Upon completing his secondary school in 1996, Lempheditse Odumetse got a job as a barman/waiter in a local inn.
26 years later and while the restaurant has long since closed its doors, Odumetse has worked his way to the very top of the tourism/hospitality industry.
Earlier this year, the Maun native was appointed Managing Director of Chobe Holdings Group.
From waiting tables and serving drinks to heading one of Botswana’s leading safari operators, the tour guide-turned-boss walks us through his incredible journey…
What does your role as MD of Chobe Holdings Group involve?
The Group Managing Director provides operational direction to all of Chobe’s group companies.
These include: Desert & Delta Safaris, Ker & Downey Botswana, Safari Air and North West Air amongst others, in order to drive organisational success.
What was your initial reaction when you learnt of your appointment?
I felt honoured to have been offered this position, grateful to have been acknowledged and pleased to know that hard work and dedication leads to success and development in one’s career.
Tell us a bit about this ‘hard work’ and your journey in the industry.
I was brought up between Maun and the delta and after finishing high school in 1996, I was employed at the Duck Inn as a waiter and barman. In 1999 the Duck closed and I was offered a job at Desert & Delta Safaris – Camp Moremi.
It was always my desire to work in the bush and get back to my roots of being in the great outdoors.
Whilst working as a waiter at Camp Moremi, I studied to be a professional guide and obtained my licence.
In 2000 I was transferred to Xugana Island where I worked as a guide until 2005 when I was appointed Assistant Camp Manager and then, shortly thereafter, was appointed Camp Manager, making me the second citizen manager in the Chobe group. This was the start of the great localization programme that we are so proud of at Chobe.
Impressive stuff – what happened next?
In September 2005 I travelled to the USA to work at Disney World, Florida on a cultural exchange program in the Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge.
My time at Disney gave me an incredible understanding of the hospitality industry and it was great to work with people from all over the world.
On my return to Botswana in 2006, I continued to work for Desert & Delta Safaris as a Camp Manager, in turn running Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango and Savute Safari Lodge.
In 2013, I was promoted to Chobe’s Maun base as the Assistant General Manager for both Ker & Downey Botswana and Desert & Delta Safaris.
This was a great position to learn the ropes of the Maun based operations. 2015 I took on the role of Ker & Downey Botswana General Manager looking after five lodges in a 5-star circuit and in 2017 I was promoted to Operations Director for Ker & Downey Botswana.
In 2020 I was asked to join the Chobe Board as the Group Operations Director.
My most recent promotion sees me as the Group Managing Director.
What a journey – can you single out a particular highlight?
There are so many highlights! The ultimate highlight has to be being given the opportunity to grow and promote through hard work from waiter to Group Managing Director within the same great public company.
Any low points that stick out?
In every job there are low points, but at Chobe we nurture employees and any low points or moments are used to develop and grow you as a person.
I’m a people’s person and leaving the camp environment where I ran a close team was very hard.
What were your areas of priorities when you assumed your current position?
I was appointed during what must have been the most difficult time in our industry’s history and my priority remained the same as to when I was the Group Operations Director: to protect our people and our integrity.
To do this I’ve had to ensure that we also protect the cash that is the lifeblood of any company through keeping a tight rein on costs and controls whilst delivering world beating customer service every day.
What sort of timeline are you looking at to achieve all this in?
My team had been delivering on this before and continue to deliver today and will do so into the future.
Having started your career as a waiter, what advice can you give to the youth who look up to you as an inspiration?
Work hard, be dedicated, maintain a positive attitude and develop a real hunger to learn.
If you are not stretched beyond your comfort level, you won’t grow professionally or as a person. Be stretched.
Covid-19 has been a disaster for the tourism industry, both locally and abroad; since the lifting of restrictions last year, do you feel the industry is recovering?
The industry is slowly recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
As Chobe we are seeing the grip of Covid-19 easing considerably and within the last few months as we see booking volumes returning to levels experienced in the best years of past.
How long do you think it will take for the industry to get to pre-covid levels?
I believe it will take two to three years for this recovery.
On a personal note, away from work, what keeps you busy?
I’m blessed with a wonderful wife and two busy and beautiful daughters, three lively dogs and a country with incredible places to explore.
So when I am away from work I enjoy being with my family in our wilderness.