Model GM behavior among primates at the Palace
09 OCTOBER 2015 6:09 AM
Nico Myburgh, the acting hotel manager at the Palace of the Lost City at the Sun City Resort in South Africa, knows the importance of taking a positive approach to make guests and employees comfortable.
SUN CITY, South Africa—Nico Myburgh believes a GM needs to look no further than the mirror for the right fuel to drive a hotel’s many cylinders.
“The team needs to feed off me,” Myburgh said while enjoying a view from the Palace of the Lost City Hotel that includes indigenous and mischievous monkeys cavorting about looking for their next snack.
“I need to be motivated. I need to have the energy and drive,” the property’s acting hotel manager said. “If I’m unprepared or don’t have the knowledge or got up on the wrong side of the bed, that will rub off. I need to be sure I’m positive, energetic for the day. It’s like a beehive—I have to make sure we’re on the same page and we deliver.”
That approach builds a rapport that goes deeper than simply a manager-employee relationship, the 335-room Palace’s leader said. It develops a sense of community that is important for this property because of it’s location deep in South Africa’s North West province, where economic prosperity isn’t common.
“Being more isolated and on a resort two hours from (Johannesburg), our first priority is community,” Myburgh said. “We need to invest in training, giving (employees) practical experience. … There’s a big pride and achievement in the community when they are involved with us. They want to deliver for us. If the hotel succeeds, the community succeeds.”
The Palace, the most luxurious of the five hotels at the Sun City Resort, has 170 permanent employees. That doesn’t include 120 workers who are employed by third-party companies, including housekeepers. During peak periods, the total number of workers at the hotel reaches as many as 700.
The property has a monthly session for all employees to talk about positive and negative customer experiences and discuss potential solutions.
“They talk to their colleagues, and there’s a mutual respect,” Myburgh said.
An essential part of the hotel’s success is a daily briefing during which every department head explains what’s happening in their worlds that day.
“We’re onstage, and we’re here to deliver,” he said.
Dialogues with many
Myburgh said there’s plenty of synergy with the managers of the four other hotels at the resort. There’s a weekly meeting to discuss issues, what VIPs might be onsite and other key points.
As with most other hotel managers, Myburgh’s favorite part of the job is traversing among the guests—on weekends in particular.
“The support structure closes on Friday and you get the extra time to be with guests over the weekend,” Myburgh said.
The biggest advantage of talking with guests is hearing problems first hand, he said.
“It gives you such an advantage when you actively engage with your customers,” he said.
Myburgh said it takes unique individuals to make the hotel industry their career. Working on holidays is when it seems to hit home most.
“You wonder what it’s all for, then you see your employees and your guests and remember why,” Myburgh said.
He advised anyone interested in joining the hotel industry to spend time on property, even if observing for two weeks during a school holiday.
“Anyone entering the industry needs to understand we don’t have office hours, weekends or holidays,” Myburgh said. “Your mindset should be that you want to be at work on Sunday morning, on Christmas Day and Easter weekend. If you happen to get one of those days off, you see it as being lucky.”
People are the key
The passion for people is a driving force behind the 22-year hotel veteran. Meeting celebrities performing onsite at the resort’s famed entertainment center ranks right there with meeting global travelers, Myburgh said.
“You get insight in terms of international clientele because you have employees from similar cultural backgrounds as your guests,” Myburgh said. “It’s more insightful and provides for a much better experience for the guests.”
A diverse clientele and workforce brings out the practical side of a hotel manager, Myburgh said.
“You have first-hand experience with those guests and those staff members, and it makes hiring easier,” Myburgh said. “If you’re used to cultural diversity, you can pinpoint people who make good fits.”
Rule No. 1 for a hotel manager is to never assume anything.
“You can run a well-oiled ship for a long period of time. And no matter how small the next step is, you never assume it’s going to work out,” Myburgh said. “You need to be treating every scenario as if it’s your first one.”
The hospitality bug bit
Myburgh began his career with an eye toward the human resources department, but he quickly got swept up by operations.
“The bug sort of bit me that I wanted to be more ‘ops’ than 8-to-5 administration,” he said.
His career has landed him with companies such as Protea Hotels, Southern Sun, Intercontinental Hotels Group and Sun International. A native of South Africa, Myburgh worked in Bloemfontein in his home province of Free State. Other stops have included Cape Town and Johannesburg.
His career path has included titles such as rooms division manager and front office manager, among others.
Managing a luxury hotel has distinct differences from other property types, Myburgh said. Guests can be more demanding because their expectations are higher.
The on-property primates are a blessing, Myburgh said, because they’re a testament to the resort’s commitment to blending in with the environment around it. But they’re not always easy to live with.
“The primates can be naughty,” he added, noting the in-room messages geared toward guests keeping doors and windows locked when they’re away because monkeys and baboons are smart enough to get in and wreak havoc in search of food. “We don’t encourage guests to feed them; they are wild animals, and they can be dangerous.”
The property has caretakers that keep tabs on the animals in the hopes of minimizing serious issues, he said.
The resort shares a border with the Pilanesberg National Park—a 55,000-hectare game reserve that includes Africa’s “big five” group of animals—and that means it has had its share of snakes, leopards, warthogs, impalas and mongooses loose on site.