When did you know you wanted to be a hotelier and in particular, a General Manager?
I believe I was born to be a hotelier. From a very young age, I would take any occasion and make an event of it. I would carefully arrange all the details and delegate the tasks accordingly, from a tea party for my dolls, to our family Christmas dinner right through to school dances. To create memorable moments for those around me whether it is family, friends or collegues gives me great joy and satisfaction.
I knew I wanted to be a General manager in my second year of Hotel School. The different departments within a hotel fascinated me, especially how each department contributes towards the guest’s experience. As a General Manager you have the privilege of being involved in all these departments, ensuring that they all work together – it feels like being the conductor of an orchestra and how beautiful the music once it all comes together.
Where have you served thus far as GM?
My first position as a GM of a 5 star property was at Gorah Elephant Camp, in Addo Elephant National Park, a lodge that I have been managing for the past 6 years.
As GM I also managed a 3 star Guest house in Durbanville for a year. I further had the privilege to be a Lodge Manager at a lodge in South Luangwa, Zambia for 3 years and at a lodge just outside of Grahamstown for 3 years. Although the title is different from that of GM, the responsibilities were the same.
Have you had any mentor(s) along the way & how important were they to your development?
Oh yes and what an important part they played in my career. I strongly believe that mentors are crucial in our industry. They are beacons of hope when the stormy days hit. By sharing their past experiences and knowledge, it not only assisted me with difficult situations, it also inspired me to keep on trying, to learn from the situation and to hope that someday I would have the privilege of mentoring someone. Our industry is not easy; the hours, the stress, the responsibility but at the same time it is incredibly rewarding. I feel that there are many young adults with great potential that are often scared away early on in their careers by not having mentors or the required support to get them through the rough days.
Have you ever had to open a hotel or lodge and would you say that requires a unique skill set? If not, would you be interested in doing so or not?
I have opened remote bush camps in Zambia over a 3 year period. I feel that it does require a unique skill set – the ability to envision the final product while considering various factors such as location, supplier availability, staff compliment and operational requirements. I found it exhilarating, opening a new camp – the challenge of taking an idea on paper and making it a reality is immensely satisfying. I would definitely be interested in doing so again.
From the first day you served as a GM, until today, you must have learnt so much. If you could share any one piece of sage guidance, to new GM’s, what would it be?
Find the joy in every day – be it in a small moment such as watching a member of staff master a new skill or receiving glowing praises from a guest. Remember why you wanted to be a hotelier, hold onto that feeling – especially on the difficult days.
Our guests are important, but I believe our staff should be our priority. Support them, train them and care for them – it creates pure happiness that is easily transferrable to the guests. Any person can fake a smile, but a true feeling of happiness is invaluable for the guest’s experience. Guests come and go, our staff are there with us every day – invest in them.
I imagine that being the GM of a property, in a small town, would come with different dynamics to being the GM of a property, in a big city. The same would go for managing a beach property on an island or a bush lodge in a remote corner of the world. Can you share how one adapts to managing in different locations (environments)?
What a difference indeed. The lodge I’m currently working at is located in the heart of Addo Elephant National Park. Our guests often comment “how lucky you must be to work in a place like this”, and lucky we are but not without its challenges. For example, we have the great privilege of being surrounded by the big 5. Guests can enjoy a cocktail on our verandah while watching the elephants play in the nearby waterhole. A picturesque moment. But what they don’t experience is an elephant bull pulling out a waterpipe at 03:00 in the morning, stopping the water supply to the lodge – not a problem a hotel in the city would necessarily have.
I think the best way to adapt to the different locations is acquainting yourself thoroughly with the property and the environment; the location, the staff, the culture. Every property is different with its own unique set of challenges. Learn as much as you can, adapt your knowledge to suite that specific property and implement it.
Being the general manager of a hotel, during the Coronavirus Pandemic, must have been very challenging. What was the key to survival and did you gain or learn anything from the adverse situation?
Challenging is putting it mildly. For me the key to survival was the optimism from the staff and from the board of Directors . During a time when nobody had the answers, it was comforting to constantly be in touch with both sides, discussing the latest measures, concerns etc – all united in the dream of re-opening our doors to tourists again. I was also fortunate enough to stay on property with a few members of staff. We took the time to tend to the tasks we rarely had time to do, for example painting the kitchen.
What I learnt from that adverse situation was how important our industry is in the greater scheme of things. How many suppliers are dependent on our business, how important it is for us as humans to take a break from reality and to take time off to relax. But most importantly – the impact a smile can have. It was the greatest feeling, welcoming guests again for the first time after COVID. But it was horrible having to hide our pure ecstasy behind a mask. Also, as they say “no man is an island” and how true that is. I was blown-away by the excitement and can-do attitude with which the staff returned. COVID had many negative impacts on the world, but for me it ignited a fire in us hoteliers, to appreciate every moment we have and to stop for a moment, look around us & enjoy the smiling, mask-less, faces around us.
Your favourite thing about serving, at your current post?
For me it is a combination; the property, the company and the team.
The property is an old house from 1828 – beautifully decorated to that era with all the luxurious finishing touches. From the moment I arrived for my interview, I felt at home. There is just this palpable feeling of peace, surrounded by an incredible landscape and never ending, magical encounters with animals. A memory that will always stay with me is that of an elderly man of 75 who arrived at our lodge a couple of years ago. As we walked out to the waterhole, tears of happiness streamed downed his cheeks as he said “I promised myself at 16 that someday I would come to Africa, and today is someday”. It reminded me to look at the property through the eyes of our guest’s – that we’re not only offering a service, but we’re assisting in making dreams a reality, creating life long memories.
Hunter Hotels has truly created a family feeling at all their properties. The high standards that are in place will make anyone feel like they’ve arrived in someone’s luxurious home, rather than at an establishment. From personalized, handwritten notes for guests to welcoming hugs from the owners, it’s a feeling that carries through everywhere.
And last, but definitely not least, is the team or as we like to say, the Gorah family. A group of people that have not only given me many grey hairs but have also taught me so much. Together we have overcome so many obstacles, celebrated each other’s accomplishments and supported each other in all the times: the good, the bad and the ugly. I will forever be grateful for their support and for what they’ve meant to me.
How important is it for general managers, such as yourself, to visit other properties?
I feel it’s very important to broaden one’s perspective by learning from other managers. We are all different and unique and have different perspectives which when shared can be very insightful to the broader picture. I do believe that it is a way of supporting and celebrating each other’s properties while providing an opportunity for growth and development. I happily welcome other GM’s and I value their feedback, we are all in the same boat after all. If we have the opportunity to learn from each other, it should be used. It is refreshing to visit another establishment and then return to look at your property through different eyes and to implement new ideas.
How is your establishment contributing to the greater good & making the world a better place?
We support the Langbos Creche & Orphanage; in our nearest town, Addo. By contributing financially to the employment of teachers. We also visit them on the special occasions during the year such as Easter, Christmas and Mandela Day where we take them treats, gifts and equipment while more importantly, spending the morning playing and interacting with the children.
We also focus on developing local talent by employing staff from the surrounding towns, providing them training and a steady income.
Interesting Insights about the General Manager:
What is your ideal or favourite vacation destination?
Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika
What is your favourite wine?
Iona Sauvignon blanc, Stellakaya Cygnus Rose, Meerlust Rubicon
What is your favourite dish?
What favourite hidden gem, near your establishment, should we visit?
The Kabouga section of Addo Elephant National Park. It’s pristine mountains & fascinating history coupled with it’s remote location, makes it a must-see
Best question you were never asked or a fun fact about yourself?
I love playing practical jokes on my staff. From hiding under a table, climbing into boxes to fake phone calls – anything to rouse a laugh from them.