Q&A: Primed and Ready

768

Zimbabwe’s landmark Meikles hotel received an $8,5 million refurbishment in 2013, which included the complete renovation of all suites and bedrooms, with major changes to the bathrooms. Function rooms were also redesigned, while the hotel’s flagship restaurant, La Fontaine Grill Room, was extensively refurbished and its kitchen completely transformed. Meikles Hospitality MD Karl Snater recently joined editor Dylan Rogers for a chat.

Q: How different is the Meikles offering now?

A: Apart from upgrading all furnishings and equipment, the principal objective of the refashioning and refurbishment project was to give the Meikles Hotel north wing a new look, one which reflected an African theme suited to a city hotel.

Q: What’s key to making a success of a hotel in Zimbabwe?

A: Zimbabwe has experienced a decade and a half of very challenging political, economic and social circumstances, and efforts at present are geared towards increasing confidence in this country. With stability, renewed economic growth and greater harmony with countries that have not been engaging this country, Zimbabwe will enjoy a resurgence in interest. What is key for us as a Zimbabwean hotel is to provide a hospitality operation that offers world class services to guests, despite the constraints we face in maintaining standards in a challenging environment.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the Zimbabwe hotel industry?

A: In Victoria Falls we have seen positive growth in tourist arrivals in the past two years, with great benefit to the hotels there. In other parts of the country we have seen a continued depressed level of business, and this makes it very challenging for hotels to undertake the investment and upgrading that is necessary to meet expectations of international travellers. We are hopeful that this may change and that both domestic and international travel to Harare, Bulawayo, the Eastern Highlands, Kariba and Great Zimbabwe will increase.

Q: Can you feel a change in sentiment towards more business travel to Harare?

A: In the months leading up to Zimbabwe’s general elections in July we saw an increase in business travel to Harare, but the second half of 2013 was disappointing, as there was a definite decline in arrivals, thus affecting business travel destinations such as ours. We look forward to national initiatives to stimulate greater interest in Zimbabwe among businesses in the region and across the world, as these will bring about genuine growth in business for hotels. Meetings, incentive travel and exhibitions business should also be promoted on a larger scale, as Harare is a highly suitable venue for such business.

Q: Are you expecting more international hotel brands to start looking at Zimbabwe more seriously?

A: There has from time to time been interest shown in Zimbabwe by international operators, but nothing has come of it. This must be the result of what I have described already, in terms of the effects of a market yet to meet its potential.

Q: How important is technology to your hotel offering?

A: Very. Perhaps the single most important feature is that guests staying here want to be connected by technology to everyone they need to be connected to throughout their stay. Modern business travellers need to feel that distance is no barrier to the successful continuation of their business activities, irrespective of where they are from. Their presence in Zimbabwe should not make them feel apart from their businesses and families.

Q: How big is the Zimbabwe MICE market, and is it an important part of your strategy?

A: In the 1980s and 1990s the MICE market grew substantially and Zimbabwe became better geared to servicing this market. This fell away to a large degree in the 2000s, but as a country we are again identifying what we can and must do to put this country on the world MICE map, given that we are willing and able to be a key player in this regard. Meikles Hotel fully supports these efforts by the travel and tourism sector and we shall play our part in promoting the destination and providing the offering that such travellers want and need.

Q: Are there any current trends in the African hotel industry that you’re picking up on?

A: There appears to be a growing recognition that mass travel will not benefit Africa and that mass travel can damage or even eliminate the sustainability of tourism, especially in terms of environmental considerations. We support that notion and would like to see Africa benefit from sustainable numbers of travellers spending greater amounts of money, leading to economic growth, employment, environmental preservation and positive outcomes of hosting travellers.