Deflagging, mixing business and leisure, and leveraging the experiences economy
By: Anton Gillis, Kruger Gate Hotel CEO
After a period of intense sensory deprivation and living life through the prism of a laptop screen for two years, people are experiencing a heightened need to renew their contact with the world. As international travel resumes, the hospitality industry is set to shift its mindset and service offerings to meet the changing needs of travellers beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
Living vicariously through online experiences during the pandemic has led to a more focused approach to travellers’ bucket and wish lists, and the search for unique and personalised experiences. Destinations that were ‘visited’ online are now a reality once again, and tourism operators must be ready to capitalise on the increasing appetite of people to fulfil their lockdown dreams. In South Africa, we are currently reaping the rewards of a number of well-produced and interactive live online safaris and game drives that kept people’s imaginations alive during the toughest periods of the pandemic. South Africa is a truly unique destination, but in the new world order, we cannot sit on our laurels as we are forced to compete for the attention of the increasingly sophisticated and hyper-aware traveller of 2022 and beyond.
Hotels and other tourism operators must now think out of the box and find a way to stand out from the crowd, switching up service offerings at the same time as providing comfort and safety and all the amenities that guests have come to expect. In particular, the younger travellers made up of Millenials and Gen-Zs are looking for brands with a conscience, companies that demonstrate corporate and social responsibility, and brands who genuinely embrace environmentally responsible practices. Theirs is not a ‘use and dispose of’ generation, but one that lives in a state of mindfulness, connected to and aware of their impact on the planet. This translates into responsible tourism, offsetting carbon footprints, and choosing service providers who can meet these criteria. Whichever way they do it, travel is back on the agenda and, with it, the desire to meet the needs of all types of travellers.
As part of this collective re-focusing, we recently announced the ‘deflagging’ of the four-star Kruger Gate Hotel from the international hotel group, Marriott and from operating under its local Protea Hotel brand. This decision will enable the hotel to better respond to guests’ changing expectations, putting management and staff at the heart of operations. Re-establishing the hotel as an independent property will make it more agile, giving it full control over spending and budget priorities, including allowing for greater levels of local procurement which will ultimately benefit the surrounding communities and local economy. Standing on 100 hectares of land on the doorstep of the world-renowned Kruger National Park, the Kruger Gate Hotel currently offers 145 guest rooms. In recognition of the changing demands of travellers to manage their own time and space, we have some exciting upgrades in our pipeline which will no doubt further enhance our very unique offering.
The client mix of the hotel, which enjoys consistently high occupancy levels year-round, now includes many more digital nomads — people taking advantage of the opportunities that remote work offers while enjoying a ‘work-cation’. The additional flexibility that self-catering facilities represent is part of the Kruger Gate Hotel’s adaptation to the ‘new normal’ and of the new, independent thinking. As part of our upgrade plan, we intend to build additional self-catering homes that will be purposely built to blend into our natural surroundings.
With relaxed Covid-19 protocols in many countries and no more protocols in place in others (including announcements made just last week here in South Africa), there is the travellers expectation of a higher demand for experiential holidays which provide the opportunity to connect with nature. At the same time, exceptional culinary and dining experiences are important to guests who are looking for extra sensory stimulation — or perhaps the ultimate in relaxation by a pool or in the spa. The Kruger Gate Hotel offers all this and more.
The exceptionally high international operating standards of Marriott are a legacy from which the Kruger Gate Hotel will always benefit, but deflagging now allows for a greater level of personal service from a staff complement that will feel the shift to a greater sense of family. Being mindful of every aspect of our operation is at the heart of our philosophy, including meeting the needs of guests, employees, and the community. We are extremely excited to meet the future head-on and to create a new experience for our guests. Like many other businesses and sectors, we have been forced to relook what we offer and both change or add to our services in order to meet the needs of tourists who the pandemic has fundamentally and irrevocably changed.
Providing value for money and once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experiences is what we have always strived to do. However, more than ever before, we are sensitive to what the world has gone through, what our industry has gone through and, more locally, what our own people suffered during these past two years. But with challenges come opportunities and at the Kruger Gate Hotel, we have taken the many lessons that living through the pandemic taught us on board and are committed to implementing changes and improvements that acknowledge new travel trends and that will benefit guests, management and staff alike.