Q&A: Exultant in spite of tribulation

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What values does your business pride itself on?

We pride ourselves on our unique African hospitality. Tourists to our country want to see that culture, and we portray that in the way we dress, deliver service and give food. Symbols like the calabash or headrest, for example. In an African home one is welcomed with a calabash with water to wash their hands or a calabash with water to drink from. We offer this service to our guests. We have a symbol of a headrest on our logos to indicate that we can offer you a comfortable rest for the night. So I would say that our pride is definitely on our customer service – the value in which we hold our customers and associates and our unique African experience.

What are growth plans for the company?

One of our major focuses is to give the best to what we have currently. So our attention will be given to the refurbishment and consolidation (to maintain international standards) of our hotels in places like Victoria Falls, Harare, Bulawayo and the remaining hotels, revamping them so that they can be the best that they can be. We also have a five-year goal to enter into Kariba, revamp three hotels in the Copperbelt region in Zambia, and to enter Mozambique. We started a tourism school last year and plan to educate more people about the hospitality industry in an attempt to grow skills in our industry.

What are some of the challenges your company faces and how has the economic climate impacted on your business?

2007/2008 was one of our most difficult periods. With the hype of the inflation era, planning was difficult. There were resource shortages, price increases, skills flight and, of course, the most challenging, was low staff moral which negatively impacted on service delivery. It is always difficult for a hungry waiter to serve someone. News about the political warfare through social media made Zimbabwe seem too dangerous a place for tourists. All these things impacted on the level of service, quality, and ability to implement and plan development, so we needed first to make a plan to overcome these challenges.

What strategies do you have in overcoming these obstacles?

When in trouble we always make a plan. Our first step was to ask our neighbours for help and to leverage central procurement, so even though we had general shortages, we made sure that our clients got what they needed. We also relied on handouts for the staff who were suffering. By 2009, the situation got better with multicurrency coming in as other economies strengthened. We also came up with a way to uplift our staff – at first with handouts and then through training at our hospitality training school which we started in 2009 – all these things went a long way in uplifting attitudes and getting back on track.

What makes your company stand out amongst competition?

Our unique locations and diverse offerings make us stand apart from our competitors. No one within our competition has – in addition to hotels – a safari lodge or conference auditorium (in Harare) that has a 4500 seating capacity. Plus, we have these places to offer in key areas.

What are some of the success stories of the past year that you can share?

Zimbabwe is on the mend. Though still intact, it needed some sprucing. So we got involved with government to help in the development of its infrastructure, on import exemptions (which is important in key procurement issues) like importing vehicles duty free. Quite critical for this hotel to move forward were key banks like PTA, Africa Zimbabwe Bank and loans which helped towards putting up a 160-roomed hotel in the Beit Bridge Area (still being built), which is between the SA and Zimbabwe borders.

What is your perception of where the industry is going?

I think the industry is on the up, and on top there with Mining and Agriculture. The Zimbabwe Travel Association is actively trying to change people’s negative perceptions of the country (as previously mentioned). Celebrity programmes are one of the things we do to promote the country. These celebs then give an international outlook that Zimbabwe is actually a safe place to visit. No matter how bad the food or infrastructure can get, the people are peace-loving and wonderful.

How can people reach you?

We can be reached from our website: rtgafrica.com  It is an international, state-of-the-art website with a global distribution system, so the client can interface directly with their chosen hotel. Also, some of the major airlines like SAA, BA and Air Zimbabwe have partnered with RTG to offer special packages and discounts. We have GSA’s (General Service Administration) in key locations like America, India, China, Russia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina. In 2012 we will have representatives in Australia and other key markets. We attend almost all key travel shows in the world like the Travel Indaba in Durban in May this year, the Sanganyi in Zimbabwe in October, and others in Spain, Germany and the UK.