Q&A: Gambling on the future

Sun International significantly changed the complexion of its operation in 2014 when it sold off the majority of its African hotel assets to Minor Hotels, in a bid to focus more on its core competency as a serious player in the African and South American gaming markets. Three years on, it is still making waves in the industry, as explained by Rob Collins, Group Chief Strategy & Operations Officer.

Q: Please update us on the progress of your Time Square project and detail what has been achieved so far?

A: Earlier this year the Time Square Casino opened its doors with 2,000 slot machines, 100 tables and a salon prive, while a new multi-purpose arena is set to open within the next few weeks. Development of the hotel complex is on track for a March 2018 opening.

Q: Please elaborate on the hotel’s offering and how it will combine three different ‘star grading’ elements?

A: In keeping with international trends, Time Square will offer a new concept in hospitality in that it will comprise of a range of graded accommodation in a single building, with 38 five-star rooms and 10 suites catering for the diplomatic travel market, 94 four-star rooms and 96 three-star rooms. For business travellers there are fully equipped conferencing facilities with a total of 12 seminar rooms and three breakaway rooms, along with a diverse retail experience, 18 new restaurants, lounges and bars. The R4-billion ($300m) development consists of a casino, hotel, conference centre and a multi-purpose arena. The new arena will have capacity for 8,500 people, making it one of the largest under-cover entertainment facilities in Gauteng.

Q: What was the background or thinking behind the new hotel project at Sun Meropa in Polokwane?

A: The company invested R76- million ($5,7m) in building the 60-room Moroccan-themed hotel to ensure it’s geared for business and leisure travellers. The development will provide economic stimulus for the region and job creation in the provincial tourism industry. An estimated 475 direct and indirect jobs were created as a result, with the majority being sourced from the local community.

Q: Sun International entered South America in 2008. How different has it been doing business there, compared with how business is conducted in Africa?

A: Our entry into Latin America began in Chile and has been a success story. Our Latam portfolio has been merged with the casino and hotel portfolio of Chile-based leader in the gaming and entertainment industry, Dreams SA, making it the largest gaming company in Latin America with operations in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama. Our real competitive advantage stems from the fact that we have a compelling and global competence in both the development and operation of casinos, hotels and resorts – and at the same time we are extremely comfortable operating in emerging markets.

Q: How advanced is the roll-out of your Sun Park event concept and what reception has it received from the market?

A: The reaction from the MICE market and the events industry has been extremely favourable. Existing exhibition and conference facilities in South Africa are primarily geared towards major event concepts and there are very few venues which cater specifically or can be transformed for small to medium boutique events – this market currently represents well over 80% of all event activities in South Africa. Sun Parks work because they are flexible from a space, design and facilities point of view.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on the state of the SA hotel industry and some of the trends you are seeing?

A: The contracting local economy has slowed the growth of hotel sales in the corporate sector, but it has also had a slowdown effect on the domestic leisure space. However, this offers an opportunity to tap into the domestic leisure market, which previously travelled offshore but are now holidaying locally. This has led to a small rebound in the leisure space. The international market emerged from the Ebola scare and visa constraints to show massive growth in 2015 and 2016. We do, however, expect to see a further slowdown due to increased security concerns and political instability. There is also a lot of new supply coming onto the market. Non-traditional competitors such as Airbnb and the apartment market are gaining attention, and will be cannibalising the traditional hotel space in the not-too-distant future.

Q: Where would Sun International like to see itself in 10 years’ time?

A: Sun International is currently raising the ante around visitors’ physical experience at our properties, but we are also embracing new technology that will enhance our interaction with our customers. The future is digital and we are focusing on this new era of virtual and augmented reality in our customer communication and interaction. From a geographical perspective, 10 years from now we hope to have expanded and grown our business into many new territories, and new synonymous platforms such as alternate gaming, sports betting, and online gaming.

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