African hotel group, BON Hotels, is currently focusing its marketing on domestic tourists, but during recent virtual events, has seen promising future international interest in Africa.
This is according to Group Operations Director, Lenise Smit, and Group Sales Director, Lindi Mthethwa, who spoke to Tourism Update about the group’s handling of and recovery from COVID.
Q: How has BON Hotels been impacted by COVID?
Smit: It had a devastating financial impact on our hotel and lodge owners. Within days, units with an average of 75% occupancy had to shut their doors. Locking our front doors is not something we are used to in the hotel industry. Our entire portfolio has been hit hard and both South Africa and West Africa suffered great financial losses.
Mthethwa: We have been hard hit like most hospitality establishments in the industry. We had to close all our hotels when lockdown was announced and had to send all our staff home, which was devastating.
We were fortunate that even during lockdown whilst all the properties were closed, there were at least two properties that did benefit from quarantine business, but you can imagine, all of the other properties, for a good four months, had no revenue coming through.
Q: Has reopening domestic tourism offered any relief?
Smit: With the opening of interprovincial travel, we have seen an increase in enquiries and bookings, but business will remain a challenge as many of our units are dependent on international travellers. Many people have lost their jobs during this pandemic and don’t have money to travel locally. Even with domestic travel reopening, it will take a very long time for the hotel industry to recover.
Mthethwa: When business travel reopened, we were excited to be able to bring a few people back to work as part of the opening teams but occupancy was still very low. Now, with the further relaxation of lockdown and with moving to level two and leisure travel reopening, the phone started to ring at our central reservations office. That’s been incredibly exciting. It’s far from where we want to be but it’s giving us hope that people want to travel. There’s definitely a steady increase in travel and we remain optimistic that we’ll move our occupancy to double digits.
Q: What will the group be doing to market to domestic travellers?
Smit: We launched our #LocalisLekker campaign during level three. We have also made this promotional offer available to business and leisure travellers from lockdown level two, which allows for up to 30% off our daily rate.
We also have our BONami memberships for even better discounts. Signing up for those will save you thousands in stays, meals and beverages every year, no matter where in South Africa your business- or leisure-related travel takes you.
Q: Has there been any interest from international markets?
Mthethwa: To be productive during this time we’ve participated in webinars to keep informed about what’s happening in the industry, and to ensure we stay connected with clients and stay top of mind.
We are currently participating in a virtual event, OurAfrica, which has been online for the past two weeks with one more week to go. It’s been incredible. We’ve been engaging with our buyers daily.
It’s just been amazing how hungry the trade is to connect and to engage again and there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. There is international interest.
Q: In anticipation of welcoming guests back, what health and safety protocols do you have in place?
Mthethwa: Health and safety protocols were critical for us as we opened up hotels. We had to look at what the World Health Organization and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa were putting out, and integrate that into our own protocols.
Something quite exciting is that we’ve had the World Travel and Tourism Council endorse us and give us their Safe Travels Stamp.
Smit: I would like to stress that at every property in our fold, we are going above and beyond to ensure guests’ safety and comfort. Our staff are receiving ongoing, updated operating protocols and training.
We have sufficient supply of hand sanitisers, gloves, masks, paper towels and disinfectant materials at all properties. The frequency of cleaning within our public areas has been increased. Temperature checks have been implemented for staff, guests and delivery personnel.
All staff have been instructed to maintain hand hygiene and to minimise physical contact wherever possible and we ask that our customers do the same and follow the health and safety guidelines regarding personal hygiene and COVID-19.