Brian Berkman discovers a South African seaside hotel flourishing during lockdown where others failed – here’s why.
A South African seaside resort hotel has not only survived the Covid-19 lockdown where others have perished but improved turnover in a period that will likely be seen as the historic low for the global tourism industry this decade.
For Chris Godenir, the general manager of The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel in Bantry Bay, the goal was not to have to retrench his staff, or tribe, has he calls them when the hotel was shuttered with all others in March 2020.
The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel has long been an award-winning hotel. Opened in the 1980s with the Atlantic in front and Lion’s Head Mountain behind it, its location in the upmarket suburb of Bantry Bay is reached as easily from the Cape Town city-centre or the beach strip of Camps Bay and Clifton, a little further along the coast. Part of Dream Hotels and Resorts and linked to RCI, a global timeshare system, in terms of exchange points The Peninsula is one of the most sought-after timeshare locations in the country.
“We had our winter maintenance programme planned”, Godenir told me over Zoom, “and then when we were hit by lockdown the tribe and I decided that rather than outsource the work as we usually do, we would handle it in-house. From day one we were in constant contact via text messages to the tribe communicating our values or “drum beats” as I call them and we had an 11 am meeting each day – socially-distanced and taking all the advised precautions. We reduced the number of hours staff worked so that those who were on the premises could also live in the hotel during the upgrade. We had about 45-people on the premises at a time.”
Godenir says that once the scheduled maintenance had been completed they decided that they could offer the handy-man resource to residents of Sea Point and Bantry Bay. “We had to find a way to generate some income during the lockdown period and it especially made sense that as all the handymen and laundry businesses were closed, and as most people in this area live in apartments, that we could offer the use of our industrial-sized washers and dryers as a resource as well as a maintenance team.
At the same time, we prepared meals for collection or delivery and reconfigured the porte-cochère to make it easy for people to drive in and drop-off laundry or to collect meals. When initial restrictions were relaxed a level, and people were permitted to leave home for work purposes, we upgraded our ground-floor rooms and public areas into safe working spaces and made meeting rooms available to rent by the hour for people who wanted to have a meeting but whose offices were closed.”
Godenir says that they made greater turnover this September than last year – an extraordinary result given the circumstance.
Now, back to full operation, he explains what has changed: “People come to a hotel to feel special and taken care of so we have focussed even more on the service experience. Yes, all the health and safety protocols are in place, and we have given guests the option at the number of physical touch-points that are normally required: we have key-less entry via smartphones for those who want it and the traditional room card for those who don’t. In fact, for those guests that want to skip the reception desk entirely, check-in and check-out can all be done remotely.” He continues to say that people enjoy that each suite has its own kitchen so while full meal and beverage options are available in the hotel restaurants, people who wish to self-cater may do so.
“We have been able to reopen with our whole tribe on full salaries and we are excited about what lies ahead. On the conferencing side we have enlarged outside areas to provide for meetings under the African sky and learned many lessons about how best to use the technology we have at hand to connect real people and spaces with virtual ones.”
“Having survived this we are also much more appreciative of each other and our valued guests – perhaps this has been akin to those who lived through one of the world wars in that all our lives have been impacted and changed because of Covid-19. The biggest lesson I can share is not to live in fear and to trust your staff – always tell the truth about what is happening and include them in the thinking process and not just to communicate the result.”