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Issue 7
Africa Travel> Issue 7
UPDATED: September 16, 2014
A Woman on a Mission
By Jo Kromberg

Annie-Claude Bergonzoli, Director of Relais and Châteaux (Africa and Indian Ocean Islands Delegation), is a very inspirational woman. I first met Annie quite a few years ago and the first thing I noticed was her striking bright blue eyes and the air of serenity that surrounded her.

She studied in Paris, married at the age of 18, and then immigrated to South Africa.

"I relocated to South Africa with my husband as he had work opportunities here in South Africa. At first it was challenging to adapt as I had to get used to being away from my family and I had to learn English. However, I have always felt right at home in Africa," says Bergonzoli.

She was appointed as the Passenger Service Agent based at Jan Smuts International Airport, now called the OR Tambo International Airport, with UTA French Airlines, and then Air France, when UTA was bought over. She remained in the airline industry for 25 years, holding several positions, and was celebrated for her hard work.

Bergonzoli then continued her studies in France, qualifying as Station Manager. She was the first female Station Manager with UTA and held this position for an impressive 15 years, also being in charge of overseeing the transportation of cargo within Africa.

In 2001 she was appointed General Manager for the Africa & Indian Ocean Island Delegation at Relais and Châteaux. The Group is set to concentrate on growing its property numbers outside of South Africa.

The exclusive property portfolio currently has 19 members in South Africa. Bergonzoli says that the portfolio is likely to expand with products outside of South Africa at present, located in Southern and Eastern Africa as well as Indian Ocean island destinations.

Bergonzoli adds that the portfolio's property owners are also optimistic at present about the future of the industry. "We've reached the bottom and now we can only go up," she says. So what makes Relais and Châteaux so unique in her opinion?

"Established over half a century ago, Relais and Châteaux is an association of the world's finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs that has set the standard for excellence in hospitality," she says. "Relais and Châteaux has redefined luxury hospitality by emphasizing holistic experiences that transport its guests, taking them on a sensual journey and introducing them to a deeper, truer understanding of the art of living. This year we celebrate our 60th anniversary at all the member properties worldwide. I would say it is the sense of family and each member property truly offers something utterly unique for guests to enjoy." 

She says that travel trends in the world are changing. "The world's economy has certainly effected how people travel and we have seen 'trend waves' of guests booking last minute to then a change to making forward bookings influenced by the various exchange rates. It also seems there is a growth in family travel and those looking for exceptional experiences that they wouldn't generally be exposed to at home, such as conservation, wildlife and eco travel." 

In terms of emerging tourism markets, for the Africa and Indian Ocean Islands they have seen a large increase in visitors from the Far East and South America. "This is probably due to the workshops and trade fairs we attend each year," she said.    

She believes tourism is very effective in growing the economies of African countries. "You will find that tourism is a large part of most countries' economic growth. Many times we hear of people visiting a country for business only to return for a vacation. The ripple effects are enormous as all our member properties are involved in one way or another with the community too which only uplifts all concerned on many levels."

So how "green" has tourism really become? Is this a factor for tourists when booking holidays?

"For many it is yes. Many guests wish to experience a property that has eco/green values and use the same to educate their children on responsible travelling. Organic cuisine is another element that guests enjoy." 

She believes strongly that the quest experience starts from the minute they make contact. "I would say listening to the guests' needs and requirements is vital and this starts when they initially make the enquiry. Fully understanding their needs, what they wish to experience and many times creating a 'Route du Bonheur' that is tailor made for them so they see the very best of the various areas. Follow through once they are at the property to ensure their time and experiences with us is vital!" 

She believes the new generation tourists are more sophisticated than previous generations. "I think they are certainly more educated and that is probably due to the Internet and having access to a greater amount of information. The modern day traveler does a great deal of research on not only the hotel but the region and what they offer." 

Relais and Châteaux has seen an increase in family travel. "We believe that quality family time is at the forefront of many decisions for an annual vacation," she says. "Families want to share the new experiences with multiple generations of their family as a collective. Many parents want their children to explore the outdoors, conservation and wildlife which many of the properties offer." 

Go to http://www.relaischateaux.com/sa for information about Southern and East African destinations.

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