Vic Falls Hotel aims to double occupancy

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Occupancy figures for the 104-year-old Victoria Falls Hotel are expected to double this year, according to Karl Snater, the hotel's general manager. "We have averaged about 24% occupancy over the past few years," he told Hotel & Restaurant "but this year it should be close to 50%.

"A number of factors will cause this, including the stabilization of the Zimbabwean political and economic scenario; stabilization of the currency and the introduction of the US dollar and South African Rand, such that we have access to everything we need; most countries have lifted their travel warnings about visits to our country; and tariffs in Victoria Falls are cheaper than our competitors across the river in Zambia."

Karl Snater has been at the hotel for a year, having been deputy GM there until 2002, following which he spent time at Meikles in Harare, the Cape Grace in Cape Town and Indigo Bay Island Resort in Mauritius.

His new posting presented him with several challenges, notably restoring confidence among agents and tour operators on the one hand and among staff on the other. "We had to stabilize the hotel product, get staff discipline to the right levels, get purchasing and supplies right and have product on the menus," he says.

"Our current goal is to be 100% stocked up - we now have access to everything, even smoked salmon! We have also repainted the hotel, replaced fascia boards, updated air-conditioning, refurbished one of the kitchens completely and invested in new staff uniforms. The government's duty-free exemption of all capital equipment that we need has been a big incentive for us to improve our facilities."

Most equipment and food supplies come from South Africa, often through local agents, though meat, especially the high quality Zimbabwean beef, and fruit are local produce.

Further, tariffs were reduced 15% last year as an added incentive to attract guests back but the improvements and the response from the market will enable management to move rates back up again with effect from this year's Indaba travel show in Durban.

Current bed-and-breakfast rack rates start at R1 407 for a standard single room (R1 622 for a double), rising approximately 20% for a deluxe room and a further 20% for suites. Preferred and group rates drop about 30 and 40%.

The marketing thrust for the hotel, which is owned jointly by the stock-exchange listed Zimbabwean company African Sun Ltd, the hospitality group that was previously part of Delta Corporation Ltd and which has interests throughout Africa, and by Kingdom Meikles Ltd, which has retail, hotel and financial interests in Zimbabwe and South Africa (including the Cape Grace), is aimed primarily at tour operators through the African Sun Johannesburg office run by Dave Bunyard.

"In addition, both groups have their agents around the world - and we are a member of Leading Hotels of the World - while attendance at travel shows is also a key activity. And the Go to Victoria Falls marketing campaign driven by Ross Kennedy is also very active," Snater adds, pointing out that, despite the wide variety of foreigners who stay at the hotel, the United States market is of paramount importance.

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