Q&A: New beginnings

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When the original owners of the Lusaka Grand Hotel opened the property in 2009, they had little in the way of experience in the hospitality industry. The owners recently approached Best Western International for assistance to turn the hotel around. Michael Hunter-Smith, Sales and Marketing Director for the Best Western Plus Lusaka Grand Hotel, took some time out to answer a few questions about the hotel and the Best Western brand.

 

Q: The hotel recently joined the Best Western stable. What were the reasons behind this?
A:
Best Western International is the largest hotel chain in the world with over 4,000 member hotels. The Best Western Rewards Programme has been voted as one of the best in the world and customer care is the main focus of the company. When a hotel is part of this hotel chain they each get an international revenue manager to assist in filling the hotel plus achieving the best possible ADR (Average Daily Rate). And when you are running a hotel in Africa, it is very important to have the backing of an internationally recognised brand.

Q: What changes did you have to make to meet Best Western’s standards?
A:
Best Western standards are very high and apply to all hotels worldwide. Our internet connection needs to be as efficient as anywhere else in the world, which can be a challenge in Africa. The minimum standards with regard to bathroom amenities, towels, electronic safes, block-out curtains and so on, is what our guests expect to receive from Best Western. Mattresses now have mattress toppers and protectors, we have top quality bed linen and offer two different types of pillows. We also introduced free cookies and water on arrival, a extensive buffet breakfast, free wi-fi and complimentary airport transfers. Physically, the hotel was completely re-painted and most fittings and fixtures replaced, along with all décor, linen, and hairdryers.

Q: How did the hotel come to be a Best Western Plus property, as opposed to a Best Western or Best Western Premier?
A:
Due to the design and nature of the hotel is was obvious that the hotel was grand. This meant that it was above the normal Best Western brand, pushing into the 4-star plus category. Lusaka is the home of many different 5-star hotels so a strategic decision was made to choose the Plus brand as it is exactly what we wanted to offer – a 4-star hotel with 5-star service and the best value-for-money hotel in Lusaka.

Q: What kind of corporate business do you see at your hotel?
A:
We attract a variety of different business men and women from various industries like banking, breweries, electronics, super markets and the mining industry. Lusaka attracts business travellers from all walks of life with many international guests from other African countries.

Q: How much leisure business do you see, and what sort of traveller do you get in this category?
 A:
The leisure market is very important to us and many of our guests are on multi-destination holidays. The new trend is for stand-alone Zambian holidays with tourists spending a night or two in Lusaka. We have found that our tourist guest numbers are increasing each month.

Q: How important is conferencing at your hotel?
A:
This is a vital part of our business as it involves the support of the local government, NGOs and corporate companies based in Lusaka. With their support through meetings, incentives, conferences and events we host many local people who then return to use our restaurants and bars

Q: Does Lusaka have the potential to attract more conferencing business? If so, why?
A:
Lusaka is increasingly becoming the chosen city for conferencing due to being so central to all cities in southern Africa. After 50 years of independence, Zambia has a history of peace, safety and security. So, add a stable economy to the mix and you just cannot go wrong.

Q: Do you think Lusaka needs to be taken more seriously as a business travel destination?
A:
Definitely, because of the ever-improving infrastructure and the ease of access in and out of Lusaka by air. More and more airlines are choosing Lusaka as a stopover or gateway to Africa.

Q: What are your thoughts on fastjet launching a low-cost route between Tanzania and Zambia?
A:
This is very exciting news because it will open up the skies to many people who could not afford to fly before. Reaching these new, never-before- tapped markets can only benefit Zambia.

Q: Have you picked up on any interesting current international hotel trends?
A:
The trend these days seems to be moving back to the large hotel chains that can be trusted and offer value for money. One of the most important things today is the technology that you offer. Without it, you have no hope of survival. Good food, comfortable beds and a good infrastructure are what is expected at all establishments as a minimum. So if you can combine the two, you have a winner.

Q: Where would you like to see your hotel in 10 years’ time?
A:
As one of the most respected hotels in Lusaka and very well-known worldwide.