It’s been just over one year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit South African shores. Kevin Burley, Operations Director at ANEW Hotels & Resorts, reflects on its effects on businesses and what he has learnt in the face of the pandemic.
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on South Africa and its people. The effects on the country’s hospitality industry are immeasurable as the bulk of our country’s tourism is supported by international business and leisure travel. What’s more, with government conferences being postponed, which is a big focus at ANEW, our business has certainly felt the pinch on all sides. But, despite unprecedented challenges, ANEW was fortunate enough to expand during this time as we went into the pandemic in a good space, from a strategic and financial standpoint, as well as mentally.
This past year has really been about adaptation and change. As a business, we banded together to keep things going as much as possible, spearheaded by ANEW CEO Clinton Armour. We were really forced to look at things differently during this time, act smarter and consider things we’ve never had to before; curfew is a good example of that. Traditionally in hotels, there’s an early and a late shift, but due to curfew restrictions, we had to adopt a more flexible approach to scheduling hours to take into account our staff’s travelling needs.
At ANEW, we were dedicated to adapting to any situation put before us, all while keeping our guests engaged and our staff motivated. The low occupancy during the hard lockdown was really demoralising to our staff as they came prepared to serve guests while concerns over the stability of their jobs remained top of mind. As such, we’ve become really conscious about good communication; the power of talking to people should never be underestimated.
As the management team at ANEW, we tried to foster a spirit of camaraderie and open communication with our staff. During the lockdown, we had Zoom meetings where we just chatted and even played games to keep morale up and our minds off the pandemic even if for just a few minutes. As we look back, this made us feel like we were part of a community, which was comforting during all the uncertainties. I, for one, talked to my staff a lot more than I used to and will continue to keep that kind of momentum going. People are still suffering, and we’re not back to normal yet, so a spirit of togetherness is vital to help everyone understand that we’re all in the same boat.
The mantra we’ve been living and working by at ANEW over the past year is to deal with today’s challenges without worrying too much about what tomorrow will bring. And while it’s important to think strategically for the future growth of the business, from a daily operational perspective, it’s fair to assume that anything and everything can change at a moment’s notice, so we have to be as agile and adaptable as possible. When a problem arises, we tackle it head-on without getting too far ahead of ourselves.
We’ve also made sure to uphold our brand standards during this time, despite an ever-changing economy. We’ve definitely seen a bit of a price war flare-up as properties drop their rates to get business back into the hotel. We tried to steer clear of this, and instead, we’ve been doing value adds and looking at repackaging some of our offerings to create a more unique and memorable experience for guests. Our goal has always been to take care of our staff and customers, so we’ve been doing what we can to ensure that guests receive an outstanding experience.
In some of our leisure properties, we’ve been offering additional services and experiences, for example, birding and walking tours in Hluhluwe and running weekend packages at Ingeli. At our resorts like Hunter’s Rest and Ocean Reef, we’re all about promoting domestic leisure and offering activities to make the family or couple weekend a nicer experience and encourage guests to come back in the future. We’ve also been closely monitoring our service and feedback from customers and using this information to enhance customer service and their overall experience with us. We value our brand’s integrity and have continued to offer high levels of service while still keeping everybody safe.
We’ve also been making sure we have a safe environment for our staff to work and our guests to stay. We’ve changed our meal times, with buffets served behind screens and starters and desserts individually wrapped to prevent any cross-contaminations or infections in any way. We also do thorough temperature checks at all our hotels using a coloured dock system, where even overnight guests are tested the following morning. We give them a coloured dot to represent the day of the week once they’ve gotten their temperature checked. It’s little things like this that visually tells our guests we care about them and creating a safe environment for everyone.
Another thing we will also be taking forward is the management of our people. We’re becoming more efficient in how we use our people and how much manpower we actually need to run our hotels. We’ve broken away from the traditional early morning and late-night shifts and employing staff as we require them for meal periods and conferencing. I have become a lot more grateful for our staff who, even in desperate situations, don their uniform, put a smile on their faces and continue to provide a high level of service to our guests.
Despite all we’ve learned this year, there was definitely a point when I felt we really hit rock bottom, especially with the additional curfew restrictions and sanctions put in place by the President over the holiday period. It really rocked our business, but thankfully, we have managed to weather this storm together. I’m hopeful that that was our darkest moment and that things can only get better. While we’re hoping for a steady climb to prosperity, by using what we learnt in the face of these challenging times, we can all come out of this a bit better, with more gratitude and a whole lot wiser.
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About ANEW Hotels & Resorts
ANEW Hotels & Resorts has evolved as a family business started in 1952. Family culture and attention to detail are firmly grounded in its people, and the group prides itself on the personal touch. The ANEW Hotel & Resorts Group owns and manages properties with a vision to grow the brand by acquiring additional properties and management contracts in strategic locations. They conduct their business within legal and ethical parameters and strive to provide customers with world-class service. Visithttps://anewhotels.com/ for more information.