‘RTG reclaiming market share’

RAINBOW Tourism Group (RTG) says it has exceeded most of its targets for the first half of the year and embarked on an expansion drive that will increase rooms and ratings. Zimbabwe Independent chief business reporter Paul Nyakazeya (PN) this week spoke to RTG commercial director Godfrey Pasipanodya (GP) about the group’s short-term plans and the tourism industry.

(PN) Do you think RTG has the capacity to perform better than other players in the industry in light of the country’s false start to economic recovery?
(GP) After the introduction of multi-currencies, we had to look at cost management issues to meet our targets. These include central procurement and increasing volumes as well as cementing relationships for better growth to be a major player.
(PN) RTG has been on a refurbishment drive, what prompted the group to embark on such a drive and what are the targeted hotels and lodges.
(GP) Infrastructure generally in Zimbabwe has been deteriorating. With the introduction of the US dollar there is no excuse anymore for not improving or upgrading. This is why we took this initiative. We have started with A’ Zambezi River Lodge in Victoria Falls where we have already done 60% of the work towards converting it from a three star to an up market four star luxurious resort lodge.  The lodge will shut down between January and March, the low season, that is after the festive period and reopen after completion in April 2011. Work at A’ Zambezi will cost about US$3,2 million.We are keeping our green customers in mind during these renovations. Next in line is Rainbow Towers. We have already secured US$7,5 million for the refurbishment, and currently we are in the concept stage. We are also involved in a hotel project in Beitbridge with NSSA which we are targeting to open in 2012.  Some work will be done at Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel and Sikumi to keep up with expectations and the high standards offered elsewhere.
(PN) How much will be invested in refurbishment and construction?
(GP)  About US$10,7 million, however one should note that this figure does not incorporate the other capex projects such as kitchen utility equipment which will be sourced from an internal funding facility.
(PN) What makes RTG different from other hotels?
(GP) We are diversified as we operate lodges, hotels, a destination management company and a hotel training institution. It makes us a unique provider with these outstanding brands within our portfolio.
(PN) Early this year the group said it was tapping into international markets such as Japan, France, parts of China and Russia, how far have you gone in this regard and what are the expected benefits?
(GP) With China we already have relationships and traffic spin-offs evident in Harare’s Rainbow Towers as well as our Victoria Falls properties. As for Japan we are busy contracting for 2011. They are interested in four star facilities and better and thus bringing our 2011 A’ Zambezi outfit into the equation. The French are strong nature lovers and we are targeting Sikumi and Matetsi and Victoria Falls to cater for them and our presence at Topresa, a luxury travel show in France has been a must with the winner being our French speaking associates in Victoria Falls. We are still exploring the Russians as their clientele expects six to seven star luxury facilities and we should be able to tap into this after our refurbishment programmes when we will use our properties’ unique locations. There are however markets we did not mention that we are targeting such as Brazil, Argentina and Australia that seem to have recovered from a recent global downturn. However, we still rely on efforts from our domestic market and the regional markets in Sadc.
(PN) How would you describe the tourism industry at the moment?
(GP) Same old song, but there are positive changes, more routes are being introduced and airlines such as Zambezi Airlines are servicing Zimbabwe routes. We hope British Airways will soon fly back to Zimbabwe. It will be more of a confidence booster to others tinkering with the thought.
The perception dilemma is still a challenge although ZTA is working with other players in the industry to improve the country’s image and correct negativism associated with the destination through an a la carte of programmes.
(PN) What do you think has been the major stumbling block to a quick and smooth recovery of the tourism sector?
(GP) Occupancy levels have improved to 40% from 20% in our resorts, but the strict entry visa system, payment modalities, communications associated with e-shopping and payment methods,  as well as flexibility on pricing need to be looked at critically, without overlooking training to offer a competitive world class service that we have always promised in our boardrooms.
(PN) RTG said it anticipated that it would lose business during the World Cup as most of their South African markets were not mobile towards this direction. Would it be fair to say you did not benefit anything from the World Cup?
(GP) It is unfortunate that we did not benefit immensely in monetary value, but we benefitted from good publicity, and we are expecting increased traffic, post World Cup.
We had to be creative in our own way as we made the necessary noise and went into smart partnerships readying ourselves for the aftermath. During the World Cup itself you had others who did not want anything to do with it –– hey why not an Escape the World Cup package, which was well taken with other quarters.
(PN) What is RTG’s current market share and what is your target by December 2011, considering the amount you are pouring into refurbishments?
(GP) We were targeting 24% during the first half of the year but we were at 26% and are targeting to close the year at 28%. We expect the percentage to go up next year after most of the refurbishments are complete. Looking forward to 2011, 32% plus will be achieved, all efforts being constant.
(PN) How true is it that Sheraton is coming back to Rainbow Towers?
(GP) We have not heard from them but continue reading it in the papers, but we may entertain proposals from other brands.
(PN) There have been different stories regarding the water situation at Rainbow Towers when Jamaican duo of Brick and Lace came to Zimbabwe. What is the position?
(GP)  We all have maintenance challenges due to aging infrastructure but Zimbabweans always say “we will make a plan and will be on top of it”, and these issues are long gone and rectified, and we would like to reassure our guests that when they book into our facility, they will get service expected of a five star.
(PN) How many rooms do you have in Zimbabwe and the region?
(GP) In the region we have 412 rooms, broken down as follows; Savoy, Mozambique 154, Edinburgh, Mozambique 76 and Hotel Mozambique in Beira with 182 rooms. In Zimbabwe we have 916 rooms making the total under operations 1 328 rooms, excluding the 7 800 conference seating capacity within the group.