AT YOUR SERVICE
In the late 80’s when Gaborone was a little vibey town, Botswana was a gateway to happiness for most South Africans escaping the toxic apartheid atmosphere.
Live music was still in fashion and Gabz city punched above her weight hosting bands such as The Commodores, Maxi Priest, Shabba Ranks and British award winning reggae band UB40.
It was in 1988 at the UB40 concert that 19 year old Port Elizabeth native Ian Ririe fell in love with the city and its people.
The young Ririe made a vow to return one day and work or set-up business in Botswana.
Now two decades later after working in the UK, Israel, Mozambique and Malawi; he is back in the country’s second city Francistown as Cresta Marang General Manager.
The cheerful Marang boss opened up about his love for Botswana and her people in an interview with Voice reporter Kabelo Dipholo.
Q. You have travelled the world over working in the hospitality business, kindly share with us a little bit about your journey in your exciting career?
A. Thank you. It has been such an amazing journey since I graduated from the Johannesburg Hotel School.
I could have have easily got a job in one of the hotels in South Africa because light skinned people were at the time given priority.
However because I had a different upbringing, and attended a mixed school I was not comfortable with the arrangement where a black person who in most cases was more qualified became my junior and still performed my duties for slave wages while I got paid for doing nothing.
I went to the UK and I did not start at managerial level, I waited tables and worked my way up.
I would later go to the Middle East and Germany to further strengthen my knowledge of the industry.
Q. How was it like growing up in the apartheid South Africa?
A. It was the worst time ever.
Like I said I was lucky my parents were more liberal and I attended mix race school which is the reason I’m fluent in both Xhosa and Zulu.
But white privilege was something I was never comfortable with, I wanted every human being to be given an equal chance and that’s why I left for Europe, though I could have easily found employment in South Africa.
Q. How then did you end up in Botswana?
A. I came to Botswana for the first time in 1988 for the UB40 concert.
I made up my mind then that I had to return to the country one day.
I however did not come here right away.
I went back to South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1994 and worked as a Beverage Manager at Southern Sun.
I later managed hotels in Malawi and Mozambique before coming here to join the Cresta family.
I’ve been in Francistown for four years now and I’m a complete Ghetto boy.
This is the best city in the country and I hope to stay here for some years.
Q. How has your family adapted to life in Botswana?
A. It’s just me and my wife and she is happy here.
I have a 22 year old son based in Thailand.
My 20 year old daughter is currently at Rhodes University and she plans to go to Hong Kong upon graduation.
Q. Hotel business is quite challenging especially in a city like Francistown which is reliant on government, mines and private companies for business.
What has been your challenge in running Cresta Marang Hotel?
A. Unlike some cities and even towns in Botswana Francistown is not a tourist destination.
There are no attractive places which we can use to lure tourists to come to our town.
So what we have done is market Francistown as a gateway city especially to South Africans who are either travelling to northwest of the country or Zimbabwe.
We are a corporate hotel heavily reliant on government and local businesses but we still have a role to play in ensuring that this city is a perfect home for visitors coming here, and we can only achieve that by giving top class service.
Q. What could be the one thing that hotels in Francistown may not be doing right?
A. I personally believe the industry in Botswana has failed to promote self drive tourism.
It is big in South Africa and I don’t know why it has not taken off here. The roads in Botswana are not bad and we should be targeting tourists who want to come here driving themselves, while we offer them our beautifull rooms and campsites.
Q. One of your biggest clients was the Tati Nickel mine, how has its closure affected your business?
A. We are still trying to come to terms with the closure of mines.
We were not just getting business from Tati staff, there were subcontractors, drillers and all sorts of personnel who required our services.
If the situation does not improve, it is going to be a tough year for businesses in Francistown.
There’s hope though if media reports could be relied upon that Mowana mine will open soon.
Q. Modern hotels provide more than just accommodation. What is so unique about Marang Hotel?
A. Marang is a green oasis in a dry brown desert.
The main business is accommodation, but our signature green and big gardens have become a big hit.
We host weddings and offer a very attractive package. This has contributed significantly to our revenue.
When I arrived I realised there was great potential from the local market and I came up with strategies to tap into the local market and today we have managed to increase our profit ten-fold in the last four years.
Q. There have been reports of exploitation in the hospitality industry, what do you do as a General Manager to ensure your employees’ welfare is well taken care of?
A. I have been against exploitation from a very young age and wherever I have worked, I made sure I empowered my staff.
It is something that I pride myself in.
Right here in Marang we have an employee who is currently a Restaurant Supervisor.
He started as a laundry worker but I saw potential and he has not disappointed me.
The one thing that gives me a buzz is to see my employees being promoted to higher positions.
To see someone get ahead gives me so much pleasure and I’d do anything to help them achieve it.
I don’t believe in hiring a dish-washer who wants to do dishes for 20 years.
I want a dish washer who’ll be challenging for a higher position in a few years time, mine included.
Q. You are also known to be a hands on GM, who is occasionally spotted waiting tables.
Why do you think this is necessary?
A. Once in a while staff needs motivation, they have to understand that what they are doing is not less important but a service needed to keep the business going.
Q. Besides running one of the busiest hotels in the city, what else do you do?
A. I usually hang out at the golf club with friends.
I’m not really a golfer but it is the one place I prefer when I’m not working.
Q. Thank God its Friday, so what are you up to this weekend?
A. I’m a private person, and spend most of my time at home with my wife.
I do a lot of mentoring online and when there is time I’d be riding my bike along the Shashe River on Sunday.