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 Top guest house carefully weathering the storm

 

 The pandemic, which has hit the tourism trade harder than any other industry, has made things very uncertain for the Williams family and their sparkling Blue Diamond guest house in Springbok in the Northern Cape. But they are not letting the crisis go to waste. Pauline and Tony, together with two sons, are using the downtime during the lockdown to increase the green credentials of their business by setting up herb and vegetable production on the Blue Diamond’s beautiful 1000 square meter garden which will supply the establishment’s eatery when business gets going again. Another project is the redesign of the Blue Diamond’s kitchen, led by Pauline and Tony’s youngest son who has recently qualified as a chef.

The Williams have been running the Blue Diamond for the past four years after having bought it when the founders retired. Every year’s revenues had been better than the previous. 

Last year Pauline resigned from her job as member of the executive committee of the Northern Cape Provincial government to join Tony full-time in running the business. This year the couple were celebrating their best February ever, with an unprecedented twenty tour groups booked in advance. Then the pandemic and lockdown hit.

Pauline describes a nerve-wracking process of applying for several available funds, but the Blue Diamond and its team of ten workers found support with at least two funds, including an emergency loan from BUSINESS/PARTNERS, which also part-financed the Williams’ purchase of the Blue Diamond four years ago.

More relief came in the form of an agreement with the insurance industry, which pledged to pay out 70 percent of two months’ income to accommodation businesses insured against the outbreak of disease as their contribution to the tourism industry. But the insurance industry is still disputing the pay-out of such claims in court. If the case is settled in favour of the guest houses, the Williams can expect more relief. 
Every bit helps, says Pauline, but the high running cost of a four-star establishment such as the Blue Diamond means that they have to be very careful with every step they take.

But if Pauline and Tony’s history is anything to go by, the Blue Diamond has many good years ahead of it, despite the worst that the Covid-19 crisis can throw at them.

The couple began their tourism business by converting two rooms in their own house in Springbok to rent out to visitors. Pauline remembers all of them, including their three young children sleeping in one room to make space for their new side-line business which did very well in supplementing their income.
At that stage Pauline worked as a teacher and Tony as mechanic. Then Pauline started to rise in the department of education, first becoming a regional coordinator and later director and ending as MEC in the provincial government. 

From the beginning, the couple “collected” houses and converted them into rental accommodation for tourists - first the house next door on the one side, and then on the other side as well, and later more houses in other parts of Springbok.

Tony, whom Pauline describes as an “all-rounder”, can fix and build anything, and he oversaw the day-to-day running and upkeep of their growing collection of properties. Pauline, meanwhile, would collect ideas and items for their guest rooms on her increasingly frequent travels. The couple leveraged their salaries to buy each property, and the revenue from the guests would pay off each bond. In this way, Pauline and Tony built up a thriving guest house business of 14 rooms before they bought the Blue Diamond. Although they always ran the business as a sideline, it gave them a deep knowledge of the tourism industry and its challenges.

Coincidentally, the Blue Diamond was started in the same year as Pauline and Tony rented out their first room. But because it was always run as a full-time business, it was developed into much bigger establishment with a total of 20 rooms built on five adjacent erven.

Although they were initially hesitant to buy the Blue Diamond because they would not be able to run it as a sideline, it did represent a very satisfying crowning achievement of their entrepreneurial efforts in the tourism industry. It also helped that they were able to buy it for a very good price.

Pauline and Tony has since consolidated their property portfolio to reduce the debt of the business, and most recently they have sold some of their properties to help tide the business over. 

This year’s tourism season, which in Springbok peaks in the late winter with spectacular wild flower blooms, is almost a write-off, but the rains were late this year, promising good scenery well into September. With a little luck, business might start picking up next month, says Pauline. 

And if not, they will make their own luck next year.

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