Q&A: Proud history, bright future

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Q&: Proud history, bright future
The Indaba Hotel, Spa & Conference Centre, a few kilometres north of the busy Sandton Business District in South Africa’s Gauteng province, the  has a long history dating back to 1952, when it was known as the Little Rose Neath Hotel with 15 rooms, a restaurant and a pub. Over the last 64 years, the establishment has grown into a premier conference destination with extensive facilities. Robert Mickel, the hotel’s Group Operations Manager, gives a more detailed history of the property and shares his thoughts on the conference industry.

Q: Please provide a brief overview of the hotel’s history.
A:
Little Rose Neath Hotel was well known for Sunday lunches and being right in the middle of the mink and manure belt, the locals would ride their horses to the hotel and tie them up outside the pub. After being bought by Madam Stetakis, who built a wedding venue and a small conference facility on the property, the hotel renamed the Mont Repo Hotel. It changed hands a few years later and the new owner changed the name to the Fourways Gardens Hotel. In 1972, it was sold to Barclays Bank which made the hotel its in-house conferencing venue and changed the name to Indaba Hotel. Another 100 rooms and many more conference facilities were added. Barclays sold Indaba to Karos Hotels in 1989, which built on another 88 rooms and the Injabulo Conference Room. In 2002, African Procurement Agencies bought the Indaba Hotel. It refurbished the establishment and extended the hotel by a further 50 rooms and built the Kgotla Function Room, the Chief’s Boma Theme Restaurant and the Mowana Spa. 

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the South African conferencing industry?
A: It has grown in stature over the past years and SA is currently viewed as one of the major destinations for international conferencing. This trend has also ensured that the industry stays ahead of the game in providing world class conference, accommodation and leisure facilities for both local andiInternational delegates.

Q: Are there any international trends you have taken note of that could apply to this market?
A:
We have noticed an upswing in international conference enquiries, largely due to problems in the African countries in the north of the continent.

Q: What is unique about the Indaba Hotel conferencing offering?
A:
We offer a “country away from it all experience” in the city. All of our venues have natural daylight and are set in beautiful gardens. Just 12 kilometres from the frenetic pace of Sandton, our guests are able to relax in a calm setting.

Q: Is your conference clientele mostly domestic or international?
A:
A bit of both, with growing contingent from overseas who like the African feel of the hotel. The Chief’s Boma and Mowana Spa have been especially well received by the international market.

Q: How has the conferencing business changed in the last 10 years?
A:
Smaller boardroom-style conferences have disappeared completely as large corporates have built boardrooms at their head offices and also rely on video conferencing. Large corporates have also reduced the number of days taken for a conference. Previously, conferences were four-day three-night affairs, but now clients want the same value and content in two days. 

Q: Are there plans for expansions or renovations to the hotel and/or conference facilities?
A:
We plan to extend the Kgotla Conference Room from 600m2 to 1,200m2. We also have plans for another hotel of 170 rooms.

Q: What do you feel you have to get right to be a successful conference venue?
A:
You must get all the small details right for any conference groups. Flexibility is the name of the game and no request, however big or small, should be too much of a trouble. Get to know your clients on a first name basis and be on hand for any request.

Q: Do onsite leisure activities have a role to play in a corporate travel-focused hotel?
A:
Building on Mowana Spa and Chief’s Boma have been welcomed attractions for the corporate travellers. They do not have to leave the complex for entertainment.

Q: What’s your approach to Wi-Fi and its role in a conference?
A:
Wi-Fi is key and critical to the success of any domestic or international conference. We have had to invest significantly to provide a seamless Wi-Fi solution and are in the process of upgrading our Wi-Fi for the second time.

Q: How have the prolonged road works on the William Nicol road affected your business?
A:
The road works should have taken 18 months, but along the way the plan changed and instead of a four lanes, they built six. The project took three and half years, over which time we saw a significant drop off in our local conference and corporate travel. The road is now complete and business is picking up.

Q: What are you doing to remain competitive in the Johannesburg conferencing market?
A:
I think it is about flexibility and tailor-making your quotes to suite the customers’ needs. Clients know that times are hard and that there is an oversupply of venues. Competitors may undercut our pricaes, but our philosophy is to add fringe benefits and enhance the experience instead of offering discounts.