to book rooms here. It created a huge amount of publicity, not just for Beacon Island but for Plettenberg Bay. It put us all on the map.
How did your staff and guests react? Was everyone going a little crazy?
Reinhard: Staff were briefed not to interfere with the players and ask them for autographs or anything like that. But guests would be sitting from early on in the breakfast room, waiting for the team to go past on their way to a practice and catch a glimpse of them and take photos. Outside, when they walked to the buses to go to their training sessions, or came back later on and climbed off the buses, the whole of Plettenberg Bay would be waiting for them in their hundreds, because they wanted something signed.
And the Springbok entourage in the middle of all of this – how many people were they?
Reinhard: With the players, the coaches, reserves, team managers, doctors and physiotherapists, and everyone else, it was 52 people.
Fifty-two! They must have eaten you out of house and home.
Reinhard: Well, they have strict dietary requirements, so managing food and beverages certainly was quite challenging. All the food had to be very fresh and delivered every day; nothing could stand over. We brought in a specialist Tsogo Sun chef from Cape Town who normally cooks for them, to ensure that everything was up to standard. For example, you’re only allowed one type of milk – this type, not that; this type of yoghurt, not that. And every meal had to be different from the others. It took a lot of work and planning to keep their food and drinks on track.
So this wasn’t a case of guys forever around a braai and shovelling down chops and hot dogs?
Reinhard: We did have a few braais for them – they had one or two more informal, relaxed evenings, but still with a strict menu in place. They went out as well for supper one night, which we arranged for them. We had to scout about for a restaurant that could cater for their dietary requirements; it also had to be able to close down especially for them so they could have a private venue. Basically, we had to make sure everything they were eating inside and outside of our dining room was up to standard.
You mentioned “drinks” too. Presumably we’re not talking tequila shots and vodka cocktails …
Reinhard: No, their sponsored energy drinks, bottled water, recovery drinks, and so on. There was a lot of that, and it had to be managed and scheduled out every day. For their excursions, whether to the local rugby club or a nature reserve, or wherever, the bus was packed each morning with a certain amount of drinks and snacks. We packed a lot of ice, too, so that the players could have ice baths at practices if they pulled their hamstrings muscles or generally had a rough day.
All of that had to be ready and packed on the bus in time. With everything they did at the resort, they had an exacting schedule, and we didn’t have ten minutes to be over time in any of it. If they said they were going to be back at the resort at 11 o’clock, they were back at 11 o’clock on the dot.
What are some of the other key areas you took care of behind the scenes?
Reinhard: We attended to the team’s bedroom requirements – some were sharing rooms, others not – and had security guards in front of players’ rooms and in public areas. The team got new kitting while they were here – their uniforms and training gear, and so on – and this had to be nipped and tucked. We also needed to have washing machines available to launder their gear. When they came back from morning training sessions, you only had two hours to turn their kit around and get the laundry out, folded and back in the bus for the next session. Logistically, it was quite an experience.
The Beacon Island management team kept up with the Bok clock, did it?
Reinhard: We certainly did. The Springboks were such great people – friendly, and just getting on with their jobs. And so were we. This was a big event, but we’re well used to hosting large groups and high-profile companies for their annual conferences, corporate teambuilding and holiday needs.
Why do you think the national rugby team chose Beacon Island for this major training event?
Reinhard: For the fantastic Plettenberg Bay environment and the facilities we have. The environment they practice in makes a difference. Here, for instance, they could relax after their training and enjoy a change of scenery – and perspective – by walking along the beach back to the resort. At the resort, they could hold team meetings in our conference venues and utilise a private dining room; they could have physiotherapy sessions in a setting overlooking the ocean, or use our gym, or swim in an indoor pool or heated outdoor one. They made full use of all our many facilities.