The Iconic Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani complex is a jewel on Durban’s golden mile having served locals and internationals including VIP’s, Politicians, global superstars and more has a new boss and he has a vision. One that I think will bring back some of the glory that this grand old lady deserves. Naushad Khan caught up with Wayne Smith for a quick chat about his new job and his plans.
In broad strokes, what does a GM of a grand hotel such as this one do?
You pretty much have to be a jack of all trades. It’s about the people, the processes and systems and the experience. Its up to me to make sure the team have what they need to get the job done. That the job is being done and that the experience exceeds expectations. This property is a big one so its like managing a little city. Lots of interaction with guests and the team working at the hotel. Offering a few wise words (hopefully) along the way.
What qualifications does one have to have to become a GM?
Much of what you need can be learnt as you work your way through the industry. I have a Hotelkeeping and Catering background from technical high school which is a huge bonus. Having some hotel training through a Technikon or University would be a benefit and set you ahead – but it’s not a deal breaker. It is a business at the end of the day that needs to be well managed – so some financial experience or acumen is also important.
What sets a good GM apart from a great one?
Understanding the business and the people that work in it, what makes them tick and how to get the most out of them. Its about people (staff and guests) and they are the ones that make you or break you – so keep them happy and the business will tick over. Good ones manage a business , the great ones are leaders that enable the team to reach greater heights.
There is the contention that a hotel is a hotel is a hotel? How do you feel about that contention?
Definitly not. I have been in hundreds of hotels and each has a character and a charm. Most are different and offer a unique experience. Yes not all are great. The really special ones are the ones that can turn your reason for being there into a memorable one. Might be a smile, a special dish, a unique waiter with character, a view, a level of service you don’t find everywhere. Hotels are special places.
What exactly, other than the star system, sets one hotel apart from another?
Restaurants, Bars, conference facilities, spa’s, salons, swimming pools – all the facilities and amenities. Some may offer full service with all these just mentioned and some are limited service focusing on the bed with a great breakfast offering. The types of rooms, layouts, designs.
Do the words ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ play a huge role when potential guests make choices as to where they would like to stay?
I think it does, Hotels like the Beverly Hills and the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani are synonymous with Durban and its iconic landscape that has changed over time. These hotels were around then and are around now – so much else has changed. The Malibu (Now Garden Court South Beach) also. The hotels have an imbedded culture and tradition and a number of staff that have remained there for years. Where your profession is a career not just a job. Service is a way of life and not just a way to get a tip. I think guests know this and it certainly sways their decision.
As a GM, what do you believe are the main considerations potential guests have when they make hotel choices?
Everyone is very price sensitive at the moment – so this does affect choices. Remember to shop for value for money rather and not just the cheapest option. Location Location Location – still remains true. Who doesn’t want to be on the beachfront when on a summer holiday with ocean views? And then great food & beverage – I think these three are what will affect the choice of where to stay.
How would you describe your target market?
We cater for all and have all with us. With the size of the property, the two different bedroom towers, the number of restaurants, bars, conference facilities and other facilities, we cater well for young and not so young, business or leisure or even both – bleisure. Locals give us tremendous support and we are a sought after destination for the foreign traveller too. We have a very broad target market.
In the current economic climate, and in the age of air B ‘n B’s etc, are hotels at any serious risk?
I don’t think so. It has spread and thinned the market a bit. But air B&B can’t offer what we do, nor provide the service and facilities and variety. If it’s just a room you want there are options, but if you want an experience and 24 hour service and facilities – hotels will forever have this benefit. Always someone to call and someone to help – 24/7.
Why choose the ‘Elangeni’?
It’s the biggest hotel in South Africa and one of the largest in Africa. It has such a legacy and history and still today has such an amazing reputation. The complexity it offers me it terms of the work requirement is amazing and will certainly give me that stretch that I need – it really does have everything you could expect or imagine in a hotel. And it has the potential to continue to grow and improve.