By Julienne du Toit
Pix by Chris Marais
If you’re thinking of entering the often-tricky waters of the South African platteland hospitality trade, you should heed the following:
- Don’t get into the tourism business if you’re not people-friendly;
- “You must have a ‘servant heart’. If you don’t have it, your staff won’t have it either,” says Klaradyn Grobler of the Richmond Café and Rooms;
- People are hooked on narrative. What is the story of your town, guesthouse or restaurant?
- Make travel writers, photographers and bloggers welcome. They can help you;
- Start small and don’t over-capitalise;
- Put your own stamp on things. Create something special;
- Pay attention to detail;
- Get the basics right. Make sure the bed is comfortable, the lights work, the shower is decent and the toilet flushes;
- Remember you are an ambassador for your town and region. Act accordingly and don’t bad-mouth others;
- Sleep over in each bedroom of your guesthouse on a regular, rotational basis. It’s the best way to pick up on potential problems. This was one of the golden rules that the late Liz McGrath, a famous Western Cape hotelier, followed;
- Be prepared to work hard.
“We came here to retire and open a little guesthouse,” most of our friends in hospitality tell us. “We have never been so busy in our lives!”
Lessons from Ganora Guest Farm
Hester Joubert, born in Durban and schooled in the Graaff-Reinet district, trained and worked as a nurse before meeting and marrying JP Steynberg, a sheep farmer.
They now run one of the Karoo’s most popular farmstays – Ganora, just outside Nieu-Bethesda – and are generous with their advice for anyone considering the hospitality industry.
“You’ve got to be committed. Answer the phone. Reply to messages. Respond to emails. Be reliable.
“Be a tourist yourself. Travel and see what you like and don’t like.
“Decide if you are going to offer meals or operate on a self-catering basis. Bear in mind that catering is a lot of work. You can also offer braai packs to visitors. City people don’t want city food in the countryside. They want something from the region, maybe cooked in a traditional way.
“Modern travellers, especially foreign visitors, want interaction and not just a bed. There must be something for guests to do. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. You could even just take them out for a guided walk around your town or farm, or to see milking or sheep-shearing or fruit harvesting, or making jam or boerseep. Make the best of what you have.
“Location is important. Your guesthouse or farmstay must be in a special place, either convenient, or beautiful, or with some memorable feature. And it must be accessible.
“Never imitate others. Follow your own dreams and ideas. The more special your product, the more people will be interested. Think out of the box. Don’t let challenges put you off. Learn from your mistakes and let them make you stronger. Make time for your family. And if you can, get your family involved in your business, however small.
“Advertise your neighbour as passionately as you advertise yourself. Join marketing organisations that think positively and will help your business grow.
“No visitors drop in from the sky. They all come from somewhere and are going somewhere. Help plan a route for your guests. They’ll be interested to hear your tips and recommendations. Where do they go after you? Hold hands with other destinations.”
Finally (from JP), “It helps if you are a lav-a-trician. Expect your handyman skills to be put to the ultimate test. Often!”