|The Table Bay hotel on Cape Town’s waterfront is one of the more traditional offerings amid South Africa’s vast array of accommodations.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa—While there are more hotels in Las Vegas, and even Orlando, Florida, than in all of South Africa, the room inventory in the scenic country runs a unique gamut.
It spans the dramatically black-and-white DaVinci Hotel & Suites in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton City, the more traditional, pastel Table Bay Hotel on Cape Town’s waterfront and the vibrantly colored Westin Cape Town on Convention Square.
As of the end of December, there were 516 hotels graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, the agency charged with defining and monitoring hospitality. These represent 36,935 graded rooms of 89,900 total graded rooms, which include hotels in addition to other accommodations the council monitors: bed-and-breakfasts, hostels, caravans, guesthouses and safari lodges, according to marketing and communications manager Thekiso Rakolojane.
A hotel must be at least six rooms and offer a reception area and dining, he clarified. There are more mid-market (3-star) hotels than 4- and 5-star properties, largely because the former targets families, the latter business travelers, he said.
According to STR Global, sister company of HotelNewsNow.com, there are 69,462 actual hotel rooms in South Africa. The vast majority is in the Western Cape (i.e., Cape Town) and in Gauteng Province (Johannesburg), according to the grading council. The respective figures are 10,980 and 10,746.
With a range of product comes a breadth of operational challenges, according to sources.
Horst Frehse, GM of the Twelve Apostles Hotels and Spa, a Red Carnation Collection hotel, said the biggest of these are seasonality, a lack of training and the “development of professional skills and pride of the non-management labor.”
The 55-guestroom, 15-suite boutique hotel is a former farmhouse on the coast of the Western Cape, located between a nature reserve and a marine sanctuary. The clientele is 80% leisure, 20% group; tour operators provide 55% of the customers. Half of the guests come from South Africa, 14% from the United Kingdom, 13% from Germany and 12% from the United States. High-season rates start at 5,465 South African rand ($664), and drop to 4,395 South African rand ($534) in low season, said Jill Wagner, marketing manager for the Red Carnation Collection South Africa.
Several operators are encouraging cross training to fill needs as they arise. Such is the case at the DaVinci, a property of 166 hotel rooms and 54 suites and penthouses, according to front office manager Rui Antunes. The property, part of Legacy Hotels & Resorts International, which also runs the Michelangelo Towers and Raphael Penthouse Suites, occasionally shares staff with its sister properties, in addition to cross promotion.
The shortage of skilled labor is not lost on the Tourism Grading Council nor the industry at large, Rakolojane said.
“South Africa’s tourism infrastructure is sophisticated and well developed, offering a range of accommodation establishments from cheerful and affordable single-star guest houses and inns to luxurious 5-star graded lodges and hotels, and the consistent challenge is to ensure world-class service levels are maintained,” he said.
To this end, the country’s hotel industry works with both the public and private sectors as well as with tertiary education institutions to “upskill the hospitality labor force to deliver increasingly excellent service to guests,” Rakolojane added.
The unionized, 329-room Table Bay at the Waterfront, for example, invests money and time training to “previously disadvantaged individuals,” said Sarah Prins, public relations manager for the hotel. Occupancy at the 5-star hotel runs 70% during high season, 45% during low, and clientele is 60% international, 40% local, she said.
The push to attract and train more associates received a tremendous push in the months leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup—and that shows no signs of slowing down, Rakolojane said. “This momentum is being maintained through training, education and vocational experience on the ground.”
The South African hotels market’s greatest opportunity is capitalizing on its uniqueness as an exotic destination appealing both to the adventure traveler and to the family, sources said.
“South Africa’s tourism industry has built well on the momentum achieved during a record-breaking 2010 by growing a further 3.3% and attracting 8,339,354 international tourists in 2011,” Rakolojane said. Tourist numbers during 2010 grew 15.1% to 8.1 million.
The South African Tourism Office continues to invest “significantly” to grow inbound tourism from Europe and North America, although several emerging markets also present opportunities, he added.
The Twelve Apostles’ Frehse highlighted the ease of travel from Europe, explaining that European travelers won’t suffer from jet lag with convenient overnight or daytime flights.
“China and India have emerged as major global economic powers and are important tourism markets for South Africa,” Rakolojane said. “South Africa has had marketing presence in both countries for a number of years and will continue to heavily invest in these markets that are set to become core markets. We are confident that arrivals from China will benefit from the launch of direct flights between Johannesburg and Beijing by (South African Airways) in January this year.”
The Tourism Office also plans to increase its focus on Brazil, which saw a 0.8% bump during 2011, as well as African markets such as Nigeria, Tanzania and others, he said.
“The South African Government has allocated 218 million South African rand ($26 million) over the next three financial years to South African Tourism to grow the destination’s share of the African market. An office has been opened in Angola, and there are plans to have five South African Tourism offices open on the continent in the next five years, the second of which is set to open in Nigeria this financial year (which ends 31 March 2013).”