Then and now: the hotel industry in South Africa
Neels Bezuidenhout, operations manager at Capital Hotel School comments, in a Q and A, on developments within the South African hotel industry and the necessity of continued training for employees within this industry.
Q: Between when you started in hospitality and now, how has the hotel industry changed?
A: The single factor that has caused the hotel industry to evolve most is due to increased guest awareness. In the past hotel brands could create perceived value of their product through marketing, creating customer loyalty programmes or leaning heavily on word of mouth. But now, it is possible for first time guests to easily compare properties, view facilities, read reviews and do all of these in real time due to the advances in internet use and availability of information. This level of access to information has given guests a form of silent bargaining power where what is not communicated to them through electronic media, is deemed not to exist. Guests tend to miss out on great hotels that aren’t marketed correctly online.
Q: Your honest opinion between Airbnb vs hotels?
A: In a way I believe that Airbnb has in fact assisted the hotel industry in keeping it honest. It has caused the industry to start thinking out of the box and to realise their guest service is ultimately what we sell, more so than our facilities. Airbnb properties often simulate some grand hotels in the availability of facilities but are unable to create an unforgettable guest experience through interaction. In the words of Jim Rohn: ‘One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of attention.’ I like to believe that this will ultimately be the deciding factor for guests on their choices for lodging going forward.
Q: What challenges do you think the hotel industry faces?
- The influence of the internet and public perception of hotel lodging through it
- Labour relations and union issues
- Energy costs continuously rising
- Keeping up with guest technological expectations
- Cost of construction and maintenance in the built environment.
- “Recession” like economic conditions and budget cutting in businesses’ travel spend
Q: Where are the opportunities for new hoteliers in the local market, if any?
A: The current trend that is evolving is for people to steer away from chains or groups and consumers as such are constantly on the lookout for bespoke boutique experiences. This leads to a world of opportunity wherein one can sell experiences that are outside of the norm. Being in South Africa with a moderate climate, entrepreneurs think in the line of open air hotels and restaurants, a current trend of rejuvenating decaying city centres, pop-up hotels (much like you are seeing at musical festivals and the like) etc. These opportunities can be taken hold of for relatively low entry investment compared to classic full service hotel ventures.
Q: Which is your preferred hotel brand when travelling locally and why?
A: I like Protea as a truly South African brand, however, I personally also lean towards private intimate and out of the box experiences that individual/owner run hotels offer. As these type of hotels are a rare find, Airbnb is always an option where one can look to create your own experiences in unique settings.
Q: What is the industry lacking at the moment?
A: Guest service. Hotel staff are not appropriately trained and properties/groups hold back on spending on training as costs in other areas keep rising. However, without extraordinary customer service I believe hotels will be a dying trade. We need to start focussing on “making the guest’s day” and creating those “moments of magic” in whatever way it is we can contribute. People are tired of being considered transactions, numbers, data or percentages and are seeking to once again be treated like human beings with emotions, wants, needs, desires and the like.
Q: How does training aid the hotel industry and why?
A: Training encourages personal growth while it addresses apathy. Trainees realise very quickly how their actions or lack thereof can easily affect the organisation’s bottom line. This is true whether they are being trained in cost management, guest service, garment care, or even software training. Once they understand the impact of what they are being trained on more transparently, they buy in to the reason for the training and they can grasp why it is necessary. More importantly a culture of training means a culture of investing in people and in the words of Henry Ford: “You can take my factories, burn up my buildings, but give me my people and I’ll build the business right back again.”
BY: Neels Bezuidenhout, operations manager at Capital Hotel School