The waning fortunes of Zim's hospitality industry


When things went bad and our economy suffered, a lot was lost and continues to be lost in our beautiful country, Zimbabwe.

This column has treated quite a number of those negative issues that we seem to have allowed to creep into our collective character as a workplace, the heartbeat of our economic wellbeing.

It is imperative that we open our eyes and think about how we get to the promised land alive and with a culture that promotes life through economic growth, because at the end of the day the workplace is the heart of the economy. We do not want to wait for the politics of our country to get better to fix our little economic domains such as our companies.

That would be suicidal and indolent. We are fixing the workplace now and not later when things get better because entrepreneurship is the process of identifying people’s problems and solving them and if you solve simple problems, you make simple money, if you solve complex problems, you make complex money.

Our problems are complex in Zimbabwe and I see a lot of our citizens preferring to contribute to the problems by becoming armchair revolutionaries who specialise in criticising from the terraces.

There is a plethora of Whatsapp and other social media groups where the order of the day is criticising those who are doing their best to do something under the difficult and complex circumstances. If we adopted the entrepreneurship attitude we would sail through these dark days and emerge winners for ourselves and for posterity. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

This article and the introduction you just read was triggered by a bad experience I had on November 22, 2022 at Rainbow Towers Hotel, Harare, where service and customer care seems to have hit an all-time low.

I am of the understanding that hospitality is African. We are born into it and grow up learning it in many of our ethnic groups in this country. I recall, growing up in the village being taught to be hospitable and it was not just our homestead that taught that, but the whole village.

Everyone had that kind of attitude which started with a visitor asking to be welcomed from outside by shouting; Ekuhle (May I come in) in Ndebele or Tapinda the Kalanga version of it. I have learnt also that the Shona ethnic group has Tisvike wo. They would get a response and this was courtesy and connection and meant a lot to the villagers. It gave the visitor a sense of welcome and relationship and it would usually come with tea or water being offered to the visitor because they would have travelled a long distance.

As the kids of the homestead, we were taught to then go to the visitor, kneel down, stretch out our hands and greet the visitors by shaking their hands. We would then be the ones sent to get the visitors some water or something.

You see a whole ritual and process around the value of hospitality that the village stretched out to each other. You would even find it in the streets when villagers met, having to greet each other and sometimes ask about the welfare of the kids by saying; Banjani abantwana? (How are the kids doing) and the respondent would go; Hayi bayaphila singabuza lina? (They are well, how about yours?).

There was that sense of care, villager care if you like, that one realises is what is called customer care in the workplace. For the village it was just care that didn’t translate to money, but had social capital as the benefit and as a result of this, crime was limited and connection increased. A villager while travelling would stop at any homestead and ask for some water to drink. This was hospitality at another level.

It is against this background that I treat the subject of our hospitality waning fortunes in the Zimbabwean hospitality industry using Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare as an example where I had quite a bad service experience when I visited a friend who was booked there. What makes matters worse for me is the fact that this is a hotel and not a village that practised hospitality for connection with no monetary gain.

We are writing here about a business that makes profit through the patronage of guests, some of whom travel long distances to stay with them. One would expect them to go out of their way to give them a good experience.

Just the calls to different departments by guests are not made easy by having the extensions known to them. The room did not have a sheet or leaflet with the extensions for room service, restaurant, bar, housekeeping and other essential services.

How does a guest feel at home and safe under those circumstances? By guess work you dial zero and it goes to switch board, which I must say try their best but I would recommend a rule such as that the phone should not ring three times before it’s picked up.

Switchboard then gives you the extension to the service you are looking for and you call and never get a response. You call switchboard again and ask them to now put you through to the relevant place and they do so but while talking to that department you have been put through to, the phone cuts and they never call you back. Phew! After a long struggle you eventually get them and order what you want and it comes to your room after one hour, with no call whatsoever, while you wait to just said, ‘sorry for the delay, your order is still being prepared…’

When the order eventually comes to you, the person serving you looks grumpy and tired and you ask them why they delayed and they tell you that there is too much work because the hotel is full, with no smile whatsoever until you ask them why they don’t seem happy and it’s only then that they force a smile and say, ‘no sir I am happy…’

One then wonders, where is leadership when guests get this kind of service? What happened to training and guidance in customer service? When management knows their bookings are full and work is up, what happened to increasing the workforce on duty? Why understaff your hotel when there is a lot of people and work? This whole problem is about leadership and if our workplace dies in that regard, then we are dead indeed. Rainbow Towers Hotel is indeed a big tower infrastructurally and looks beautiful from outside. This is the former Sheraton Hotel, a beautiful place. What one sees now is something akin to a sepulchre city... 

Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as head of human capital, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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