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Managing a new hotel in the COVID era

Managing a new hotel in the COVID era
BIG DREAMS: Laletsang

Despite Covid-19 bringing business crashing to a virtual standstill, Parkview Selective Hotel’s General Manager, Onkgetse Onks Laletsang has big plans for the Maun-based enterprise, located on the banks of the mighty Thamalakane River.

Armed with 14 years experience in the hotel industry, Laletsang, 41, remains resolute, outlining her mission in this interview with FRANCINAH BAAITSE-MMANA.

Parkview opened in November last year. A few months later Covid-19 arrived in Botswana and brought the country’s tourism sector to its knees. How has the pandemic affected your business?

Actually it affected us so bad. It hit us really hard because as you have mentioned, we were still very fresh in the market.

We were doing well in December. We were actually sitting on 85 percent occupancy!

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So, around March when Covid-19 penetrated Africa, followed by movement restrictions and lockdown, occupancy dropped drastically to around two percent.

In fact the situation became so bad that at some point we were running at zero percent occupancy yet we had employees who needed salaries and we had a facility to maintain.

Q. Have things improved?

Even as I speak we are still at low occupancy.

Gradually we are recovering but we still find ourselves down to zero percent at times.

However, currently we are at 60 percent occupancy.

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It has been a struggle to tell the truth.

There was a lot of pressure on the owners because they had to pay salaries from their other businesses to keep it going – that is, maintenance of rooms and to keep things clean and looking good.

But slowly we are getting there because we all have to adapt to the new normal.

Q. In your opinion, exactly what is the ‘new normal’?

We have to learn to live with Covid-19, take proper precautions and follow all required safety procedures needed to operate in this era.

Q. So who owns the hotel?

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Former Member of Parliament for Maun East, who is also a former Cabinet Minister, Kostantinos Markus and his wife, Pearl Markus.

Q. And how many rooms does Parkview have?

We’ve got 20 rooms, but we sell 19 because the other room is where we do spas, massages, pedicures and just where one can relax.

We have two executive rooms and 17 standard rooms, which we sell at very competitive market prices – very affordable I can say!

Our rooms are spacious and relaxing, they are simply a home away from home.

Q. Besides beautiful rooms, what makes your hotel stand out from the rest?

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We have an open restaurant, a swimming pool, we talked about a spa and we do transfers for boat cruises and game drives for our clients.

Further, we do transfers for scenic flights for those who want to fly over the Okavango Delta.

Our swimming pool is not only open to residents, at a P50 fee we open it for visitors. Furthermore, we are working on a bush camp in Khwae, which we hope to open very soon.

Q. And on a personal note, how long have you been in the hospitality industry?

This is my 14th year.

Immediately after completing my college education in 2004 I went to work in one of the motels in Letlhakane for four years.

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I then left to join the mining industry where I was a senior resource person but I was let go during the recession because the mine closed.

I then moved to Orapa to work for Wimpy as a manager for ten years.

I left in December 2018 to join Parkview hotel as its manager.

At that time the hotel was still under construction.

Q. Why did you choose the hotel industry?

Actually I have great passion for it.

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I was raised by my aunt.

She is an adventurous individual who would sometimes take me on a road trip and we slept in hotels and I really enjoyed it.

I liked that kind of life.

Q. And what are your plans for Parkview?

If things go well I would like to see Parkview Selective Hotel grow maybe up to 150 rooms and become a franchise with hotels all over the country and in other countries.

Q. Big dreams! Getting personal again, how influential is your current position in the company?

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The position I am holding right now, I would say is a middle position because I have directors on top, supervisors underneath and general staff so I get all the pressure from up and from below.

It is not an easy position because I do have to deal with clients as well.

So my position needs someone who is very bold, patient and has a passion.

It needs a mature person who can think on their feet and is not afraid to take decisions.

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