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 Testament to entrepreneur's ability to adapt, grow

 

 In her first business plan for her  tourist accommodation company, Nocwaka Mazaleni envisioned a small upmarket  boutique hotel in Cape Town with 60 rooms in the African fusion style which she  became known for as a fashion designer.

She is not quite there yet, but her Kwantu guest houses in Milnerton is a testament to an entrepreneur’s ability to grow incrementally, to adapt a business plan according to the realities of the market and the available resources, but all the while staying true to her original vision.

Because she did not have the resources to start a single 60-room hotel in one go, she decided to get there incrementally and sustainably by growing a group of guest houses, adding to them as the demand for her stylish rooms and good service grew.

Today, a few years since the opening of her first guest house with a handful of rooms, she is as determined as ever to own her own hotel. Her vision is apparent in her three Kwantu guest houses with their stylish fusion of African and Western motifs, but for now her rooms are spread out over seven properties, all within walking distance from one another in the quiet residential area of Milnerton Ridge.

From an operational point of view it is far from ideal, she says, but the fact that it allows her to grow incrementally is invaluable. Not only has it enabled her to raise finance incrementally without crippling the business, but it allowed her to make her early mistakes on a small, manageable scale. Mazaleni is relatively new to the tourist accommodation industry, having honed her entrepreneurial skills over the best part of three decades in the clothing trade.

The self-taught entrepreneur started making garments in a single room in Gugulethu and ended up owning upmarket boutiques specialising in African fusion-style fashion in Cape Town’s tourism hotspots. When she sold up her clothing businesses to start her guest house, she did a course in hospitality, but learned most of the trade as she grew a few rooms at a time.

Her incremental growth into various properties brought another, unexpected advantage. Every room spread out over the seven properties has a homely, peaceful feel to it that would be hard to replicate in a consolidated hotel.

Apart from eliciting rave reviews from her guests, this has allowed Mazaleni to make inroads into a lucrative niche in the industry – medical tourism. Milnerton is ideally situated for quick access to Cape Town’s world renowned medical facilities, and the quiet privacy that her rooms afford the guests is ideal for recuperating patients.

She broke into medical tourism in the same way as she built her reputation for the ideal place to stay for professionals who are looking for permanent accommodation when they are transferred to Cape Town. “It’s marketing, marketing, marketing,” she says. She routinely targets the large national groups such as Eskom and Transnet that often have to transfer staff to Cape Town.

One such business was the local Medi-Clinic, which started referring patients who sometimes come from as far as Angola for medical procedures. Mazaleni has had to adjust a few aspects of her guest houses for medical tourism. All her units now have ramps, and she is busy installing wheelchair-friendly bathrooms.

The success of her medical tourism offering has led to her first contract for block-booking of rooms from a company of lawyers who continuously put up patients, mostly Road Accident Fund beneficiaries, at Kwantu.

Mazaleni is two years into paying off a BUSINESS/PARTNERS loan that she used to buy one of her properties and develop the look and feel of her guest houses. Such finance is not cheap, “but then I think: ‘Where would I be without that loan?’” she says.

With a total of 30 rooms and a staff complement of twelve, Mazaleni is well on her way to achieving her dream. The challenges she faces are municipal regulations that will make it difficult for her to expand one of her existing properties into a 60-room hotel.

Another challenge is finding good staff that are motivated to perform at the high levels of service she demands at her guest houses. She finds that many young people are unwilling to work at small establishments, preferring the glamour of the large hotel groups.

But after a lifetime of creative, adaptive entrepreneurship, these challenges are relatively small. With her track record, you can be pretty sure that the Kwantu Boutique Hotel will soon be a reality.

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