Janie van der Spuy is the founder and head of FIVESTAR PR, a specialist, boutique public relations consultancy based in Cape Town, that specialises in luxury travel and hospitality brands. Currently her portfolio includes Tintswalo Lodges, Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and Jock Safari Lodge.
How did you fall in love with travelling?
At the age of 21 I had just completed a BComm degree and started my first job in travel – as a flight attendant for SAA. Those were the economic sanction years of the early ‘80s and SAA had to fly the ‘long way’ around the bulge of Africa.
Flights were therefore not very frequent, which also meant that some of our overseas lay-overs were very long. We’d do a 16-day flight to Australia, or spend 14 days in Europe. Other trips included a week in the Far East and Mauritius, waiting for the next incoming plane to operate a shuttle flight to the next city.
We were put up in great hotels, given a good meal allowance in foreign currency, had a Jumbo load of fellow crew members as company, and lots of time to explore. I used every opportunity to travel and see more of the world.
It really was the best job a young person could ever wish for, but after 5 years of flying internationally, I was interested in learning more about the marketing side of the airline and there was an opportunity for me to join the Communications department of SAA.
I am an entrepreneur by heart, so when I started my PR consultancy ten years later, it was a natural progression to specialise in my first love – travel and hospitality PR. Today after many years in the industry I’m fortunate to still work with some of South Africa’s greatest and most respected travel and safari brands.
What kind of traveller are you?
Adventurous, but I do like a private bathroom and a comfortable bed! I love travelling with my husband Dave and our daughter Jaz, or in small groups with family or close friends. I have been to nearly 60 countries, but there always is a new spot to be added to my never-ending bucket list. We love islands and cities, as well as the ‘spa’ and ‘apres-ski’ part of a skiing holiday. My friends call me the safari queen because I love the bush and I have been very fortunate to host media trips to some of the most spectacular safari destinations in Africa.
What’s your travel philosophy?
I treasure authenticity in travel and prefer visiting relatively undiscovered countries or destinations. Generally, I like to explore places before they are overrun with tourists or everyone has instagrammed it to death. In 1991 I was one of the first South Africans to travel to Russia when tourists were finally allowed in, and the same with Cuba in 2000 and a trip to Japan in 1987, decades before anybody considered going there on holiday.
My husband and I make a great travel team and we like to explore new places together. We hardly ever return to the same spots as I believe you can never re-create those exciting first impressions or experiences. There is one exception though – we do go back to New York as often as we possibly can!
What are your top travel essentials?
Sturdy luggage on wheels, comfortable clothes (mostly black!) and walking shoes. Good moisturiser, a pashmina, re-fillable water bottle, neck pillow, eye mask and socks for in-flight and my phone, Kindle and charger for electronics in case of flight delays.
Where was your most memorable trip?
I am completely enchanted by Latin America and the exiting juxtaposition it offers between its exotic, vibey cities and unspoilt nature. That, combined with unique architecture, food, music and art, makes the South American continent an irresistible destination for me.
We have travelled in Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, but our recent trip to Colombia was definitely a highlight. From the steamy jungle of the Amazon to picture-perfect Cartagena and the laid-back islands of the Caribbean sea, as well as the cool hilltops of stately Bogota. Colombia was uniquely different, yet safe and we met wonderful people. Highly recommended!
How has traveling changed your life?
It has not only changed my life, it has indeed become my life! I’m a great planner and at any point, I’m busy researching at least three or four upcoming local getaways or international trips. For me, planning is part of the excitement of travel.
If there is one good thing that came from the 2020 pandemic for me, it is that we have recently discovered some extraordinary local places, only a couple of hours out of Cape Town. Overseas travel has been impossible this year and current special offers for SA residents have opened up opportunities to experience some of our country’s crown jewels.
Many of these special local destinations offer world-class quality and hospitality that one could never afford overseas if you were travelling on the Rand. Regarding the flying side, I do miss the joy of boarding an airplane and only ever having had to turn left (into First/Business class!). Working for the airline had its perks in those days…
What’s next on your travel list?
A Baltic cruise from Copenhagen, and Berlin, Slovenia, Sicily and Chile which are all waiting to be explored.
Best travel advice you can share?
Just do it. Find the time and the money and go travel with your loved ones, while you can. That is a lesson we all learned this year, n’est-ce pas?