Interestingly, other than the diamond mines, Phudzi is within a radius of 100km of some stunning tourist attractions, 40km from the Makgadikgadi Pans, 60km from Nxai pans, 20km from Orapa Diamond Museum. There is also plentiful wildlife, including herds of impalas, antelope, giraffe, zebras, lions, leopard and more, roam freely in the nearby Central Kalahari Game Reserve where there is the ‘Big five’. The Resort offers ten standard and two executive luxury accommodation with fully air-conditioned rooms, WiFi, DSTV, a restaurant and outdoor swimming pool.
“Phudzi is a Kalanga name that means seeds, hence our tagline “seeds of aspiration”. The reason why we chose Phudzi is that everything you grow; you do with the intention to reap the fruit. That gives us the vision of the fruit and we all know the challenges that comes with planting a seed. First it has to be the right variety, planted in the right soil type, then watered and fertilised with the right types of fertilisers, then there is the weeding and spraying until ultimately you get your fruits.
The hotel is a fairly new establishment that started operating in January 2018 with 10 standard rooms. In December 2018, we registered an average yearly occupancy rate of 38%. December 2019, we registered a 60% occupancy and added two more executive rooms to bring the number to 12 that qualifies us to be a hotel. In corona 2020, until the outbreak in March, we had registered an occupancy rate of 70% but it went down drastically thereafter, bring down the occupancy rate down to 46%, which is relatively good under the circumstances. Thanks to our aggressive marketing strategies.
The fact that we have so much of the seeds in our log is as a result of mitigating risk. If you plant those 100 seeds in different soil types, there is a chance 10% will grow and ultimately 3% will survive to give you 2% of the harvest. Remember, fruits have seeds too. So, the more seeds from fruits will increase, the better chance of growth. This simple analogue is easy to interpret or explain easily our vision mission statement to employees. Hence the reason we have evolved this much, key being our human capital,” said Shathani Mbaakanyi, Managing Director- Phudzi Resort.
Looking into why Mbaakanyi chose hospitality, he explained that his natural love for nice things like dressing up, socialist background of the desire to solve unemployment made him to think, hence he translated this into business as hospitality fit the bill. The target market is the middle to high end and this is so due to the fact that Letlhakane is a business center that attracts executives of private companies and parastatal organisations.
For Mbaakanyi, Phudzi marketing strategy is based on the resort’s budget allocation on marketing and advertising. As an infant business, the business has allocated 30% of the budget on marketing. The strategic marketing is through social media, radio, print and word of mouth. Word of mouth is the most effective because it’s based on personal experience as opposed to what people see, read or hear. Word of mouth has that “feel” effect that comes with emotions.
Mbaakanyi added, “What sets Phudzi apart from any other is that from the security, grounds man up through to the Managing Director, everyone lives the dream. Everyone lives the vision. Everyone knows that the success of Phudzi has a direct impact to his/her growth too. This is so because we have an employee shareholding scheme. So, employees are not only selling their labour, but are investing.
We are very much awaiting the big news for the most convenient experience ever in hospitality. Our app is under construction. We are very hopeful that this app will encourage people to easily book and pay online. Currently, 97% of guests that book online come from outside the country. We are ready to revolutionise the industry.”
The obvious challenge is the COVID-19 pandemic which hit the whole world and due to the disruption of international travel, there are no longer tourists coming from outside the country. Projects in mines have been halted and hence limited business travel. Lockdowns on key zones like Gaborone has not done the industry any good either. However, there are some industry inherent challenges like getting the right employees. Like the “seed” narrative, hospitality need to be natured consistently. One needs to standardise customer service, quality of bedding, cleanliness, food quality. All these needs human intervention. This call for continuous training and retraining and training again and again.
“Phudzi started in 2018 as a guest house then in December 2019, we added two more rooms and we are now a hotel. In December 2020, we erected conference facilities and a restaurant which will be complete by end of April 2021. The next immediate growth plan is building a 4-star hotel wherever we can secure land. The other on- going plans is to tap into the wider and bigger value chain of the tourism industry. We are in the process of registering for a travel agency. Also, to complement our business, we are working with other industry stakeholders like tour operators to carry out day trips to nearby tourist attractions.
Land and red tapes are the biggest risk to our dreams to grow. Those of us who are in business practice cannot secure land for expansion and those who are not in business are the ones winning bids for commercial land. We have a lot of guests from outside through booking sites like Booking.com, Hotel.com, Airbnb etc. We now have a total of 13 employees full time employee and two casual employees. People should look forward to more dynamic local tourism packages that include the most exciting places never seen before in the country. That can only be in the Boteti region.”
In addition, Mbaakanyi further explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has woken up a sleeping giant in the local tourism market. He said that the biggest challenge facing the hospitality industry in terms of meeting the services is standards. The quality of food, customer service, cleanliness etc. In terms of other packages like tour operators, much as it’s something that has always been offered in Ngami and Chobe region, such is not the case in other regions like Boteti. Therefore, there is a huge challenge of reliability for such.
According to Mbaakanyi, Government has assisted the industry a great deal in subsidizing employee salaries. “As you may be aware that tourism is one of if not the biggest private employer, a lot of jobs have been saved as result. As for the tourism organizations like HATAB, there has been very little engagement and updates on where exactly the industry is and projections where I will be so as to assist businesses to plan ahead. For example, I expect HATAB or Botswana Tourism to give us the country average occupancy rate for the year ending December 2020. That would definitely assist the industry in planning ahead. As for the private sector, there is direct engagement other than through Business Botswana. There is CEDA which is our financier, which suspended payment of loans for almost the whole year. This helped companies in our industry with liquidity to spend on operating costs.
Tourism is a multi-business industry in Botswana. In terms of growth it is already up there on the world map, but in terms of indigenous Batswana involvement, we still have areas which still exclusively owned by other races other than black Batswana. The other problem is that even other areas where there is no such exclusivity, black Batswana still struggle to acquire commercial land.” As for the outlook of the tourism sector, Mbaakanyi shared that the way forward is to change the land allocation policy to allow for business expansions. There MUST be a land bank specifically for existing business that can demonstrate capacity to expand. Other than land, there MUST be a one stop shop to address all business-related issues. From land allocation, construction, licensing, to mention a few.
He also mentioned that there is a narrative that Batswana are lazy. For him, this is definitely not true. Batswana business need a serious boost from the government to grow them into high employers. This can be can by targeting more resources like land, finance to already established entities for expansions.
“Boteti is not a special economic zone. I believe this is a big oversight given that already Debswana has a vision of “Orapa/Letlhakane today Boteti tomorrow”. This is an initiative that is positioning Boteti after mining. This is an initiative I think government would embrace and fully participate in. However, it’s possible that Debswana being a part of government, it has been given a green light to implement this vision,” concluded Mbaakanyi.