With a serene spot in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands’ 1000 hectare Blue Crane Nature Reserve and a wide range of facilities that makes it perfect for weddings, conferences, group getaways and a romantic weekend away, Brahman Hills has a lot to recommend it. However, it’s the incredible service one receives from the Brahman Hills team that truly make the place a special one. Professional and warm, with infectious enthusiasm for the industry, Assistant General Manager Onwaba Maholwana personifies the Brahman Hills experience. Her ability to engage with guests is put to great use in the events department, where Brahman Hills has excelled in recent years, and she pulls together guest experiences, both big and small, with confidence. We chatted with Onwaba to find out more about her journey in hospitality, her advice for those just entering the industry, and how she handles a bad guest (Hint, she relishes it!)
Can you tell us about your career in the hospitality industry so far? I’ve had 12 stretching and incredibly rewarding years in the industry. Having started as a student and trainee from Stenden University in Port Alfred, I completed my internship at the Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl – this was truly the spark to my love for the industry and my mother hotel, the Grande Roche. I had a goal of working my way up to a senior management position at the hotel, and I managed to achieve this in three years after completing my internship.
My time here birthed my massive passion for making people happy, leading people and events, décor – everything about the industry. I hold my years at the Grande Roche very close to my heart, as it played a huge role in my formation as a young and upcoming hotelier. Fast forward a few years, I had the pleasure of working at the incredible Cavalli Wine & Stud Farm in Stellenbosch before moving to Zanzibar in 2016.
When did you join the Brahman Hills team and what appealed to you about working here? I joined the team in November 2017. Prior to visiting the property on my interview stay, I had never been to KwaZulu-Natal, so I had no idea of where I was going and what to expect. I had gone through a challenging few months following my return to SA, and when I arrived at Brahman Hills, literally stepping into the hotel, I felt a sense of home. I get emotional just thinking of the day. I remember sitting in the Café having dinner on my first night, taking pictures and sharing them with my mentor and my mom – they were both unanimous that this is exactly where I should be. True indeed, to this day.
What does the average day at Brahman look like for you? There is never an average day in hospitality, especially in my life. I guess this is what I love about the industry, the diversity in the aspects of the things you deal with. I am NEVER bored. I mainly look after the events department, which is the core of our business (extremely dynamic, busy and detail oriented), as well as food and beverage, where guests spend most of their time. In hospitality you never put your head down and say this is all you do (not in my life – living and breathing all aspects of the business is what excites me).
What are some of your favourite things to do in the Midlands? Everything that I would get up to revolves around food and drinks! I love going to restaurants – a few of my favourite spots are: The Farmer’s Daughter, Highgate and the Brewery at Netherwoods. My favourite Pork Ribeye spot is VdeV. I believe in supporting the local spaces because through this you build relationships and support others. They succeed, we all succeed – it’s a win for us all. I’ve visited the Capture Site so many times, and readily go back – it’s amazing that just off my doorstep the story of one of my greatest leaders I can revisit and take in.
If you could offer any advice to people entering the hospitality industry, what would it be? If you do not love your art, this industry, and people – you will not survive. The industry is 100% people dealing with people, so you need to have a strong love for who you are, what you are doing and a huge portion of resilience. Passionate. Unstoppable. Confident. Ready to work, but from your heart
Favourite aspects about working in hospitality? The impact you have on people you work with. One of the things I live by and commit to: let no-one’s life stay the same. This motivates to continuously be aware of inspiring people, those I work with, those I lead, those I meet for a minute, an hour or a day. I LOVE making people happy! Exceeding guest expectations, being able to give them a hug, take selfies – it makes my day. Equally so, seeing team members grow, glow, gain confidence and become better versions of themselves – this brings the best meaning.
How do you deal with a difficult guest? Let me share a secret, a difficult guest for me is always a welcomed fun challenge – in my mind I say: I am going to make you love me! I am fortunate to have been able to learn to read and discern situations, and this has helped me a lot in being able to have real conversations with guests. I believe in being open and honest with guests; I call it managing guest expectations. One of our principles is to OWN IT. If something has gone wrong, own it, apologise, fix it NOW and reinforce the importance of the guest. Most of the times, those end with big hugs and great constructive conversations. I encourage feedback from guests as this is the one direct measurement tool we have to see if we are meeting and exceeding the expectations. One thing that always keeps me solid and grounded in these situations is that: I chose this industry. I love it. I love me, and I am awesome!
What has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt during your career? In the process of making others happy, leading, doing; I must not forget me! It never used to matter to me as I was younger. However, after turning 30 over the last year and began thinking of a family of my own as well as my own aspirations, looking after myself and being present for those I love has never been more important. I don’t have it 100% – not even close to 70%. It is a constant work in progress and all part of my journey, which is amazing.