A. I am a South African Chartered Accountant as well as a United States of America Certified Public Accountant by profession. Before acquiring Fleur du Soleil Luxury Guesthouse, I practised for over twenty years as a partner in one of the largest US accounting and consulting firms in the United States. My whole life I loved to travel and have been to over 197 countries in the world. A large part of my professional life I spent in the hospitality, entertainment and media industries, either as a board of directors member of various large hospitality groups or assisting clients in those industries. I understand the industry through and through from a very high level, international perspective. I am picky, have very high standards for myself, and always noticed standards and practices in some of the best hospitality establishments in the world where I have stayed.
In June 2019, I decided to retire from my professional life. I founded a hospitality company in the United States: Hamu Hospitality and Tourism Group LLC. I have always been extremely bullish about opportunities in South Africa, the high standards of education and what we have and can achieve here. I convinced my fellow investors that we need to invest in South Africa. At the time there was also a lot of support from President Ramaphosa and his initiatives for the travel and tourism industry.
So, I embarked with my wife, Victoria, on several road trips in South Africa – across the country. We decided that the Western Cape and particularly Franschhoek is where we need to invest as an entry initiative. There were many reasons for choosing Franschhoek, amongst others the physical beauty, the wine, Franschhoek being the culinary capital of South Africa, a primary foreign tourist destination, the relative crime-free environment, and the only place in the world where all parking is free and numerous other, very unique qualities.
After having seen and inspected the financial information of tens of establishments in the Franschhoek Valley, we found Fleur du Soleil. This was the home of Tina Botha, and she rented a few rooms as self-catering. We immediately saw the potential and acquired it.
A. Our vision was to establish a five-star guest house in Franschhoek, one of a handful of five-star establishments. One of exceptional service, and world-class attention to guest’s needs. Unlike most five-star hotels, we provide a truly warm environment, an extremely personalised home where we go out of our way to pamper and spoil guests, go to the pharmacy for them, get plasters and lots of other things, as many of our guest reviews reflect. We talk the talk and walk the walk. We provide everything a five-star hotel provides, all the usual amenities, free sherries, hot or cold face cloths and welcome drinks on arrival, amongst others. But there should be much more to that. That is what distinguishes us.
Total lockdown occurred a few weeks after we signed the deed of sale. We received governmental consent and completed our construction and remodelling during the lockdown. Everything, every piece of furniture we used was handmade by local people in the village. We paid our staff their full salaries right through a full lockdown and still do. We did not retrench anyone, in fact, we appointed a few more.
I believe you look after your staff. Soup kitchens and all those things are great, however, charity begins at home. We assist through soup kitchens, but retrenching staff or reducing their salaries, are simply not options for us.
I believe standards should be very high and everyone should be very well trained. That is what we did – in house.
We went through a gruelling assessment and received our five-star TGCSA grading two weeks after opening – an achievement we are very proud of. Shortly after that, we received the GHASA Five Seals of Africa.
A. It is not important, it is absolutely critical. The biggest downfall in many smaller businesses is that the owner is not involved. Many entrepreneurs/owners are great. They climb in, establish a great business with great service, but then they grow and expand, and there the service delivery starts slipping as their staff do not keep up the same level of service.
Owners must be very hands-on, until you are satisfied every single staff member fully understands and practices the same level of service and commitment, and have proven that to you. Only then can you expand, but never completely move on as you need to have the quality controls in place because something will slip.
We spend lots of time drilling and hammering these principles and my whole life experiences into our staff. We do not tolerate any mistake and certainly do not tolerate a disease so many suffer from that I call excusitis.
A. We are very active in social media and social media campaigns. Social media is critical and the exponential growth is almost scary. Of course, we also do most of the other good things in marketing. We currently focus very much on the local market. Generally, our focus is also very much international, primarily Europe, the US and the Middle East. I personally think South America and particularly Brazil is an unexploited market by South Africa.
A. To be frank: everything possible. All our social media campaigns are aimed at driving traffic to our website, where bookings can be made directly. We offer the best rates, deals and discounts on our website directly. Of course, we also offer this discount when potential guests phone, Whatsapp, e-mail or do a website enquiry.
A. Absolutely. That is the aim. Once we are satisfied that everyone at Fleur du Soleil can independently meet our high standards, we will look at further investments. Ideally, we will look at other guesthouses with the same levels of service or at least the potential to get there. Past ratings of a guesthouse are often an indication, however that can be improved upon under new management. The financial information must also make sense from a business perspective. We love vertical integration, so a game lodge will also be considered. To us it is about the potential – not necessarily the existing situation.