The newly appointed Cresta Hospitality Group CEO Mokwena Morulane hosted a Meet and Greet session for local media in Gaborone this week. His body language revealed a man not only charged up but in a hurry to deliver on his mandate. He fields questions from KABELO ADAMSON
Having been predominantly in the mining field, how did land in the hospitality sector?
My prior professional experience has been around mining and recently Botswana Oil. So this obviously presents a rare opportunity to expand my skills sets. Hospitality and tourism as you know is a major contributor to the GDP probably second to mining. So it is an important sector and I am proud that with my mining experience I can also add hospitality.
Have you ever worked in the hospitality environment before?
I have never had the privilege of working in the hospitality environment before but I have certainly been a customer to hotels so my perspective coming into this company and also contribution to the team is having had the privilege to travel and be exposed to different environments and obviously different hotel segments. I am able to bring a perspective from a customer point of view, what the customer wants to see, what the trends are and I don’t have the baggage of having worked in that environment and can ask silly questions and hopefully contribute positively.
Will your previous mining management experience contribute to your current position?
In terms of my prior experience and contribution to the current position, you know leadership principles are by and large the same across different sectors so it is bringing the application that I have learnt from prior experience and with that the diversity of other various sectors. There is commonality in terms of basic business principles which one can bring to the fore and that for me has put me in a position where I can contribute positively towards the development and certainly towards the vision and strategy of Cresta going into the future.
What will be your immediate priorities?
The first few weeks obviously you learn, you listen; you have to be able to hear other views but at the same time be able to have a clear vision where one wants to see the company going into. We have a strategy document which is about to be approved by the board. We have support from the board and that talks of what our ambition are. We are the biggest hotel operator in the country; we want to retain that market position going forward. We know competition and it has been coming for the past few years so we have a clear strategy that talks of growth both organic and inorganic, that talks to digitisation, to being able to push our brand better as the Cresta brand and being able to appeal to various segments of our customers in terms of what they want and how we are able to satisfy their expectations.
What are your customer retention strategies?
We value all our customers. We want to ensure that when a customer comes into any of our properties that they would want to come back again. They should be able to refer potential customers to us and have glowing remarks and feedback about us. So there are various tools that we use to able to get customer views and feedback and be able to respond to what their concerns are. And that is the exciting thing about hospitality because every customer is different, every customer requires different service so we need to be able to be dynamic in terms of how we respond to our various customers, but the service has to be consistent and the quality of food has to be good and consistently good. The rooms themselves have to be modern, be clean and fresh with a working Wi-Fi and everything.
The Zambian operation is reportedly underperforming, how are you dealing with the situation?
The Zambian operations have been facing some challenges in recent years. We have seen recovery this year, it is starting to recover. Zambia is an important destination for us; it features very predominately in our strategy going into the future and we will be looking for other additional opportunities in Zambia. As you know, it is one country similar to Botswana in that it is also mineral-led with copper being their main resource. They also have their ambitions to diversify their economy. We have had their envoy coming to us to discuss how Cresta can assist them in this regard. Definitely we want to continue our presence into Zambia and we think there are more opportunities going into the future as far as Zambia is concerned.
How many hotels does Cresta have in Botswana, and how many employees does it have?
We have in total 12 hotels, 11 in Botswana and one in Lusaka, Zambia. We employ around 1000 people, around 900 or thereabout in Botswana and 80 or so in Lusaka. In Botswana we have very few expatriates and that is quite important for us but we are also a regional company we need to have expatriates within our employ. We have less than 1 percent of expatriates within the whole Cresta and in Botswana 12 expatriates who are mostly skilled such as chefs, some housekeepers and General Managers. We are obviously keen on developing and ensuring that going into the future those positions are localised. But we also realise that as a regional player with ambitions will also need to send our people to go and work in other countries. We need to realise that as a regional player we will always have some expatriates as much as we would be exporting some of our people to other countries. Currently, we have a Motswana as an accountant in Zambia and we would be looking into exchanges and have some of the employees from our sister companies in Zimbabwe come and work here and vice versa.
Occupancy levels are declining across the industry as a whole. How are you looking to tackle this issue?
We are always challenged as competition in Gaborone is coming up. This is good as it makes us sharpen our pencils; it makes us differentiate ourselves. It is good for a customer because they have a varied choice and makes them demand more and makes us to perform better. So occupancies will always be a challenge; it is up to us to ensure that we push ourselves better and have a strategy that looks to achieve just that.
Where would like to see Cresta in next five years?
We have got a vision as far as the next five years are concerned and that talks to our corporate strategy of 2018 – 2022. We want to be a dominant player in the mid-tier market, 3-star, the upper 3-star, 4-star and that is where we operate. We want to be dominant player in Sub-Saharan Africa so we see opportunities elsewhere. What is happening in Zimbabwe politically presents a window of opportunity and that window would not be open for long and therefore we need to be agile in terms of identifying these opportunities and going after them. We are consistently deliberate in pursuing them and listening to ideas from various people and stakeholders, including those who ask for possible partnerships.
The group recently experienced a scandal of missing funds; how did that affect investor confidence?
The missing funds issue has been widely reported in the press before and it is an unfortunate incident that happened and that is why in terms of one of our values we would conduct our business with honesty and integrity. We would not tolerate theft, we would not tolerate corruption. How that has affected investor confidence? Clearly as a public-listed entity we have responsibilities to our shareholders; we have responsibilities to the general public. But what we have been able to do is to respond accordingly; the matter is before the police for prosecution and we are tightening the controls internally. Most importantly, you can have as many tight controls as possible but it is the attitude and the culture that we want to inculcate at all levels of our staff that matters. They should know that we would not tolerate theft, and corruption. You can have stages, gatekeepers, but as long as you work on attitude, values and inculcate that then you are on the right track.
What measures have been put in place to avoid a similar incident in the future?
We had internal audit being outsourced, we are now insourcing. From next year we will have a team of internal auditors in-house. We have new external auditors in Deloitte Botswana. We have got a working committee of the board; we have risk register and are addressing our risks effectively, measuring them and responding to them. All these things are geared towards ensuring that we are able to protect shareholder funds. People need to know that they can trust us with their money, and that is what is important.
Discuss the overall hospitality industry as a whole, opportunities and challenges.
Hospitality is very important in this country. The tourists that come from abroad and local ones generate economic activity through which foreign currency is earned. And as we expand we increase our skills base within our company. We are able to create employment opportunities for others and we are able to position Botswana as a destination of choice for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). We are quite bullish about the opportunities that we see in this particular sector and we are pursuing them aggressively.
What CSR initiatives is Cresta involved in?
We have this important initiative which is really P1 per room per bed night. With every booking there is P1 that is set aside which goes towards CSR and Masiela Trust Fund as the major benefactor of this initiative. A lot of money has been put into that Trust which really does a lot of good to the disadvantaged people of our society and also part of the money in the recent past four years has been used for the Housing Appeal from the Office of the President. We have responded positively to that and are proud to announce that over the past four years we have built seven houses. We make donations to SOS in Tlokweng and have donated some of our linens to some clinics. We have done that in Shakawe.
What drives you in life, your passion?
Its life itself and we need to cherish it and obviously I am a family man. Family is very important to me. You come home after a long day the kids run after you, so that is important and is the gift of life that we should cherish and everyone should do their bit in cherishing life and basically contributing positively to it.