Sun International’s property, The Maslow, reopened in October after six months of closure due to Covid-19. Herman Swart, General Manager, shares his experience working in the hotel industry during this lockdown period.
“The most difficult part about lockdown for me was isolation from people and the loss of face-to-face contact with our guests and staff. Our business is about people,” says Swart, who continued to go into his office at The Maslow in Sandton every day throughout lockdown. This was done both to keep an eye on the property and help him maintain his routine.
“I wasn’t sure if we would be able to deliver, especially since staff had been on a six-month break and were out of practice.“
When asked what his highest point was during lockdown, he says, “Deciding to open again.” However, he admits it was also a challenging experience. “We limited our staff compliment due to extreme low levels of business but also to minimise the risk of infection,” he says. “I wasn’t sure if we would be able to deliver, especially since staff had been on a six-month break and were out of practice.” His fears were unfounded, as his team proved willing to return to work and adapt to this new normal.
It was during this period that Swart says he learnt it takes longer to open a hotel than to close one. He explains, “The deterioration in a property which is closed happens so quickly. Dirt, dust, leaves, long grass, pests etc. Rooms also had to be sanitised completely. It took about three weeks to be ready to open our doors.”
Since reopening in October, the hotel’s revenues are just under a third of what they were for the same period last year – which is the average for most hotels in the area. It is also largely expected, as The Maslow traditionally attracts corporate and international travellers, tour groups and airline crews.
“We aren’t going to see significant international travel till June 2021. That is of course if we don’t hit another wave of infections that will necessitate further restrictions being imposed,” adds Swart.
Despite this troubling forecast, The Maslow has benefited from an increase in local clientele, for example dining at the Lacuna Bistro and spending time by the hotel’s gorgeous pool. Stay-cations also seem to be a new trend, and Swart hopes this and an increase in local leisure travel will result in a busier December than normal.
In terms of events, he says, “We are now hosting many smaller functions like baby showers and birthday parties. The larger events of up to 250 + people are few and far between. We have however seen that enquiries for conferencing are starting to pick up.”
Some of the new safety measures that have been put in place during lockdown have proven to work well for the property, and Swart says they will become standard practice going forwards.
Some of the new safety measures that have been put in place during lockdown have proven to work well for the property, and Swart says they will become standard practice going forwards. These include serving pre-packaged food items on the breakfast buffet for guests who want a grab ‘n go option, as well as washable covers for the TV remote controls and coffee station trays in the hotel rooms.
Looking forwards, Swart is reluctant to commit to what he thinks the future holds. “After 30 years in Hotel and Gaming operations, it is now very difficult to understand trends and predict the longevity of client behaviour,” he says. So, as has largely been the case with the Covid-19 pandemic, we will have to wait and see how things unfold.