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Hotel: The Fine Balance Between Local Taste and International Flavour

In this article, MARK HAVERCROFT of international hotel brand Minor Hotels discusses how they pivoted their focus in a bid to attract African domestic travellers, now and into the future as local borders slowly begin to reopen.

It’s no secret that hotel, resorts and safari operators in the region have traditionally paid plenty of attention to the job of attracting international guests and charging in foreign currency, but that’s all changed thanks to COVID-19. The pandemic cutting a swathe through the industry, and statisticians estimating declines of up to 80% in the international tourism economy for 2020, domestic tourists will be key.

Despite the difficulty of striking that fine balance between international appeal and local taste, getting it right is critical – now more than ever. If there ever was a time when providing a room and breakfast was enough, that approach certainly won’t cut it now.

The key to bridging this gap in expectations, suggests Africa hospitality expert Mark Havercroft, Regional Director for Africa for Minor Hotels, lies in carefully curated and unforgettable travel experiences that appeal to local expectations.

Competitiveness, he explains, lies in the ability to create and integrate value-added products or experiences which, in the current scenario, have to appeal across the traveller spectrum, while taking advantage of what makes a particular destination unique and distinguishable for tourists.

“These include features that set the destination apart, and include things such as culture, architecture, gastronomy, infrastructure landscape, events and shopping,” not something a local guest feels can be had at home say Havercroft, speaking from the experience of Minor Hotels, which has successfully migrated into Africa to expand its footprint, which includes Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, the Indian Ocean, Europe and South America.

Fine dining with a local twist

A menu offering local ingredients prepared with international flair will always be a drawcard for international and domestic travellers alike. Take, for example, the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort’s “Grilled Lobster”, roasted on an open fire on the beach within steps to the Indian Ocean which pays luxurious tribute to Mozambique’s Portuguese heritage: 

Other meals that appeal across the board combine well-known international dishes with bold local flavours, such as the Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort’s “Island Benedict with English muffin, lobster, poached egg, bacon, avocado and curry hollandaise sauce”. 

Of course, impeccable service from well-trained team members is an essential part of this dining experience, says Havercroft.

A wine list to celebrate

Start with innovative cocktails that showcase authentic African flavours, like Mundambi Gin, a New Harbour Distillery gin infused with the Mundambi flower. Mix with cucumber rind over lots of ice and a splash of Fever-Tree tonic,  and you have a unique smoky spice and citrus taste experience that guests won’t get anywhere else, locally or internationally. Then move your guests on to a well-selected choice of excellent local and imported wines that pair perfectly with their meal.

A view to remember

Locals looking for the ideal spot to entertain important clients or celebrate special occasions appreciate an exceptional venue just as much as domestic and international travellers. Offer comfortable and luxurious surroundings, locally inspired decor that creates a true sense of place, and if you can add breathtaking views that showcase the surrounding natural beauty, you have a winning combination for every type of guest.

Events that educate and entertain

Include some local culture and give your guests, even more, to boast about to their friends back home. From local music playing softly in the background of the lobby through to bespoke day trips that take guests out of the hotel, there are plenty of ways to get this right. It’s also critical to take note of, for example, Generation Z travellers’ appetite for more risk and adventure, which marks a significant shift away from traditional sun, sea and sand, and attraction-based tourism. This requires an out-of-the-box response that provides diverse and distinct experiences, while supporting the socio-cultural and economic development of local communities.

So it’s essential to offer the expected guided horseback rides, boat trips, dune surfing, island picnics hikes and escorted trips to the “mainland” to visit a bustling street market followed by a meal in an authentic local restaurant. And we know that for those who prefer to take things at a more relaxed pace, a romantic sunset picnic with food provided by a personal chef, or a spa day using products made in the community will appeal to both domestic and international visitors. 

But definitely also focus on experiential journeys. For example, Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort in Mozambique offers Spice Spoons. This introduces guests to local ingredients through a tour of the resort’s vegetable garden, giving them an opportunity to pick their produce and catch their own fish if they choose. An expert chef then teaches them to prepare their meal using traditional techniques, equipping them to host an African dinner party for friends when they return home.

Getting the balance right

Today’s travellers are seeking familiar comforts they can rely on, a dash of indigenous adventure and a sense of luxury that reminds them they’ve earned this holiday – or a blend of all three. Whether they’re local or have crossed an ocean to reach your establishment, says Havercroft, ensure that what you’re offering will entice them to return – and become the kind of word-of-mouth ambassadors that may just be your saving grace during these unparalleled challenges for tourism.

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