Born 43 years ago, Rupert Elliott is showing no signs of slowing down.
With the hotel industry in his blood, Elliott says he didn’t join the hotel industry, but was born into it. His grandfather worked in the business and his father was a Savoy trainee who went on to own the Greenway Hotel in Cheltenham.
“From a young age I worked at the Greenway, from mowing the law0n to carrying luggage,” remembers Elliott.
In 1989, he, like his father before him, joined a five-year management training programme at what was then the Savoy Group of Hotels & Restaurants. His on-the-job training included working as a waiter at Claridge’s, a barman at the Berkeley, a kitchen apprentice at the Connaught and a receptionist at the Savoy.
“The recruitment system at the Savoy was intense, I was told they received 200 applicants yearly, and chose only 10. Out of 10 that were chosen in my group only three made it through the five year programme,” says Elliott of his early days as a novice hotelier.
After his training he went to France for a nine month internship programme at Le Martinez. In the following years, Elliott worked his way through several of the most esteemed hotels in London, including the Goring and the Stafford, as well as some of England’s leading country house properties such as Hambleton Hall in Oakham, Rutland; Priest House Hotel in Castle Donington, Derbyshire; and Stapleford Park in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. He also had an 18-month stint at Buckingham Palace as Deputy Assistant to the Master of the Household F Branch. While at Buckingham Palace, his job involved a great deal of administration to ensure that all the necessary food and staff were in the right place for both the Royal Family and the household staff – between four different royal palaces – at the right time.
Elliott’s relationship with Africa, however, started long before he moved to Botswana. When he was just two years old, he travelled with his father to Kenya, his father at the time being Managing Director of Block hotels. He says Botswana and Kenya are his favourite African countries because of the stability and low corruption rate.
“For me, that’s more appealing than anything else,” he adds. His main mission at Lansmore Masa Square, he says, is to take standards to the highest level. Although not yet graded, Elliott says he is hoping that his hotel gets a 5-star grading from the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) due to the high standards of service and quality it has demonstrated in the past year. He is, however, saddened by the reputation that Botswana has the world-over for bad work ethics, bad service and little regard for time keeping.
Elliott is proud of his team that comprises of 172 employees which includes only five expatriates. He says they have achieved success by being fair, and doing things largely by the book in a very transparent manner, with flair and a passion for excellence.
“I am happy with the team that I have built so far. It’s a team of dedicated professionals who have demonstrated a genuine desire to be here and are uncompromising in their standards.” Elliott describes his leadership skills as both consultative and autocratic, and he communicates his strategy with the team through an open and flat line communication system. He has a dedicated briefing session with his management team every morning and leaves no-one out of the loop.
In just one year of operation, Elliott says his hotel is ranked number one on Trip Advisor in the city of Gaborone, as well as number one in terms of standards in the whole Lonrho Group across Africa, with an overall guest satisfaction rating of 90 percent.
He says the demand for rooms is quite high with an average of 75 percent of arrivals coming from South Africa and 95 percent of the overall guests using the hotel for business travel. He says his strategy going forward is to make the hotel more appealing to the leisure traveler, especially over weekends. Elliott said conference business uptake was also quite high, which was a pleasant surprise to him.
The hotel boasts a contemporary design and modern amenities that include a restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; a bar; swimming pool; fast free Wi-Fi; satellite television; in-room work stations; mini bar in the rooms; and spacious shower and bathroom facilities. Elliott says plans are at an advanced stage to open a cocktail bar on the 3rd floor roof top next to the swimming pool.
To be named Absolut Gaborone, it will be mainly sponsored by Absolut Vodka and guests should look forward to being treated to refreshing cocktails, with spectacular views of the cityscape. “I have looked around this city and
realised there is no “Grown Up Bar”, hence our plan to open this bar for the sophisticated, elegant client. We won’t allow clients wearing baseball caps and dark glasses after dark (he says tongue in cheek), and no-one below the age of 21 will be allowed in the bar.”
“It is a similar elegance we aim to achieve in our restaurant, La Touch de Provence. Our restaurant is one of the most exciting places in this hotel, breakfast is divine and the Chef has created different theme nights, offering a wide selection on the buffet for a very fair price of P129 per person.”
He adds that each night is different, including Curry night on Monday, Asian Night on Tuesday, Setswana Night on Wednesday, Texan Night on Thursday, Fish on Friday and a Sunday Roast on Sunday, allowing for patrons to travel the world through their food. The restaurant also plans to introduce a fine dining section for diners with a more discerning taste. Elliott is clearly a man who is on a mission and not about to rest on his laurels. “Although it’s a very expensive hotel to run, we have managed to post a bit of profit lately. We are still playing catch-up with opening costs. I am never satisfied with what I have done and am always looking at ways to offer better service and save costs, but, clearly, we are on an upward trend,” he says with a grin.
On competition, Elliott was upbeat.
“We have a better product across all service areas and the new hotels coming up will only cut off a small slice of the cake”. He believes his hotel has claimed its rightful place in the 5 star category in terms of service delivery in Gaborone and also believes he has a better product to offer. Elliott is also very passionate about training and grooming upcoming managers. He is waiting for what he terms “the Cream”, for he believes “cream rises to the top.”
“Hospitality is a very tough business, where one forfeits all the holidays, anniversaries, celebrations and all”. He says he encourages young people in the industry to take their jobs and themselves seriously if they wish to succeed in the profession. What keeps Elliott going is probably the motto that he lives by: “Mediocrity in our business is easy; it is being better than the rest that takes real effort. Excellence is not an art, it is a habit.”