The Westcliff closes for R200m revamp

2013-07-07 14:00

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Johannesburg’s iconic Westcliff hotel, famous for discreetly housing international A-listers and for it’s incredible pink exterior, has closed its doors for a full year to undergo a R200?million renovation.

The most noticeable change will be a new paint job, turning the flamboyant pink palace into a more demure, greyish-brown affair. All 120 suites

are getting a makeover and the old tennis court is making way for a hypermodern spa and gym.

Future guests will travel up and down the side of the building in a glass elevator, a welcome improvement on the minibus currently employed.

According to The Westcliff’s manager, Ian Jones, the pace of technological change makes it essential to upgrade hotels as frequently as possible.

The Westcliff is also getting a fibreoptic cable network installed. The “human element, for which the hotel is famous worldwide”, will be retained, says Jones.

The hotel was originally designed as a townhouse complex. From an operational perspective, that means a great deal of design changes.

The Westcliff’s stature is demonstrated by the fact that 15 years after its establishment, it gets mentioned in the same breath as Cape Town’s stately 100-year-old Mount Nelson hotel, says Jones.

One of The Westcliff’s unique draw cards is that guests are able to look at the elephants in the Johannesburg Zoo from the hotel’s highest lookout.

If you turn your gaze in the opposite direction, you can see Johannesburg’s two iconic towers, Telkom and the Ponte City skyscraper, poking out behind the landscape of trees in the northern suburbs.

The five-star landmark’s new foreign owners, Albwardy Investment from Dubai and Hotels Properties Limited from Singapore, are rumoured to have paid Orient-Express Hotels $26?million (R260?million at the current exchange rate) for The Westcliff last year, although the price was never formally revealed.

The two groups own hotels and holiday spots in some of the world’s premier destinations, including the Seychelles, Malaysia, the Maldives and the Serengeti in Kenya.

About 70% of the hotel’s guests are corporate clients and The Westcliff had an occupancy rate of 62% before closing its doors at the end of June.

That compares favourably with the average occupancy of Gauteng hotels, which was 59.7% at the end of May, according to the latest Smith Travel Research Global Hotel Benchmark report.

The Westcliff’s gilded guestbook is brimming with the names, photos and signatures of film stars, politicians, rock bands and sporting legends.

Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt and Margaret Thatcher have all spent a night at The Westcliff.

Charlize Theron’s name is among the celebrities who have coughed up R20?000 for a night in the presidential suite – along with Jane Fonda, John Travolta, Will Smith, Paris Hilton, Richard Branson, Al Gore and the Dalai Lama.

Aging rocker Jon Bon Jovi recently spent a few days by the pool and although The Westcliff seems not to have appealed to Justin Bieber, his entourage

spent the night there during his recent tour.

Jones attributes the A-list guest list to the hotel’s privacy.

“These kinds of guests often land in helicopters at the neighbouring Hope School on the slopes of Westcliff to sneak in through the hotel’s ‘back

door’ unseen.”

Once inside, they are safe from the lenses of the paparazzi, he says.

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