It’s said that the people make the place. And there’s a luxury beach hotel at the foot of Lion’s Head in Cape Town’s Bantry Bay which presents certain evidence of this.
The iconic President Hotel has a rich history dating back to 1766 when it stood as a country retreat under the name The Society House. The landmark as it’s known today was opened by the late Nelson Mandela in 1998. The hotel has no doubt seen a lot of changes in the last 250+ years.
And now, the hotel and its people face the many changes brought on by Covid-19. But what’s clear from speaking with the President Hotel’s Marketing Specialist, Bronwyn Feldwick-Davis, and Food & Beverage Operations Manager, Ndaba Dube, is that the hotel’s resilience is inextricably linked to its people—staff and guests—a spirit of collaboration, and heart of hospitality.
“I think it takes a very specific kind of person to work in hospitality and tourism. And it’s those people who I enjoy working with. They are outgoing; they’re humble; they’re service-oriented. And then, of course, the guests,” says Bronwyn when asked what she finds inspiring about her job. “Every day there’s a new challenge and when I say challenge, it’s always a good challenge. To see how you can solve something or see how you can help somebody; how you can give them the best experience. It’s just exciting—no day is the same. Every day is a new experience and I love that.”
New experiences and challenges
For those who love facing new experiences and challenges, the hospitality industry over the past few months would have been your calling. And luckily for the President Hotel, their staff have gone above and beyond this call. They have come together, stronger than ever, and poured every effort into preparing for and perfecting the new normal.
“While we were in full lockdown, we started putting all the policies and operating procedures into place. We had a chance to discuss it and look at best practises. All the heads of departments got together and did presentations on their departments as to what they would implement. It’s been wonderfully collaborative between all the departments. Everybody did their own research and saw what best practises were overseas,” says Bronwyn.
This inter-departmental Hygiene Committee is something that both Bronwyn and Ndaba are very proud of. And the stringent protocols and staff training that have been rolled out by the Committee allowed the President Hotel to hit the ground running as soon as business travel opened.
Ndaba, who is an operations expert with a holistic approach, has been occupied with the tangible implications of these new protocols on, not only food and beverage service, but the entire hotel ethos.
“The meeting of the committee and getting the training going, for me, transpired into how does it look, how does it feel. While this has touched into our values as a company, we’ve also had to think, how does this translate into the product,” says Ndaba. “Much of it has been exciting. Even if you’re doing the same job, this whole time period has allowed us to look at what we do and how we do it. It’s kind of given us a new lease on life.”
Much of this preparation has gone on behind the scenes, driven by the President Hotel’s amazing team and a shared passion for showcasing a beautiful property in a beautiful location.
Keeping guests and staff safe and healthy is the number one priority and has become a part of the hotel’s DNA going forward. At the same time, delivering their signature world-class service and hospitality is as much a part of that DNA as ever.
“One of the big things for us as well was, how do we not lose that guest experience? How do we not lose that interaction with the guest and not become extremely clinical and robotic with everything that we do?” poses Bronwyn. “You still need the guest to feel comfortable, satisfied with their service, and still be able to engage with the guest. Still give that wonderful service and make them feel welcome.”
Bronwyn and Ndaba describe that most guests are just elated to be back travelling and have been very understanding of the new regulations in place. However, for those with lingering Covid-19 travel fear, they recommend arming yourself with information. Do your research before you travel and check that your accommodation, or even the restaurant you frequent, has approved industry protocols in place, like TBCSA’s Travel Safe – Eat Safe programme, endorsed by WTTC’s Safe Travels. A bit of understanding as to why certain protocols exist is also helpful and they invite guests to strike up a rapport with staff, ask questions and give feedback.
And don’t forget one of travel’s key takeaways: connection. We travel to (re)connect to a place, people, culture, even to our own lives.
“One thing that this whole pandemic has shown us is that we want to live our lives. We want to engage with people; we want to appreciate the things that we have,” says Bronwyn. “I think we just need to adapt to it. And I think that’s what we’ve all done really well particularly in this industry and at the President Hotel. We’ve adapted.”