Unrelenting entrepreneurial spirit kept my business alive during COVID-19

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At a time when many hotels and other hospitality businesses have been facing and dealing with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic, as The Capital Hotels and Apartments we have maintained our focus on our entrepreneurial founding principles and refusal to accept the status quo – with operations continuing to run at close to full capacity for much of this time, and our staff complement being fully retained.

Entrepreneurial spirit is at the heart of our group’s DNA, and we encourage this approach from every member of our teams, at every level. We choose people with this spirit because entrepreneurs and SMEs always find ways to work around the speedbumps that crop up along the business journey – they have the agility and flexibility to do so. This wasn’t just the saving grace for our hotel group during Winter 2020 – it could be the saving grace of South Africa in the coming months and years.

Entrepreneurs’ ability to be innovative and quickly responsive to current circumstances gives them the edge over big corporates and multinational organisations. In many sectors, the large organisations’ decision was to stop and save – regardless of the impact this may have on employees’ lives.

Our group’s approach to the completely unanticipated environment of the second quarter of 2020 was to pivot, adapt, drive, build and employ. Being unrelenting in this approach has seen us build a whole new client base, open three new or refurbished hotels, and break ground on a new property in a city where we’ve not yet been operational.

It’s not the first time that we’ve has bucked the current economic trend with our counter-cyclical approach to growth, having launched in 2008 at the height of that year’s global economic crisis, with the following decade seeing very few new hotels added to the industry.

I’m a firm believer in Warren Buffett’s philosophy of ‘be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful’, and this drives our current approach to the South African hospitality environment.

Running as a ‘lean and mean’ organisation, we implemented agile shift rostering to spread the shifts equally among staff which allowed for the retention of all staff when other hotel groups were retrenching. Our culture of transparency meant that staff were always informed and aware of the business requirements during this tough time.

This loyalty to the group’s staff inspires loyalty from them in turn, and everyone who works for the group approaches their roles and responsibilities as shareholders would.

While the infection curve may be slowing, we believe that COVID-19 is still going to be a ‘slow burn’ that will affect the country – and the world – for many months to come. By changing our approach to selling, and importantly, adapting the services we offer in anticipation of the changed environment, we’re already seeing a marked increase in banqueting and conference bookings, and our hotels have an occupancy rate that’s not far off what it was before March 2020.

These adapted service offerings follow the group’s ‘Sanitised Sanctuaries’ used for repatriation quarantines and by guests who wanted to self-isolate, and ‘Get Well Hotels’ (in partnership with Discovery), that kept bookings coming in when other hotels were forced to close their doors.

Now that Level 1 has been introduced, it’s possible for people to take time out and socialise (carefully), and The Capital has again adapted its offering to be a welcome holiday and staycation destination that offers a refreshing alternative to the sterile status quo in many destinations.