Why hospitality holds out hope for South Africa’s brighter future

Published 11 months ago
Marc Wachsberger at table

While the COVID-19 pandemic shook so many industries and communities to their core, the hospitality world was decimated by travel restrictions, limits on gatherings (when they were allowed at all), and onerous regulations that disrupted our business models and flung so many people into unemployment.  

We’re over the worst of it now, with regulations and restrictions in South Africa having been slowly lifted over the last while, with the final removal of mask and gathering size mandates taking place in mid-June.  

While many role-players in the industry have little hope left, after the havoc wreaked by the last two years, I truly believe that there’s so much opportunity in the sector. It’s a belief I’ve had since I first launched this business during the slumps after the 2008 global economic crisis and locally, the 2010 FIFA World Cup – and I will continue to seek and find opportunities for success in hospitality.  

Here’s why.  

Despite its political turmoil, South Africa remains an incredibly beautiful country, with so many diverse offerings for tourists and business travellers from abroad. While that political turmoil may have punished our currency, it makes our exceptional offerings so affordable for international visitors, who will again find us an appealing destination now that onerous virus testing requirements have been lifted.  

That currency weakness also makes us an appealing destination for investment. As an example, The Capital Hotels and Apartments recently bought one of South Africa’s most iconic resort hotels, which is now know as The Capital Zimbali, in KwaZulu Natal.  

Nestled among the lush forests of the KwaZulu Natal Northern Coast, situated on the beautiful along the Indian ocean and just a quick hop from the nearby King Shaka International Airport, we bought this magnificent property for just $13 million in 2022. It cost $88 million to build 12 years ago.  

While we by no means take any pleasure in the fact that we could secure this remarkable asset for such a competitive price, it highlights the fact that there are great investment properties available for investors who share my long term vision for the future of the industry.  

In a similar vein, we bought what is now known as The Capital 15 on Orange, in the heart of Cape Town’s sought-after City Bowl, earlier this year too, also achieving remarkable value for money.  

These two five-star hotels stand as equals among some of the world’s most sought-after and exclusive hotels, and yet they offer luxurious accommodation and numerous world-class facilities for just $180 and $150 per night, respectively. Similar offerings abroad would start at $700 per night.  

While we’re able to offer that exceptional value for money to guests, we’re achieving a higher purpose in the South African context: that of creating jobs, providing employment, and upskilling our people.  

We preserved 140 jobs when we bought The Capital Zimbali, and created a further 80, with each of the people employed at the property sharing the fruits of their work with their families and communities. Buying The Capital 15 on Orange also meant that everyone who had made that property a part of their lives and livelihoods could continue to do so.  

In line with our entrepreneurial approach to running all of our hotels, every member of our staff has the opportunity to complete training programmes offered by our own Hotel Academy School – even if their training choice doesn’t relate to their current role.  

We believe that the hospitality industry is an environment where talent can be nurtured, skills can be learned, and lives improved – which is why we continue to look for opportunities to grow our portfolio, and to create more jobs.  

If, as an industry and as brave investors, we all adopt this future-facing approach, I have no doubt that South Africa’s tourism industry can be rebuilt into the nationally successful massive employer that it was before the pandemic – and that it has the potential to even grow beyond that.  

We are continuing to adopt a solutions-based approach – it’s always been our philosophy, and always will be. That is why we didn’t close our doors during 2020 – we focused on finding gaps and creating products to fill them. For example, we transformed our main Sandton hotels into ‘Sanitised Sanctuaries’ and partnered with Discovery Health to provide isolation and quarantine destinations for its members.  

We also adapted the social offerings at our hotels, so that guests could still unwind and relax while feeling safe, and we designed new conferencing products so that our corporate clients could still achieve their objectives while protecting their people too.  

This unwavering quest to find opportunity, along with our resolute focus on finding a solution for every challenge that’s thrown our way has seen The Capital Hotels and Apartments do more than just survive the turbulence of the last few years. We have thrived, and we will continue to do so.  

It’s my fervent hope that every other hotel group in the industry will do so too. We are an essential element of South Africa’s future success, whether it’s through income generated by tourists from all over the world, or through the jobs we’ll create to provide the service that will keep them coming back for more.  

Let’s dream together, let’s plan together, and let’s invest in a sector that truly has the potential to unlock prosperity and success for so many people.  

By Marc Wachsberger, managing director of The Capital Hotels & Apartments 

DISCLAIMER: Brand Voice is a paid program. Articles appearing in this section have been commercially supported.