Although guesthouses have suffered a significant setback during the pandemic, National Accommodation Association of SA chairperson Rosemarie van Staden says it’s important to stay positive and keep your eyes on the future.
Van Staden is not only chairperson of NAA-SA, the voice for the small accommodation sector in South Africa, she is also the owner of Angel’s Place Boutique Hotel, a place of art, tranquillity and serenity where people can come and relax. She shares her invaluable advice with us:
What are the advantages for SMMEs of belonging to the NAA-SA?
The advantages to being part of the association is to be part of the voice. You cannot air your views if you belong nowhere. At the NAA-SA, we are proactively trying to include guesthouses in the townships and rural areas to be part of the bigger voice. We have the opportunity to serve on the advisory board for Jurni and several other governmental portals, where we can be seen and can be heard.
Although it’s tough, we try to bring positive notes to our members to keep them positive. We have worked hard to try and get funding for our members, and have been actively involved in helping members obtain TERS and UIF. We have provided legal advice and labour advice during this time.
To be part of the NAA-SA, it’s a R500 admin fee as well as R100 a room plus VAT. We have waived the joining fee during COVID times, and it will be waived for another year. We want to ensure people can join. In return for your membership, you will receive special bank rates, as well as special rates and prices for suppliers and dealerships, and you have the opportunity to be part of Jurni. We also represent the guesthouses at trade shows like Indaba.
What is the advice that you would share with hospitality establishments during this pandemic?
My advice to my members is to repack their guesthouses, sort out their cupboards and do a proper spring clean. It doesn’t have to cost money. I know full well that most guesthouses are not in the financial position to do maintenance and repaint for example. What you can do, however, is restructure. Move a lamp. Picture what your guests see when they come in. Try and change the scenery a bit by moving the furniture around. Create a new feel. You will feel more positive if you can create something nice.
I have a guesthouse with 12 rooms. During this lockdown time, my husband and I have been sleeping in all the rooms. Every day, my husband comes out of the room with a list between six and 12 things that need to be fixed. What better opportunity than this time to be a guest in your own business to see what the potential problems are? Or simply to see where you can improve. Are the tabs working? Do the windows close properly?
Another word of advice is to clear out your desks and sort out your database. Get in touch with your guests and send them notes to say keep them updated. Remind them that the moment you open again, you would love to welcome them again. Make sure that you are visible, and that people know you have not closed down.
Now is also a good time to do training with your staff. I know it’s challenging as most people have had to let go of staff. Eighty per cent of NAA-SA members are cleaning their own guesthouses because they couldn’t afford to keep staff. We all want our members of staff back, but we need help money-wise to bring them back.
How important is technology to overcome the current challenges?
Well, technology is good and bad.
On the one hand, the positive side, you can update your website. You can make sure that your Facebook is up and running, and make sure that you have a Twitter account. Be visible, be out there. See which courses you can join, like the Jurni course, to learn more about your business and the options available.
On the other hand, technological innovations such as Zoom and Teams have had a massive impact on business travel demand. People are so comfortable with virtual meetings that corporate travellers are travelling less. This means that we are out of bed nights. We need to spread the word that people can still do virtual meetings at their guest house while meeting in person with their top clients.
How can ventures like Jurni, for instance, help tourism players or hospitality establishments overcome the challenges of COVID-10?
Jurni is an incredible platform. We need to find the right way that the Jurni platform works for the guests. The Jurni portal needs to become the one and only place for guests to make a booking. We, as business owners, can help spread the word.