Guy Stehlik, founder and CEO of Bon Hotels, has set his sights on becoming a front-runner in both the South African and international hospitality sectors.
Stehlik has revealed that he expects his hotel management group set up last year to have at least 10 hotel management contracts by the end of 2013.
And they will not be confined to Southern Africa, he says. They could be “anywhere where we can genuinely add value – the big advantage of our operation is that it certainly does not have to be confined to one territory.”
In Dubai, Stehlik expects to be managing his first three hotels within four months.
These and other Middle Eastern contracts are, he said, “being negotiated through a joint venture with a well-established Dubai-based company that, apart from other businesses, owns hotels in the Middle East.”
The joint venture had great potential “because our partners recognise that they require our intellectual capital, our IT systems and training programmes, and we know that we need a respected local partner who is accepted in the area and understands Middle Eastern trading conditions.”
The partner, he added, also recognises the value of being associated with an international brand and chose to be linked to the Bon Hotels name.
The Middle Eastern hospitality sector, said Stehlik, was severely affected by the global financial crisis, but the vast majority of establishments there, he said, had strong, patient, financial backers capable of holding out through tough times – and in the past year their establishments had been on a recovery path.
“Throughout the Middle East”, said Stehlik, “it is the middle bracket
(three- and four-star) establishments that are recovering fastest – and this is the field to which our skills are best suited.
“However, as in South Africa, the five-star establishments are also, once again, beginning to look promising, although it may be some time before the major corporates can justify their staff using five-star hotels again on a regular basis.”
The general perception that Middle Eastern hospitality venues were likely to be expensive was not accurate, he said.
“Venues in the middle-market bracket offer prices, services and facilities very similar to those in South Africa”, he said. “It could almost be described as an affordable holiday or business conference destination.”
Stehlik stressed that although Bon Hotels intends to become an international hotel operator, Southern Africa will remain the number-one target area, with hotels in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town being those most likely to benefit from Bon Hotels’ involvement.
He added, however, that he was also interested in the Kruger Park peripheral areas and the many game lodges there.
In the present economic climate, says Stehlik, a significant number of SA hotels do need some form of rescue operation – but may not be suited to partnering with Bon.
“Often the property owner will need a major upgrade which cannot be justified on current cashflow. While it is true that our involvement has on occasion helped hotel owners to raise the finance they need, we will take great care to avoid going into deals where the fundamentals for success are simply not there.”
Since the onset of the recession, added Stehlik, competition for hotel management contracts, both locally and internationally, had intensified.
This, however, was not a deterrent to Bon Hotels, which was founded last year.
“Our big advantage in negotiating for these contracts, is that we are prepared, firstly, to offer relatively short term contracts – say for five years – and, secondly, we are always willing to draw up a list of performance criteria, which, if not met, allow the hotel owner to exit from the deal. This, I believe, is a major step forward in the hospitality sector and hotel owners find our flexibility in this regard very refreshing.
“There is a danger, especially amongst smaller operators that, after getting rid of the management team, the owners may believe they can run the hotel themselves, only to discover in time that they lack the experience and expertise to do this effectively.”
South African hospitality staff, says Stehlik, have a good reputation
internationally: they tend to be more flexible, more willing, more transparent and more friendly than those of many big name international operators. They do not see service as irksome but as a pleasure and almost, without exception, they are hard workers.
“Our SA hospitality tradition,” said Stehlik, “is something we can and will build upon. I was recently in Italy, generally recognised as a major tourist venue, but every one of the hotels at which I stayed could have been improved by Bon Hotels’ involvement, particularly with regards to staff attitudes.
“With our SA work ethic, lack of complacency, readiness to serve, innovative thinking, and tried and tested systems,” said Stehlik, “Bon Hotels can and will be very useful to any hospitality organisation where the owners recognise there is a need for improvement.”
The Bon Hotels management team collectively has 100 years of experience in hospitality.