Q&A: Faircity – Fresh Approach

Faircity Hotels & Apartments was started nine years ago by Lukas van der Westhuizen and Gustav Holtzhausen – energetic entrepreneurs who brought fresh eyes and ideas to the hospitality industry. Not being limited by the approach of “this is how it has always been done”, they have been able to think outside of the norms to create an experience guided by guests’ needs and expectations. Van der Westhuizen took some time out to shed light on the company.

Q: What is the Faircity model, in terms of ownership, management and property development?
Our primary service offering is business and conference hotels, as well as serviced apartments. We plan to grow Faircity Hotels through hotel management, acquisitions and developments. We select properties based on location, uniqueness and quality. Faircity has created a hotel fund with the reputable founders of the Atterbury Group. The owners add a wealth of experience to the fund, through which we will acquire and develop hotels. We favour hotels in business nodes with over 100 rooms. We will acquire and manage our own properties, and will also consider doing the same under various international brands. We are involved with, and responsive to, the operations and management of all our properties. We are big enough to make a significant difference, yet small enough to care.
Q: Can you explain your ‘Service by Design’ approach?
At Faircity we aim to provide a remarkable and relaxing experience to all our guests. We call our methodology ‘Service by Design’. Our tailor-made approach to satisfying our guests’ needs is at the forefront of this methodology. We strive to ensure that everything we do addresses our guests’ expectations and their constantly changing needs. Creating a dialogue with our guests and staff is of utmost importance, as it is their valuable feedback that enables us to design a more personalised experience.
Q: Are all your properties in the four-star category? If so, what’s the strategic thinking about pitching yourselves in this space?
We currently have four four-star hotels and apartments and one three-star hotel, although we would also consider selected five-star properties. We believe that the three and four-star market is more robust over time, and more cities and regions have demand for good quality three and four-star hotels with excellent service. It also forms a bigger part of what the formal corporate sector is looking for.
Q: You are already present in the Joburg CBD with Mapungubwe. Are you surprised more hotel groups haven’t joined you, and what’s the future of hotel development in this area?
I am not really surprised as there is additional risk involved in running a hotel in an area where regeneration has not been as rapid as anticipated. There is the benefit of first-mover advantage and we will be well-established for future growth. It is, however, changing with a few new hotels opening over the past 12 months, which we believe will only strengthen the market in the Joburg CBD.
Q: You have two properties in Sandton. What are your thoughts on the overall Sandton hotel landscape and current offering?
The Sandton area continues to grow. I think that some of the hotels are struggling due to construction taking place around them, however this is temporary. In some areas there appears to be an over-supply, but we have not been impacted as our two hotels are uniquely themed and located just outside the main hub of Sandton City. Sandton will continue to be the main business hub of Africa for years to come.
Q: What are your thoughts on the state of the South African hotel industry?
Overall the industry has made a steady recovery over the past seven to eight years. We had thought that the post-2008 recovery would be quicker, however growth has been steady. Tourism is becoming more important for South Africa and may be the biggest contributor to the GDP in the next five to 10 years. There is some negative news about South Africa in the media, but there are still many things that count in our favour. I believe the industry will keep delivering steady growth over the next five years.
Q: Is it fair to say that the SA serviced apartments space is relatively under-traded?
It is a market that grew slowly over the past 10 years, but does have a lot of scope for South Africa and Africa.
Q: Over the past few years, have you seen a shift from corporates to embracing this offering over a standard hotel offering?
We have seen positive growth in this area of our business, as we did with our hotels. Business travellers are often staying for longer periods and are looking for accommodation that feels like home, with all the related conveniences. We offer fully furnished and equipped apartments, yet we are still on call if our guests need any assistance. It is a hybrid between a hotel and a home. Both markets are very important to us and we believe that there are great opportunities for Faircity in both.
Q: Do you have any new Faircity properties in the pipeline?
Yes, we do, but I can’t say too much yet. Watch this space.