After a few Covid-related delays, The Catalyst recently opened its doors in a lush green area of the Sandton suburb. The 206-roomed hotel is part of the Newmark portfolio and headed up by General Manager Robert Chifunyise. We chatted with the GM about his career journey so far, why he was keen to head up The Catalyst, and how the property will stand out from others in Sandton.
Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far?
I graduated with my International and Hotel Management degree at A.I.M Paris (International Hotel and Tourism Management Academy in France). I moved to South Africa in 2007 and started off as a waiter for the first 6 months, after which I found a job as a night manager at the Peech Boutique Hotel.
I worked at the boutique hotel for almost 10 years, which is where my career started to take shape. During that period, I held many different roles – from night auditor, receptionist, events coordinator, F&B Manager to head of operations and later to General Manager. After 10 years I joined a unique hotel project in Maboneng, where I got to open a 48 bedroomed hotel and worked as the General manager for 3 years.
In 2019 I then moved to working directly for the Newmark group as the Project General Manager, moving from operations to project management for the head office, managing projects whilst based in Joburg. In this role I was exposed to many different projects such as working closely with the rest of the GMs, site visits, care taking, and working at some of the game reserves when General Managers went on long leave
Whilst that happened, my role also included working on The Catalyst Hotel project as a project manager on behalf of Newmark hotels. This was an exciting experience that gave my career a whole new shape, where I worked with the development project team from construction phase right to opening where we are now.
In mid-2020 I was then given the opportunity to be the opening GM on the project, and subsequently the General Manager of the Catalyst Hotel
What appealed to you about joining The Catalyst as GM?
When I first saw the plans, I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the project! I took it on as a challenge and huge opportunity, and as time went by I just fell more and more in love with the project as it came to life. Having being exposed to boutique and city hotels, I was drawn to how different and unique it was, offering serenity in the heart of buzzing Sandton, and I love that I am part of a good news story at a time when the world is full of uncertainty
In an area with quite a few accommodation options already, how will The Catalyst stand out?
True indeed, we are in an area that has a lot of beds on the market already. But I think the product will stand out through its picturesque features surrounded by greens right in the middle of Sandton’s concrete buildings. Even more so, what will keep quests coming back will be the hands-on service that I pride myself in and have instilled in the team, which is essentially what separates the good hotels from the average ones.
Currently there is a lot of fatigue out there in industry and you can often sense it when you visit other hotels and restaurants. However, we have the opportunity to bring a fresh and energetic vibe as we have staff who are very enthusiastic and have been waiting for the opportunity to get back to work and jump start their careers again.
Our location is also an advantage, we are a short distance from all the amenities in Sandton, but not in the middle of all the noise. We are in a peaceful suburban environment with magical views of Johannesburg
What are some of the must-experience offerings at The Catalyst?
The spa, the views, the food (which has been inspired by many parts of the world), and most definitely our beautifully designed conferencing rooms
Has the Covid pandemic had any effects on hotel planning going forward?
The pandemic continues to have serious effects on all our planning. We can no longer forecast and budget accordingly as the covid dynamics, regulations, laws etc keep changing. We intended to hire a lot of staff right from the beginning, but had to cut that number down as we feel out the industry landscape. We have to think on our toes and be as flexible as possible in the current environment. As we adapt, going forward we look forward to offering a unique local lifestyle whilst bringing the world to the hotel for our guests to experience