I’ve only ever left our continent twice before. In 2014 I was fortunate in joining my brother for an indescribably enjoyable trip to Japan, and in 2016 Touchwork sent me over to the USA on the most wonderful business/sightseeing trip that saw me spend time in both Anaheim and San Diego. Excitingly, in a few hours time, I’ll be embarking on my third ever overseas trip – it’s USA round 2!
I have mentioned before that a large portion of Touchwork’s business is in the United States, in particular in the higher education institution auxiliary services realm. To that extent, our US team tends to exhibit at related expos all year round, and as such, for this particular upcoming expo, I was asked if I wanted to join the team and then also deliver some Kinetica system training while I’m at it. Naturally, I JUMPED at the opportunity!
The event in question is the NACAS C3X 2019 Conference and Expo, which is being held in Phoenix Arizona. Before that though, I get to spend some time to do training and sightseeing with the guys in San Diego, and right at the start of it all, I’ve been gifted with a handful of days to play tourist in Washington D.C. – Lincoln Memorial, here I come!
I am of course beyond excited. 3 days in Washington D.C., 5 days in San Diego, and 3 days in Phoenix! I am away from home for about 14 days in total (sorry Chantelle), leaving on the 24th of October and only returning at midnight on the 7th of November, i.e. the date of my 10 year wedding anniversary (again, sorry my love!). Also, if you do the maths, then you’ll realize that I’m in transit for about 3 days. Can’t say I’m looking forward to ALL 52 hours or so that I’m going to be up in the air!
On the travel front I am flying out from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then from Johannesburg to Washington D.C. on SAA. From Washington D.C. I jump to San Diego on Southwest (with a plane change in Atlanta), and from San Diego to Phoenix also via Southwest. Then from Phoenix it is a hop back to Washington D.C. (with a change at Chicago) on United, before I finally depart from Washington back to Johannesburg and then on to Cape Town via SAA.
At this rate I’m starting to feel like a seasoned traveller! My camera phone is charged, I’m chomping at the bit, and as per usual, the best place to follow my travels will be via Instagram (at @craiglotter). Looking forward to what should be an amazing experience! :D
Following the last year-end function at Monkey Valley in Noordhoek, 2018’s Touchwork/Hypenica year-end function moved a little closer to home with a delightful session of wine tasting at the granddaddy of Cape wine estates, Groot Constantia, followed by a delectable French-themed lunch at nearby Pastis Brasserie.
Now a provincial heritage site, Groot Constantia is recognised as being the oldest wine estate in South Africa, with this age old winery having been established in 1685 after the land was first granted to Simon van der Stel, the then VOC Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.
These days, in addition to the production of excellent wine, Groot Constantia is also a major Cape Town tourist attraction (a member of Cape Town’s Big 6 to be exact), with the grounds being home to the Cape Dutch Manor House, the famed Cloete Cellar, two restaurants, a wine tasting centre, wine and cultural history museums, and walking tours of the vineyards and modern-day production cellar.
As for us on the day, we were there to taste wine, and taste wine we did.
Next up, a short stroll down the road lead the French-themed team to the Pastis Brasserie, a French inspired eatery that has been around since 2004. More wine was drunk, speeches had, Mystery Santa played, and lunch tucked into.
Great way to end off another good year for both sister companies really.
Last year November saw the realization of yet another successful African Agri Indaba and Agri Trade Congress Africa summit, and as is now the norm, the RegNow (a sister company of Touchwork) Kinetica platform was roped in to handle the registration and badge printing operations. Also, given that the show was in Cape Town and the team was a little short-staffed, I too flitted into Cape Town in order to lend a hand (and of course watch my software solution in action).
The venue for the show was the new, beautifully designed CTICC 2, and seeing as this was the first time for me to ever visit this gleaming new extension of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, I was admittedly rather looking forward to the trip. That said, I immediately stuffed up the landing by accidentally parking in the underground parking for the Westin Hotel and then having to trudge down the road to reach the actual building that I needed to be in! (Also, that meant no free parking on the day for me.)
Aside from that though, the event was a great success, with good attendance, well organized sessions, and even an address from Helen Zille herself. As per usual, badge printing and registration went off without a hitch, and I came back smiling from ear to ear due to Kinetica working so well. (What can I say, I am sometimes rather proud of my software baby).
Last year saw me make an uncharacteristically large amount of Touchwork business trips to both Durban and Johannesburg (unusual because my work behind the keyboard generally means that I get to remain behind the scenes).
Not that I’m complaining though. New things to see, new people to meet, bank headquarters to visit, business relationships to cement, and all that.
Plus, it turns out that Bryanston is quite a leafy (and occasionally rather wet) spot. I honestly didn’t know.
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(Bonus Tip: Ghazal makes the most amazing Indian food! Worth keeping in mind if you ever find yourself traipsing around the Bryanston area…)
Related Link: City Lodge Hotel Bryanston
I’ve already mentioned that last year’s Touchwork and Hypenica year end function saw the teams go tropical and enjoy a colourful Hawaiian themed get together (complete with a belly dancing routine for some or other reason) at the Monkey Valley Resort in Noordhoek.
What I hadn’t realised (thanks to a forgotten folder now found on my laptop) is that I never actually got around to mentioning what we did to celebrate the year of work in 2016 – a small oversight which I’ll now quickly rectify in order to fulfill this site’s these days mandate as being somewhat of a photo diary for my life.
In a nutshell, we celebrated a prosperous year with a pirate themed lunch at Outspan in Kalk Bay. Entertainment came in the form of a pretty good (if slightly strange) improv comedy troupe (which surprisingly included YouTube comedienne Anne Hirsch as a member), and an even better reggae playing band, while lunch revolved very much around some exceptionally good yellow fin tuna steaks.
Entertaining, tasty and an opportunity to grab some photos along Boyes Drive. Can’t really complain about that now can I? ;)
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Oh, and in case you are wondering about the Shark Spotters hut up on Boyes Drive, it’s actually one of eight such shark lookout points (scattered along the False Bay coastline) operated by the team.
This pioneering shark safety and research organisation has been operating since 2004 (it was founded in response to a spate of shark attacks happening at the time), and does fantastic work in both shark research and keeping bathers safe by providing a well run early warning system.
Shark Spotters is now the primary shark safety strategy used in Cape Town, and their well built website (complete with stats) is well worth a proper browse!
I got to enjoy one of those rare occasions that Touchwork sends me out of the office at the start of February, sending me on a trip to Durban for a meeting with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (whose guest survey system runs atop our Kinetica platform) at their head office in Pietermaritzburg.
That part of the trip went pretty smoothly mind you. I slept over at my brother Ryan’s place in order to catch an early lift to Cape Town International, where the Mango flight to Durban went well, letting me touch down in the sweat inducing humidity of Durban right on scheduled time.
Kagiso from 3T Business Fusion joined me in my little hired Kia Picanto (which isn’t really that bad of a ride – much better than the little Honda Brio that I received the last time I needed to go to Pietermaritzburg), and following a non-eventful drive along the scenic N3, we made it just in time (literally) for the meeting, which pleasingly also went rather well.
However, that was just part one of my little business trip. As things worked out, Touchwork was once again deploying its Kinetica platform as Hypenica’s expo badge registration system for their 2017 edition of the KZN Construction Expo, and seeing as I was in the area, I was asked to join the team to make sure that everything ran smoothly in terms of the badge printing process on the day.
(Not a problem, especially if you consider that the team was to be based in the fabulous Hilton Hotel for the duration of the event! In case you are wondering why, it made logistical sense – literally next door to the Durban Exhibition Centre, where the expo was being held.)
Fancy hotel stay (and dinner arrangements) aside, the expo itself went very smoothly, my Kinetica system worked a charm (as per usual), and I of course made sure to saunter off every now and then to get some much desired sightseeing whenever I got a chance, resulting in strolls around the Gugu Dlamini Park, the Warrior’s Gate M.O.T.H. shrine and military museum, and the Old Fort grounds.
Oh, and for some reason I also slotted in a quick visit to Durban’s Mini Town, but only because there wasn’t any cricket scheduled at Kingsmead right next door.
So, a successful business trip then – though I would have felt a lot better had I not forgotten my long pants back in Cape Town…
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(Oh, and not having a 2 hour delay on the flight back home would have been rather nice as well.)
At the end of 2016 Hypenica and Touchwork capped a good year off with a fun staff function at the Outspan seafood restaurant in Kalk Bay – complete with a reggae band and Anne Hirsch’s improv troupe in tow. However, given that the venue was a little on the cramped side, 2017 saw our annual year-end staff function moved to Noordhoek’s rather pleasant Monkey Valley Resort.
If you are not familiar with Monkey Valley Resort (which has been a staple of the Noordhoek tourism scene for years), in essence it is this sprawling, surrounded by trees, wood-built beach nature resort that lies above Noordhoek Beach, offering accommodation, conference facilities and a pretty nice restaurant – not to mention its role as a rather popular Capetonian wedding venue!
In terms of our strangely Hawaiian themed staff function, the beer was flowing, the braai on the go, marimba was played, belly dancing was watched (?), and the pool utilized – in other words, a pretty good way to spend a perfect Summer’s day celebrating the year’s successes.
Monkey Valley Resort is a particularly relaxing space, and if you haven’t visited it before, you should probably consider a visit to Thorfynns Restaurant as an excuse to dip your toe into its tranquil vibe.
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P.S. The walk down to the beach is a lot longer than what it looks from the deck.
Despite having started off my first ever trip to the USA with some serious Disneyland tourist action, I was of course in Anaheim, California for work purposes – specifically to help man the Touchwork booth at NACUFS IDEA ’16, the 2016 national conference for NACUFS, otherwise known as the National Association of College & University Food Services.
In case you are wondering the connection, Touchwork’s main business focus is providing a platform and solutions in the CX (Customer Experience) space, something we’ve historically enjoyed great success in implementing in the USA university dining services sector. (Our biggest market by far).
Our USA office, led up by Johann Leitner and Carl Mostert, routinely hits the dining services conference circuit in order to cement existing relationships and turn up a few more opportunities in the university space, with Touchwork SA occasionally sending someone (i.e. me this time around) up for the experience.
Of course, this then meant finding a shirt and ironing it first (as a mostly work from home software developer, shirts aren’t something I actually own), before making my way to the Anaheim Convention Center in order to help set up our booth, grab a coffee, and then spend the rest of the day standing around and speaking to anyone who shows even the slightest glimmer of interest in what we have to offer.
Surprisingly, it went pretty well, and I pulled in some nice leads for the team, so come close of day I ended up being rather chuffed with myself (I’m not known for being a people person).
This went on for two days, the length of the showcase/exhibition part of the NACUFS IDEA ’16 conference (which itself ran for about four days).
It wasn’t all work though. The first evening we attended the NACUFS event party, catching the finals of the NACUFS Culinary Challenge, essentially a live Chef food preparation battle as what you would see on DSTV’s Food Network channel or something like that.
Asking the question, it turns out that dining services are in fact big business for American universities. A lot of prestige can be found in this function, hence the focus on profession chefs, and quite often this service is used as a class differentiation between institutions!
(Who knew that someone might actually pick a university based entirely on what food it has on offer!)
We also ended up bumping into one of our very good clients at that same party, and as such decided to leave the bustle behind and head out for a quiet supper with them instead – ending up at a particularly brilliant/upmarket steak place (Ruth’s Chris Steak House) where I ate what was probably the best steak of my life. (Mind you, the wine and conversation were just as good!)
On that note, the second evening after work wasn’t bad either – Carl and Johann decided that catching a baseball game was very much something that I as a first time USA visitor needed to do, a sentiment which I (who played baseball as a kid) most heartily agreed with!
Pictures of that particular outing a little later, I assure you.
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So. NACUFS IDEA ’16 appears to have been a decent success, but more specifically for me, was a great opportunity to see how Touchwork utilizes and sells my software on that side of the world, the end result being me given a much clearer idea of what software development our US office needs going forward.
Still, given the amount of tourist things I did along the way sure makes it difficult to think of #USA2016 as a pure business trip! ;)
I lucked out a bit this year. Touchwork does a lot of its business in the United States in the University realm, and as such, tends to be quite visible on the relevant expo circuits. Occasionally the boss sends a team member up to join our American team for at least one of these expo appearances a year – basically whenever we get the funding from the DTI to do so.
Now normally this perk falls to our COO and customer liaison Rory Florence, but this year (much to his chagrin) he couldn’t go – which then meant that as the next longest standing member of current Touchwork SA team, I got asked if I wanted to go.
Hell yes, USA here I come! :)
So this all happened in July this year. I left for the USA on the 11th and arrived back in South Africa on the 22nd of July, making for a whirlwind trip of around 10 days.
Of course, technically this was a business trip, but in essence it was only business for about 2 of the days (and even those two days were peppered with touristy things) – the rest were all proper sightseeing days, made all the more enjoyable thanks to my brilliant Touchwork USA hosts Johann Leitner and Carl Mostert, who literally went out of their way to show off their part of the magnificent piece of paradise that is California to this USA (and travel for that matter) newbie!
The expo that we were exhibiting at was NACUFS Idea ’16, the 2016 national conference for NACUFS (National Association of College & University Food Services), held at the the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California.
Anaheim, other than being the base of the Mighty Ducks, is of course most famous for being the home of Disneyland, Disney’s landmark first ever theme park that opened way back in 1955! Following that, I would then travel with Johann to his home base of San Diego (home of Comic Con and of the world famous San Diego Zoo!), for a couple of tourist days there, before heading back out the same way I came in – i.e. via Emirates through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, Los Angeles!
So, not a bad destination for only my second ever trip overseas eh? (The first being of course that amazing trip to Japan that my brother Ryan and I embarked on in 2014. At this rate, Chantelle is just about ready to murder me with jealousy! :P)
Right. I’ve got an amazing 23 or so photo galleries to sort through, post and write about, so plenty of USA 2016 content coming up in the pages of An Exploring South African over the next little while then!