Hotels scurry to find room for mourners

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Associated Press

Air Force One, with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama aboard, departs the US en route to South Africa for Tuesday's memorial service in honour of Nelson Mandela. Picture: Jose Luis Magana

Johannesburg - As the world prepares for Nelson Mandela’s funeral on Sunday, mourners are expected to scramble for accommodation, while one luxury hotel in Johannesburg has asked guests to vacate their rooms to make way for foreign dignitaries who will attend the official memorial at FNB Stadium today.

The funeral, to be held in Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday, is due to be the biggest state funeral on African soil. President Jacob Zuma has declared a period of mourning for the week before the funeral.

Radisson Blu Hotel, opposite the Gautrain in Sandton, has instructed guests to leave its 215 rooms immediately as part of a contract it signed with the government three years ago in the event of the death of Mandela.

“This is a situation you cannot control. We knew that this day will come, unfortunately we did not know when exactly. I feel sorry for the guests, everyone has been asked to leave,” a Radisson Blu agent said yesterday.

Other establishments, including Tsogo Sun, are anticipating demand at its Gauteng and Eastern Cape properties.

The Michelangelo, a 242-room five-star hotel in Sandton owned by Legacy Hotels & Resorts, was fully booked today and tomorrow, reservations manager Elmarie Fritz said. “We have sold out rooms that we had. There is quite a number of requests,” she said.

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said it was all systems go for the funeral, except in the event of a storm. Asked how much the funeral would cost, Williams said it was too early to give a figure, and the different departments would account by next week as procurement of services and products was not yet finalised.

Meanwhile, residents in Mthatha, near Qunu, Mandela’s rural home where he will be buried on Sunday, have made their homes available for the overflow of mourners.

Mthatha has two chain hotels, the Holiday Inn and Protea, and guest houses, but this will not suffice, so home owners had been trained on how to transform their homes into accommodation establishments, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency chief executive Luxolo Rubushe said yesterday.

In addition, tour guides had been trained to make the visitors feel at home.

Of the 120 rooms offered by home owners registered with the tourism authority to accommodate mourners, 92 percent had already been taken up, Rubushe said.

Asked about the average price for rooms, Rubushe said the prices would be between the home owner and the visitor.

Rubushe said hundreds of millions of rand would be pumped into the Eastern Cape economy.

“Rental car houses have brought an additional 1 000 vehicles for the mourners. We are expecting the impact to be hundreds of millions of rand. If you look at the impact of the Cape Town Jazz Festival, it is R800 million. This is much bigger,” Rubushe said.

Current and former presidents of the US, France and Brazil will fly to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela. Today’s memorial service is expected to cater for at least 80 000 people at the FNB Stadium.

Meanwhile, Kumba Iron Ore planned to close its operations for three hours today for the memorial service and three hours on Sunday for the funeral, Kumba spokesman Gert Schoeman said.

Massmart said it would close its stores on Sunday, to allow its staff to “spend time with their families on the day of Madiba’s funeral and honour a great statesman”.

Massmart is the only retailer that has announced it would not trade on the day.

The brands affected include Builders Warehouse, Builders Express, Builders Trade Depot, Builders Superstore, CBW, Cambridge Food, Dion-Wired, Game, Jumbo Cash & Carry, Makro and Rhino Cash & Carry. - Business Report

* Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala

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