Durban’s King Shaka International Airport has become home to one of South Africa’s most exclusive executive airport lounges – the R5-million Umphafa VIP lounge – designed to service the increasing number of discerning leisure and business travellers using the airport as a hub into Southern Africa.

Lounge operator Menzies Aviation, which is also responsible for ground handling and safety at more than 16 airports in Africa, has upped the luxury stakes in creating its newest lounge – the only one currently on offer to cater for high-end travellers at Durban’s International Airport.

The new lounge joins the world-class Menzies’ niche offering which includes its super luxury Shongololo and Mashonzha lounges at OR Tambo International Airport. Its Shongololo Lounge has consistently been voted tops in the Middle East and Africa, ahead of 700 airports in the Priority Pass programme.

Charmaine Richards, GM Executive Services at Menzies Aviation, says the new Umphafa lounge was designed to trump those currently on offer in South Africa in line with the major global demand for super exclusive airport VIP services.

“SA is increasingly attracting global travellers in the wake of positioning itself as the gateway to Africa and as an attractive investment destination. The unprecedented influx of travellers to KwaZulu Natal has created a gaping need for the provision of exclusive facilities.”

The new King Shaka International Airport previously had no facilities for executive travellers despite the increasing number of local and international business travellers. Flights through the airport by international airlines, including Emirates, Air Mauritius and SAA, along with local flights by SA Express, SA Airlink, Mango, Interlink, Kulula and BA Comair, have seen a significant rise in demand for services catering to the discerning traveller.

Richards says the company had pulled out all stops in creating the Umphafa Lounge, and that the double volume venue features a spectacular artistic rendition of one of SA’s best loved trees – the Umphafa – as a massive centre point.

The Umphafa tree is also known as the “Wag ‘n Bietjie” tree (Wait a While tree), because it traditionally provided welcome shade for weary travellers. Its distinctive two thorn nodes, each of which face forward and backward, are said to symbolise travellers’ “comings and goings”.

The symbolic tree in the Umphafa lounge is styled from 180 pieces of wood, forming a double helix raised above the food and bar area.

In addition to the usual business and first class lounge facilities, including TV, free Wi-Fi, Apple iMac workstations, shower suites, drinks and sumptuous buffet, the African-themed lounge also claims the final word in African hospitality.

The lounge design is based around a contemporary African look which creates a relaxed and stylish ambience for premium passengers awaiting their flights.

Richards says what really sets the lounge apart from the rest is its unequalled friendliness and service – the Menzies hallmark.

“We have built the entire Menzies business around the quality of our people, and in the luxury lounge sector, customer satisfaction is paramount. Our hospitality team has been hand-picked for their customer focus and dedication to the highest standards.”

Richards says the design and facilities provided by the Umphafa lounge show a clear evolution of the concept of prestige and luxury and are intended to vastly improve the airport experience and fill a significant gap in the high-end passenger market on the East Coast.

“Through our new Durban offering we believe we are further raising the bar for discerning travellers from across the globe.”

King Shaka International, which is one of Africa’s newest international airports, is named after the great 19th century Zulu warrior-king, and was constructed to provide a new thoroughfare for the growing tourist and commercial trade through Durban. Built as a replacement to the old Durban Airport, it is situated at La Mercy, 35 kilometres north of Durban.

Last year it was named the third best airport in Africa in the World Airport Awards – after Cape Town International and OR Tambo. It is estimated to currently handle around 5-million passengers annually, but has the capacity for about 7.5-million passengers, signifying room for future expansion.

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