Kievits Kroon targets MICE market
Kievits Kroon managing director Alan O’Leary celebrated 10 years at the helm of the upmarket country estate in Pretoria this month.
O’Leary joined the hotel in April 2002 at the age of 27, when it was a struggling 70 room property with a substantial accumulated loss for the previous financial year, and has turned it into a successful, award-winning hotel.
O’Leary recalls that the challenges which faced him when he took the job of general manager of the hotel included a negative cash flow, poor management, high staff turnover and bad feedback from guests.
Owner of the estate, Holland-based Ton Verachtert, says that the turnaround was achieved through O’Leary’s determination to deliver quality in all aspects of the business.
Says O’Leary: “One of the first things I did was to appoint leadership training consultants, Schuitema, to address the issue of poor morale. With their help we were able to change the attitude of the staff which was beset with conflict and distrust, and develop people whose loyalty and commitment we could rely on.
“As a result we were able to start delivering the kind of service that the market expected.” Within a few years Kievits Kroon became known for its outstanding amenities and good service. The hotel flourished in the years prior to the global economic downturn.
“When the downturn came, we decided that the best policy was to adapt to meet the challenges that the hospitality industry was facing locally,” says O’Leary. “We realised that the MICE market was not going to suffer as badly as the leisure market and adapted accordingly. We were thus able to survive in a climate when many hotels closed or were sold well below market value.”
In 2010 O’Leary saw an opportunity to maximise the opportunities being offered to accommodation establishments by the World Cup Soccer.
“We added 42 rooms to the hotel in order to accommodate the soccer referees for six weeks. As a result we can now compete with the bigger accommodation establishments in Gauteng.“
Verachtert says the financial figures speak for themselves. “The difference is night and day,” he says.
O’Leary cautions that there are still many challenges facing the hospitality industry.
“However, I believe that we are better prepared for the changing markets and the challenges which lie ahead,” he says. “Kievits Kroon has become a successful, well-known brand that we can build on.
“We have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline which will definitely keep me busy for the foreseeable future.”
O’Leary was born and educated in Ireland. In 1996 he obtained his diploma in Hotel Management from the Shannon College of Hotel Management. He is currently doing his MBA through the British-based Henley Management College and aims to complete it this year.
He started in the hospitality industry with Forte Hotels, moving on to the DeVere Hotel in Blackpool as food and beverage manager, then moved to Fuller Smith & Turner as hotel manager. After five years he quit his job, took a two month break and came to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro.
“I’ve always been extremely fond of South Africa, having spent a number of holidays in Cape Town. So when the opportunity to join Kievits Kroon presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands.”
O’Leary is a keen sportsman and has a passion for mountain climbing. He has successfully summitted Kilimanjaro (2002), Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus mountains, Russia (2005), Guagua Pichincha and Mt Cotopaxi in the Andes (2007), and Mt Cayambe in Ecuador in the Andes (2008).
In 2011 he attempted to climb Mt Aconcagua in order to raise funds for Leeuwfontein Primary School, Kievits Kroon’s nominated charity. It is the highest mountain in South America and the southern hemisphere. The attempt was not successful but O’Leary raised R150,000 from various sponsors for the charity.