Meet Protea Hotel Manor GM – Victoria McLachlan

It’s not everyday that you hear of such a success story in the hotel industry…70% occupancy within the first year of opening for business. Location can also be attributed to this phenomenal success since Protea Hotel Manor is within walking distance to Loftus Versfeld Rugby Stadium and Hatfield Gautrain station.

However location alone does not run a profitable hotel…its my great pleasure to welcome Victor McLachlan the General Manager of this new kid on the block known as Protea Hotel Manor. Let’s find out how she has managed to turn the tables around of a once run down hotel into a thriving hotel today…

Briefly introduce yourself, your career background before your current position…

My name is Victoria McLachlan, I am currently The General Manager at the newly renovated Protea Hotel Manor in Hatfield.

I am a qualified CIMA graduate so for the first 5 years of my career I was in accounting and cost accounting, after which I became a Project Manager / Executive Assistant to the MD of a Nedbank business banking, this was followed by Corporate Credit as a stepping stone to Corporate relationship banking.

Victoria McLachlan, General Manager at Protea Hotel Manor

Victoria McLachlan, General Manager at Protea Hotel Manor

What attracted you to this hotel and how long have you been on the current position?

The opportunity to join a hotel group presented itself unexpectedly; I knew it was the right thing for me at the time even though I was enjoying my then career path in banking. Hotels run in the family blood line, so perhaps I knew deep down it was my calling. I moved to the head office of the Boulevard Hotel Group based in Pretoria where I headed up the marketing department for the group.

I thoroughly enjoyed the position as it posed many challenges and my learning curve was steep.  I did this for 2 years; in the process I involved myself in all aspects of the hotels.  I mirrored the newly appointed MD in all that he did and learnt a great deal from him, he was an experienced hotelier and there is little he doesn’t know about the industry.

What have been your proud achievements since taking over your current position?

In September 2012 we bought a hotel as a going concern, this was the ideal opportunity for me to become a General Manager and get actual experience in the position.

We renovated the current declining property and rebranded the hotel on completion of the renovations as the Protea Hotel Manor.  All 4 of our hotels run with the Protea brand and as a group we fully buy into the brand and all it stands for.

I have been in the position for a year now and I love my job. Being part of the creation of the hotel’s “personality” and growing it from nothing has resulted in me being extremely passionate about our product.  It was challenging running the hotel during the renovations and getting it up and running properly after it was completed, but we are now going from strength to strength.

We have recruited and grown the current management team into a strong team, one that has been through a lot.

One major achievement has been changing the markets perception from what the hotel used to be to what it is now, and that change has come from their experiences.

We started on a base of 0% occupancy at the beginning of this year and currently running on occupancy of 70% and more.

Give us a breakdown of the offerings at Protea Hotel Manor?

The hotel is a 3 star full service property which has 8 conferencing rooms and 88 bedrooms. We have a restaurant, pool and deck, funky nail bar and trendy cocktail bar.

 

What daily challenges do you face with your position?

Everyday is different. Due to the fact that people are so diverse and different, that in itself poses challenges. It doesn’t matter if it’s people I work with or my guests, they all have different wants and expectations and these need to be managed in order to keep everyone happy. I love the challenge of the ever changing environment.

What is the overall staff compliment under your supervision and what percentage of that is recruited from local community?

I have 59 staff members, of which 49 are South Africans.

Do you have an example to share where your hotel has groomed a staff member from entry position to climb the career ladder?

We have one staff member who used to be a garden boy.  One busy day he was pulled into helping out with guests as we were short staffed, from there he became a driver, he left the Boulevard Group for a short while and during this time he got into sales and marketing.  He came back to the Protea Hotel Manor and has been promoted to a Banqueting Supervisor. He is highly ambitious and has great hopes and dreams.

We constantly look to promote within the hotel and the group. We advertise at all the properties when a vacancy becomes available, only following this do we advertise externally.

One waitress was promoted to a receptionist; I saw potential in her so we took the time to teach her from scratch. She did so well and got promoted to a Banqueting Supervisor; this has all been within one year. We recently sent her on a Rotary Leadership course.

How does Protea Hotel Manor recruit new staff members?

My selection criteria are “hire for attitude and train for skill”.

How do you ensure you turn once-off hotel guests into repeat clients?

All return guests are gifted on arrival, welcome back signs are displayed for returning guests, and we sell our Protea Loyalty card “Prokard” which encourages return visits due to the benefits. We encourage guests to fill out our “Hot or Not” cards, this gives them an opportunity to voice their concerns and praise us on our achievements, we respond to each and every card to ensure our guests know we care.

All comments are taken very seriously and are dealt with accordingly.  We try and build personal relationships with all our guests.  I also have an open door policy that anyone may “disturb” me at any time.

What marketing strategies have proven profitable for your hotel and which ones have been a waste of resources?

We hold site inspections for travel agents and government departments where they come view the property (lunch, dinner, drinks or stay over) in order for them to know what they are selling/booking. This is good exposure for the hotel and has helped change any previous negative perceptions. We do sales calls, where I go to travel agents, corporates and any other clients to promote the property and build relationships.

We used to use of e flyers, but we have come to realise that people don’t open mass marketing emails any longer. Designing these flyers was expensive and the ROI was minimal.

What percentage of your budget is spent sourcing goods and services from within your locality?

Local is lekker, 100%

Is your hotel involved in any community upliftment projects…if so, please share details?

We are involved in a diverse range of social upliftment.  We are currently preparing a CD where we document every social upliftment event we take part in. So far we have been involved with Reach for A Dream, Oliver’s House Orphanage and the local hospice in Pretoria.

I aim to not only give money but try give of our time, encouraging staff to take part. The last event was a blanket and food drive for 300 children; staff was taken to the orphanage where they assisted in making the food we had donated and running the days events. Some staff comes from these communities so it is heart-warming seeing them give back in kindness and serving.

How is your hotel impacting positively to the environment?

When we renovated the hotel we installed solar panels that provide enough energy to deliver 150 litres of water at 55˚C to each room, all our lights are energy saving LED bulbs, and we use the Bokashi organic waste management system and provide fair trade coffee through CIRO to our guests.

What inspires you to wake up each morning ready to positively contribute in your hotel?

I know that my drive and energy affects my staff and guests on a daily basis, this impacts directly on the success of our business, this motivates me to pick myself up every morning and try to remain upbeat and positive.  I enjoy seeing the business grow and operations improve.

I am passionate about motivating staff and getting the best I can out of people that try and want to achieve. There are so many diverse things to deal with in this business and position and as such I find it hard not to be passionate and excited every day.

What legacy do you aim to leave in your current position?

When I walk away, it must be as though I never left.  Then I will know I have groomed my staff into what they chose to be.

Author: Muzi Mohale

Hi there, am your host and I blog about the tourism industry in South Africa. You're also welcome to contribute your expert content on matters affecting the industry. You can reach me on muzi[at]tourismedition.com

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