Cresta’s caretaker

Francinah Baaitse
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE: Mongwaketse

A hotelier’s passion

Mocked by his school mates for choosing Home Economics and Food and Nutrition, subjects traditionally favoured by girls, Seth Mongwaketse was not discouraged.

Instead, he worked harder and emerged at the top of the class.

Back then, Mongwaketse was focused on becoming the best Chef the country has ever produced.

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Instead, his path would whisk him off in the direction of Hotel Management.

Now aged 46, Dr Mongwaketse, manages two big hotels in Maun: Cresta Maun Resort, known locally as Cresta Matlapana, and Cresta Rileys.

The brainy boss did his hotel schooling in Australia, Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School, furthered with Honours Degree in Business Management, gained a Masters in Strategic Management and also holds a PHD in Tourism and Business Management.

Married with two daughters, this talented twin from Oodi, the youngest of five siblings, took time out of his hectic schedule to tell his story..

Thank you for your time. Briefly take us through your journey in the hotel industry?

I have been in this industry for 24 years now.

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I have been with Cresta for the past four years.

I was at Cresta Jwaneng for three years then transferred to Maun to manage Cresta Maun Resort.

I have been in Maun for 18 months now.

Additional to my responsibilities is management of Cresta Riley’s.

Where were you before Cresta?

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Before Cresta I worked at Avani Hotel formerly Gaborone Sun hotel, as a Resident Manager.

That is where I started my hospitality career at length.

Prior to coming back to hotels, I worked at BTO as the founding Business Operations Manager.

I was responsible for the management of Joint Venture Companies and subsidiaries of BTO.

What did that involve?

Setting up potential businesses and ensuring they stay relevant for a very long time.

Examples of businesses I helped set up from scratch are: Seboba Park in Kasane, next to Cresta Mowana Hotel, Lepokole Nature Reserve in the village of Lepokole, near Bobonong and Goo Moremi Resort.

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What we see right now at Goo Moremi, the set up there, I am the brains behind everything there.

The Xhwihaba campsite, you know the Xhwihaba caves where the former President [Ian Khama] used to retreat a lot, I was involved in the set up of that as well.

One of my favourites is the set up of the Tsabong Camel Park, which I have a real soft spot for.

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The facility had over 1, 000 camels; many people don’t know that that was the highest population of camels in a domesticated environment in Southern and Central Africa.

Sounds interesting…

My function was to set-up these facilities around tourism attractions.

For example, the attraction at Goo Moremi is the Gorge, Tsabong is Camels and sanddunes, Xhwihaba is exploration going into the caves, Seboba Park was basically to target the international market into Kasane; basically sitting right on Chobe River.

In Lepokole there are rock paintings of the bushmen which are the main attractions.

Lepokole is one hidden gem.

Botswana in general is a tourism attraction, the country is rich in natural resources and all we need is to think outside the box.

Sounds like you’ve packed plenty into your 24 years – is that everything?

No! Prior to doing my job at BTO, I had just returned from South Africa where I worked at Sun City Carnival City and Meropa Casino – they all fell under Sun International, which was the former owner of Gaborone Sun Hotel & Casino, that is where I was coming from. I am actually the first Motswana to be transferred from Gaborone Sun to go and work in South Africa Sun International.

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I was put in a Management Programme and was the first one to actually go into senior management in Botswana at Sun International.

So that is how I drew my international experience.

You’ve worked in Jwaneng and Maun, how would you describe the differences between the two towns, in terms of their hospitality and vibe?

When in SA, I worked in three different provinces, so coming back and going into Jwaneng, which is a business town and a mining town, it is your Monday to Thursday set-up kind of thing.

Then, coming to Maun, Maun is a total buzz in itself, it is unique.

There are a lot of low hanging fruits.

There is mix of anything that you need: business and leisure, all coupled together and I find Maun as one territory where we are able to mix as a people and above all its locals and internationals all the time.

Talking about locals and internationals, are there any different interests among these two groups?

Locals are set around local activities, our people just like a good time: they like parties, we are a party market basically, people come to Maun to unwind.

They will go for game drives, boat cruises and just have a good time, that’s our people.

Now with the international market the interest is quite different in that they are more into detail than us.

A local Motswana for instance, when we stop to look and admire an anthill during a game drive, an international would want to understand everything about the anthill, how it is built and all the smallest details.

But you and I will just pass and not even give a second thought about that anthill; it does not mean anything to us, it is of no interest to us in fact.

Most of us know what an anthill (seolo) is anyway, surely that explains the lack of local interest?

Exactly, that is why I am saying: our inquisitiveness as locals is not as in-depth as those of international travellers.

Basically Maun and Botswana offer international tourists natural products that they don’t have in their own countries.

We have beautiful birds, millions of birds, which cause a lot of traffic into Maun.

You know many people think tourists are only coming here for animals, that is not so.

People pay millions just to come and see the Botswana birds.

The international market is documenting our information more than us, writing books and capturing photos, different species of what we have to offer outside of animals.

People don’t know that avian tourism [bird-watching] is the attraction of many travellers that we see coming into the country, and that is one component of tourism that we really need to look out for.

Someone will book in here and spend a whole week just for the birds; going to the camp and into the delta for a week just for the birds and they are ready to pay a fortune for that.

Of course there are those who come in for animals, hunting, some come for honeymoons, and they do the double bookings: for the land which is Maun and the wet which is the Delta.

Would you say locals are missing out on opportunity to profile and sell what BW has to offer to the world?

Absolutely, it is one component I wish Batswana can look into.

There is a lot of good money in good photography with well documented stories behind that.

Just recently I read a story online of one Motswana who sold a painting for around P8 million; but you don’t just wake up and say because it is thus, you can get money from it – you need talent, passion and patience.

Being in Maun I have seen very good photographers but they are photographers for events only, they are not keen to go out and capture more images out there.

Currently in Maun we do not even have a place where we can see different displays of photos of the tourism products that we have, be it wildlife, nature, our sunsets, etc.

How many Batswana right now can sit and watch the sunset and capture it on camera? Very few and this is because we grew up seeing it and it does not interest us that much. But there are millions of people out there who would love to see that image; some travel and spend money just to come to our country and continent for the sunsets. They cannot see that in their countries. We need to grab and diversify ourselves from over reliance on wildlife tourism and do other projects which our tourism can offer. There is more to tourism than wildlife alone.

Have you always wanted to be a Hotelier?

From childhood, I wanted to be a Chef and that is why I chose to go to hotel school.

What happened was I managed to pass Home Economics and Food and Nutrition at secondary school, both Nanogang Junior Secondary School and Naledi Senior Secondary School in Gaborone.

The boys used to laugh at me because they were all doing Design and Technology but I was with the girls – I beat them girls and they know it (laughing).

I had a passion for cooking since childhood and always viewed cooking as an art.

The vision was solidified when I passed Food and Nutrition and its practicals and outsmarted the girls.

This encouraged me, hence I proceeded to a hotel school even though I did not graduate as a Chef.

The cooking practicals are the core component of Hotel Management nonetheless.

Fast-forward to today, how are you coping with managing two hotels at the same time?

It is quite complex!

For one, I deal with different characters, heading a team of over 130 people.

The other complexity is the day-to-day management and operation, but for me I find it as a challenge.

I like headaches, I like being challenged and taken to the next level.

And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?

This weekend I am going for a retreat in the Delta, work related.

In our industry you mix pleasure with business, you must have a bit of both!

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