In the spotlight: Neil Bald, aha Hotels & Lodges

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Neil Bald is the Chief Executive Officer of aha Hotels & Lodges, the property management Division of the Tourvest Group which owns and manages hotels in 8 provinces in South Africa and in Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia and Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Neil holds a Higher Diploma in Hotel Management from the Technikon Witwatersrand, a Bachelor of Commerce from UNISA and a Sales and Marketing degree.

Q: Tell us how you go into the travel sector?

A: I’ve always been interested in this sector from a young age, having worked part time in restaurants and bars for many years. After completing my military service, I went straight into hotel school and never looked back. It’s certainly a sector that I’m passionate about- it’s in my blood.

Q: Tell us a little about your background, the companies you have worked in, been involved with or had an interest in?

A: After completing my studies I was offered a position at Southern Sun, now known as Tsogo Sun where I worked for 23 years in various positions. I’ve been at Tourvest Holdings for the past six years growing the aha brand, the property portfolio and solidifying aha’s footprint in locations such as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia and Zambia.

Q:  How, in your opinion, has the market changed in the past five years?

A: We have seen a greater influx in foreign tourism and a restriction in corporate and government travel, as government continues to cut down on its spending. We have also noted an increase in domestic tourism; this is largely due to the exorbitant costs of international travel and the growth of the South African middle market, affording them an opportunity to explore the country and travel more within SA.

Q: Where do you see your particular sector moving, or evolving in the coming years?

A: There will definitely be a growth in accommodation being built in areas to accommodate the increase in the foreign market in Cape Town, the Kruger National Park and surrounds, and other popular international tourist destinations. We will have to continue developing in areas that are favoured by tourists.

There will also be an increase in the budget/economy sector for building smaller economy-type hotels in order to offer an economically priced product for the corporate and government sectors as they continue to look for lower priced alternatives.

Technology and innovation will continue to play an ever greater role in our sector. We will need to offer wi-fi even in remote destinations like the Kruger and start looking at implementing more technologically-savvy means to accommodate our guests.

Q: What has been your most memorable incident in the travel industry from a professional experience point of view?

A: There are two memorable incidents that stand out in particular – these are the two awards that aha received: the 2016 South African Hotel Group at the Business Traveller Africa Awards and the 2017 Best African Hotel Group Africa at the Tourism Awards. These fare antastic achievements for an up-and-coming brand.

Q: If you were the Minister of South African Travel & Tourism what would you do to improve things?

A: I would certainly consider factors such as removing all barriers to entry for foreign tourists and implement an open skies policy, not restricting other airlines being able to access our country. The ill-fated experiment with stricter visa regulations and unabridged birth certificates from a few years ago had a huge negative impact on the industry and should never have been implemented in the way that they were.