Independent hotel operators is a fairly new concept in Africa, but Extrabold is making a name for itself as just that. Based in South Africa it manages and operates hotels and resorts under a variety of different international and local hotel brands. Group Director of Operations Ian Jones joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat.
Q: How would you describe Extrabold and compare it to a traditional hotel group?
A: Extrabold is an independent hotel operator, a concept that is common in the US and Europe, but less so in sub-Saharan Africa. Extrabold operates hotels like any traditional hotel group would without being tied into a single portfolio of owned brands. We are more flexible in our management approach, but still have access to the support systems, processes and tools that other hotel chains do. We have a regional sub-Saharan African focus; our systems, tools and process have been designed on proven models for the local market as opposed to the global approach often taken by larger hotel chains.
Q: Please list the properties in your portfolio and explain Extrabold’s involvement in each.
A: Extrabold manages eight properties in South Africa. Six of these properties are branded under the Protea Hotels banner; the properties are located in Hluhluwe, Hazyview, White River, Richards Bay and Pietermaritzburg. There are also the Holiday Inn Sandton, Rivonia Road and the Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank in Johannesburg. We provide support to the hotel management teams in the fields of finance, sales and marketing, revenue management, human resources and hotel operations, assisting and supporting the general managers and their teams to achieve the best results.
Q: What is Extrabold’s relationship with the Hospitality Property Fund?
A: Hospitality Property Fund as a listed property investor is a client of Extrabold; we lease the properties from the Fund, appoint teams to operate the hotel and provide central support, tools and systems to our business leaders.
Q: As the newly-appointed Group Director of Operations, what will your focus be?
A: My immediate focus is towards our associates. I firmly believe that if you take care of your people, they will take care of our guests, and the business will thrive. In the shorter term, my focus is to ensure that we have the right people in the right jobs.
Q: In your opinion, what is the current state of the hotel industry in Africa?
A: Africa is expanding at a rapid rate and the hotel industry is expanding right alongside it, supporting big business and eager entrepreneurs in their efforts to create a new, bolder and more successful Africa. At Extrabold we want to invest in our associates to prepare them for an exciting future in the sub-Saharan African hotel industry.
Q: What do you make of the relatively recent influx of international hotel brands all clambering for an African presence?
A: I worked in China for a number of years, and all the big hotel groups did the same thing there; it was race to see how many flags each group could plant into the ground. Africa is no different, but what Extrabold can do differently is to be nimble and flexible in managing our hotels.
Q: Does Extrabold have its eye on a presence in other African countries, besides South Africa?
A: Yes, we are focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, and slowly making our way up the east coast deep into East Africa in places like Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.
Q: What, for you, are the current African hospitality hotspots?
A: Definitely on the eastern and western shores of the African continent; Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Kenya are leading the continent in economic development terms.
Q: You have many years’ experience in the hotel industry. What have been the biggest changes over the past 10-15 years?
A: Technology has seen the greatest influence in our industry, allowing for online check-ins on your smart phone, ordering of in-room dining from a tablet, or watching movies in your room, streamed from your laptop. But one thing that will never change is the impact of guest service. No technological advancement will replace a warm smile and a good morning, or good evening from our associates.
Q: What global hospitality trends are you currently seeing?
A: More hotels are trying to create that ‘home away from home’ feel, making restaurants more homely, welcoming, no matter how you are dressed. A number of brands are experimenting with convenience-styled pantries, offering snacks to go, like a mini grocery store. Everyone is rushing to show how they are reducing their carbon foot print. Large corporate consumers are demanding that their staff only stay at hotels with a focus on reducing their foot print. Green no longer means a recycling bin beside the rubbish bin.