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Hotels reel from COVID-19 impact

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The hospitality industry in Botswana, like so many others, is doing everything it can to stay afloat amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with its resultant travel restrictions and lockdown measures.

Some in the likes of  Protea Hotel Marriot Masa Square say they are calculating their losses for the last four months in millions, but are trudging on to have measures in place to welcome guests after a long break.

The hotel’s chief operations officer, Mr Andrew Kamanga said like so many of their competitors, they were struggling to keep the 182-roomed four-star hotel and workers afloat.

He said they had to shut down atleast three floors out of the eight floors they occupied at the Central Business District in Gaborone, adding that they still had to bear fixed costs amounting to about a million pula. He stressed that they were almost drowning.

Mr Kamanga said another challenge they were facing was the stigma and customers fearing that the place might be infected with coronavirus even though they had disinfected and sanitised the whole hotel after serving as a quarantine facility.

He revealed that when lockdown became imminent, government made calls for help to quarantine people.

“We offered to provide accommodation to those being quarantined, the support staff such as nurses and the soldiers because it was the right thing to do.  

Fortunately for us none of those quarantined came out positive. But now you sense the fear from some of our customers,” he added.

He said they had however tried to allay those fears by having strict sanitary and hygiene measures applied, with new practices put in place.

Mr Kamanga further said measures and guidelines, including staff working on a rotational basis, for good social distancing practices, cleaning and sanitising of rooms before a client checks in and having minimal contact between staff and customers except on request.

He said they also now packaged their food, offered takeaway meals and put out small buffets for conference room guests to eat alone at a table.

On another issue, the hotelier said the industry in Botswana relied heavily on travellers and subsequently on airports, which were currently closed, making the pinch even more painful.

Mr Kamanga said post COVID-19, the players of the industry would be required to adapt their approach towards the new traveller.

This should allow for new concepts to be developed, aiming at benefiting society in need of emotional retreats and focusing on psychological wellbeing, he said.

He said the change would also have to apply to the players in the hospitality industry on the employer level as well. With the new approach to virtual conferencing for many businesses, hotel businesses shall also have to adapt to the emerging trends in the work practices.

“We are trying to be positive, we beat other hotels at occupancy rates before and we shall bounce back. Times like these call for unprecedented solutions, like maybe, more aggressive marketing,” he said.

Mr Kamanga further said they were optimistic as business was slowly trickling. They currently had 25 guests.

“The hotel is also using this down time to train staff and re-brand,” he said.

By the same token, Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CLM) managing director, Mr Mokwena Morulane said despite the subdued business environment due to COVID-19 trading restrictions, most of their 11 hotels in Botswana were open for the public, with the exception of Cresta Lodge Gaborone.

He said Cresta Lodge Gaborone was currently being used as a quarantine facility as part of CML’s continuous contribution to the fight against COVID-19; as well as their leisure properties of Cresta Mowana Safari Resort and Spa; and Maun Resort, both of which remain closed due to subdued demand.

Mr Morulane further said they aimed to open both Mowana and Maun Resort during the upcoming President’s holidays in a bid to promote local tourism.

He stated that they also followed all best practice guidelines as set by the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

He said they had engaged chemical specialists to deep clean all their facilities for the safety of staff and guests.

For smaller accommodation facilities, like Villa Rene Bed and Breakfast, the pandemic had devastating effects on both the owners and employees.

Its sales and marketing officer, Ms Tshepiso Thebe said they had no revenue coming in and had to suspend some of the staff’s contracts.

She revealed that they used to make a turnover of at least P18 000 per month, but now they barely make P3 000, which is not enough to cover their basic running costs.

Ms Thebe further said the government subsidy was only from April to June and now they could not afford to keep staff on permanent basis. “My director has had to use his own money to pay for our costs,” she said.

Other hotels like the Grand Aria, a new kid on the block, said they decided to temporarily close due to the pandemic. Ends