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The city of Johannesburg, better known as Jozi to locals, is one of the world’s leading financial centres, as well as the economic and financial hub of South Africa. Jozi is the provincial capital of Gauteng, South Africa’s wealthiest province, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Business travel to South Africa is similar to traveling to Los Angeles in many regards. There are countless acceptable accommodations. The region is spread out and one really needs a car to get around. You can drive yourself if you are comfortable driving on the left side of the road. GPS works well to find your way, in addition to well-documented map books. Roads are maintained and well marked.
When South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2010, numerous hotels came on line, and now there is generally considered to be more supply than demand, so you have an excellent choice of hotels of global standards, ranging from the ultra luxurious, to the decent, just a safe and clean bed. You should not feel like you have to spend a fortune to be comfortable in Johannesburg. Even the budget hotels often exceed their counterparts in the US; we have never encountered a hotel in Joburg, even at the bottom of the range, that didn’t meet minimum standards.
Wifi is pretty much ubiquitous, and you can easily access business services such as printing, etc. outside of your hotel if you can make your way to Sandton City or the Rosebank Mall.
Given its prominence as a world-class financial centre, there are countless hotels and guesthouses to choose from in and around Johannesburg to meet your business travel needs.
Most business travelers tend to stay in Sandton, though Rosebank is a close second in terms of popularity.
The power breakfast crowd checks in at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton. It is a world class five star hotel, and though it is hard to argue that it is differentiated from any number of other five-star properties in the area, it has the benefit of being connected to Mandela Square and Sandton City, meaning that you never have to go outside, and could easily spend your entire business trip without getting into a car. Between the Mandela Square and Sandton City retail complexes, you have dozens of restaurants, both high end and low end, mobile phone retail centers, the Apple Store, supermarket, drug store, multi-screen movie theater, souvenirs, luggage repair, luxury retail, bookstores, live theater, live music, a large travel agency, athletic wear, and essentially anything that a global traveler could possibly need.
In addition to the Michelangelo, the Sandton Sun Hotel and the Sandton Towers Hotel are also connected to Mandela Square and Sandton City. Both of these properties are high-rise four to five star hotels in their own right, but slightly older than the Michelangelo. The Towers still has its following of global power brokers who have been staying there for decades when they are in South Africa to do big deals. DaVinci is owned by the same group that owns the Michelangelo but seeks to cater to the trendy crowd. So from a convenience standpoint, all four of these properties offer the same experience, within a fairly narrow band of generally very high quality accommodations and service.
Across the street from the Michelangelo is the Garden Court Sandton City (be sure to request the one on Maude Street). As a budget traveler, it has one of the best addresses you can get. The one downside is that it is not directly connected to the malls as the previously mentioned hotels are, meaning that you do have to go outside and cross the street. The area is pretty safe and well patrolled, but this is Johannesburg, and for safety’s sake, staying inside a well controlled bubble is by far the safest bet.
If you want to have a similar experience in terms of being connected to a mall, the Park Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank offers much of the same as those hotels connected to the Mandela Square and Sandton City. The Rosebank Mall, to which the Park Hyatt is connected, is a tad smaller with a fewer of the luxury retail stores, but a very, very close second in terms of convenience. And of course, the Park Hyatt, it goes without saying, is a world class hotel as one would expect.
The Melrose Arch Hotel, within the Melrose Arch retail and office development, provides the type of convenience and business services we are focused on, but does so with a trendy “W- Hotel” type of style. It ranks a tad below the Park Hyatt, Michelangelo, Sandton Sun and Sandton Towers, but we like it very much, and it makes its own statement about just how cool you are.
The new Radisson Blu Hotel in Sandton is across the street from the new Gautrain, which means that you can have a very cosmopolitan urban experience and take the train in from the airport and walk across the street to the Radisson.
Also in this league, though with less convenience (a 5-minute drive away) is the Hilton Hotel in Sandton.
If convenience is not a factor for you, and you prefer small, high-end boutique hotels in quiet residential neighborhoods, you have come to the right city.
The Saxon Hotel and Spa in Sandton is a five to ten minute drive from the center of Sandton, but offers nothing short of a world class experience fit for royalty, which in fact, are often among the guests. It is said that former South African president Nelson Mandela chose the Saxon as his retreat of choice when he needed to get away and spend quiet time writing his famed autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The hotel offers highly personalized service, and the spa is a destination onto itself.
In a similar league to the Saxon is Fairlawns, also in Sandton, an ultra high-end small boutique hotel where every room is different. A similar experience can be found at Ten Bompas, which is halfway between Sandton and Rosebank.
When Michael Jackson traveled to South Africa, he chose the quiet retreat of the Westcliff Hotel. The Westcliff, while five-star in every regard, has a location that is considered out of the way for most of your business meetings, and an unusual layout on the side of a very steep hill which means that when it rains, guests are generally transported to the front desk by golf cart.
If you are just flying in to have meetings, and flying right out, the options at Oliver Tambo (ORT) International Airport offer another good selection in that bucket of choices. There are three hotels we recommend that are on the airport property itself, where you can either walk or get to on an airport shuttle. Top on the list is the Intercontinental, followed by the Southern Sun, and then the Protea Hotel. They offer the range of what you would expect from five-star, four-star, and three-star, respectively.
And just because a Johannesburg area hotel is not mentioned in this write up, don’t assume that it is not a great choice for business travel. There are several Holiday Inns around town offering good value, as well as the local chain Protea, which is a solid three-star choice in a variety of locations, including Sandton. For longer stays there a numerous options as well, including the Courtyard Hotel and the Don Apartments, both which have several locations.
Tripadvisor can also point you to any number of small guest houses that offer excellent value for money, and good service to boot.
The Gautrain is preferred by many international business executives as a fast and efficient way to get to and from your hotel to O.R. Tambo International Airport. Completed in 2010 in time for the World Cup, simply said, it is world class, and on par with London, Frankfurt, etc., and much easier and efficient that the comparable train to the plane in New York (NY). Taxis are also a viable option for airport transfers. It takes you directly to Sandton or Rosebank, safely and quickly.
Airport transfers by car or minivan can easily be arranged by your hotel, and if you land without arrangements, the information kiosk in the airport will assist you in getting licensed transportation – as you would at JFK in NY – don’t accept offers from solicitors at the airport.
If you are comfortable driving on the left side of the road, the full range of car rental companies have offices within the airport including Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Budget, Thrifty, Alamo, as well as a few local choices including Sizwe.
South Africa is one place where international visitors should seriously consider renting a car and driving themselves, assuming you are comfortable with left side of road. GPS is well developed in this area and roads are well labeled, making driving relatively easy. This will allow you more flexibility, as taxis can sometimes be slow to arrive. That being said, taxis are available at most hotels, and would need to be called from other locations. If you travel by taxi, be sure to have a local cell phone number for back and forth with the dispatcher/driver.
For travel between Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Gautrain is a great option.
Credit Cards are widely accepted throughout Johannesburg. It would be easier to identify places that do not accept credit cards than stating where they are accepted. Like the United States, there are more places that accept VISA and Mastercard than American Express, but the use of credit cards is ubiquitous.
The need for cash is minimal, with the exception of taxis and tips (you can even pay for your Gautrain airport transfer with a credit card).
The South African currency is the rand (ZAR).
The need for cash is relatively low when traveling to Johannesburg.
Due to foreign exchange regulations, the use of foreign currency in South Africa is illegal. Do not offer to tip your bellman in dollars, for example, as he will not be able to exchange it to his currency legally.
The use of ATMs in South Africa is safe and reliable to get your local currency. There are ATMs in the airport, and we generally go straight there after clearing customs to access rands for our travel in South Africa. It is the preferred means of obtaining local currency, as it saves the hassle and fees that exchanging foreign currency require. The exchange rate you get from the banks is generally preferable to what you get from the foreign exchange kiosks at the airport or other major tourist centers, or from your hotel’s cashier.
When traveling in most major cities in Africa, Johannesburg included, you have a choice of a) using your cell phone and phone number from home and making roaming calls or b) buying a local SIM card, thus operating with a local number, charging it with airtime locally. The difference in price is huge.
Connectivity with international roaming is excellent throughout South Africa. However, it is recommended that business travelers sensitive to roaming charges bring an “unlocked” cell phone with them, and purchase a local SIM card from local cell carrier kiosks at the airport. Purchasing a local sim card through a local carrier is much cheaper than international roaming costs.
If you do not have an “unlocked” mobile device, local carriers also rent cell phones at the airport, often for no rental fee—you pay only for your air charges which makes local calls very reasonable. Also note that in South Africa, receiving calls on a cell phone does not use up your airtime, so have people call you.
For international calls to the US, Europe etc., we highly recommend using Skype or Google Voice. Google Voice offers free calls to the US. You will be able to use both Skype and Google Voice wherever you have access to the internet.
The major cell phone operators in South Africa are MTN, Vodafone, Cell C and Virgin.
Is it safe to travel there?
Africa.com’s editors travel to and from South Africa frequently.
We find the most informed, level headed, comprehensive and up to date information on travel to Africa is that published by the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We advise business travelers to check their website frequently to get a sense of evolving dynamics in South Africa. Click HERE for their travel advice to South Africa.
Another useful source for assessing safety and security is the Ibrahim Index, founded by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. The Ibrahim Index ranks African countries relative to one another, and ranks South Africa’s personal safety as 41st out of 52 countries. For more information, visit the Ibrahim Index score for South Africa HERE.
Even though there are eleven official languages in South Africa, English is widely spoken. Pretty much all business is conducted in English.
Business attire in South Africa is less formal than other parts of Africa, and less formal than London or New York. Think California. If you are in banking or finance, bring your best grey suit. Otherwise, think business casual. Men rarely wear ties outside of finance; a jacket and open collar are generally fine. Women wear slacks routinely; no need for dresses unless you prefer them.
South Africa is more relaxed than many world class business cities, though there is some range between older and younger and black and white. While there are numerous exceptions to this rule of thumb, we find that older people and black South Africans tend to be more formal, while younger people and white South Africans tend to be more informal. Please don’t write to us telling us about the older black businessman who uses first names only or the younger white businesswoman who was formal – this is a rule of thumb only, designed to help you navigate the waters. Use your best judgment here.
Electrical Outlet: voltage: 220/230/250 V, frequency: 50 Hz
South Africa generally uses type M (“South African” plug with three cylindrical pins in a triangle) electrical outlets.
Additional reporting by Dexter Padayachee