MALALANE – At the recent provincial round of the Lilizela Tourism Awards, Needles Safari Lodge in Marloth Park won the award in the four-star lodge category, while Selati 103 Guest Cottages, in Mhlatikop near Malalane, was named the best three-star guest house.
The Lilizela Tourism Awards is an annual, national competition that aims to recognise outstanding service among accommodation and other tourism-related establishments, services and products.
Categories range from service excellence and sustainable development to wildlife encounters. Around 80 per cent of the score is based on consumer reviews, while a panel of judges decide on the other 20 per cent.
The provincial award ceremonies were held during September, and the provincial winners were chosen from a total of 1 300 entries from across the country.
The provincial winners get an invitation to the national gala event at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on November 17, where the national winners will be announced.
Corridor Gazette chatted to the local winners to find out what their recipe for success is.
Denis Goffinet, owner of Needles Safari Lodge, stated that it is very rewarding for the team to see that service excellence to guests gets recognition and keeps the guests coming back year after year. The lodge has won the provincial award in the four-star lodge category every year since 2015. This year they hope to bring back a national award for the region.
Needles was built in 2003 by the late Mike Cromhout, who sold it to Gary and Alter Barlthrop in 2007. When they decided to move to the Cape in 2012, Goffinet purchased the lodge.
When the Goffinets took over the lodge, the average annual occupancy was 17 per cent. They grew it year-on-year to over 80 per cent by 2016. They invested over R1 million in 2017 to add additional rooms, a state-of-the-art kitchen, a 450-bottle, walk-in, climate-controlled wine cellar and new offices to cope with the increase in administration and marketing.
Their recipe for success? “Reward your staff well and have an inclusive management policy. This ensures our happy staff look after our guests with friendly personal service. And, of course, providing superior quality food and service with a host of activities to ensure our guests are well looked-after. We don’t hold back on reinvesting funds back into the business and ensure that your linen, among others, is regularly replaced and spotless,” Goffinet stated.
Selati 103 Guest Cottages has also been a provincial winner. Owner, Riekie Terblanche said they were entered automatically by SA Tourism for the first Lilizela Awards in 2013. They ended up as a provincial finalist and won the provincial category for three-star guest houses in 2015, the only other year they entered.
“With the award and framed certificate, guests can see and appreciate the efforts that you put in regarding all aspects of the business – from the garden and maintenance to the cleaning and serving. It is a tangible achievement and a morale booster to all the staff, and they then feel proud of what they do,” Terblanche explained.
Teamwork and doing their work well is their key to success. She thanked Anri Cronje, who recently left the team after eight years, for her contributions.
The guest house has been around since 1996 and started with just one unit. They gradually expanded to include 13 more, housing up to 45 people. The safety of the secure village, close to the Kruger National Park and Leopard Creek Golf Course, ensures their guests become regulars.
Terblanche and Goffinet both agree that Nkomazi has the potential to become an even bigger tourism destination.
Although the Kruger National Park is a huge attraction, they believe government and the private sector need to invest more in developing alternative attractions, activities and cultural experiences like visiting local villages, annual events and traditional restaurants.
“Local government needs to ensure that services and infrastructure contribute to sustainable tourism. They also need to improve control over unlicensed rogue operators that flout the rules and employ foreign nationals at lower salaries, thus doing our local communities out of much-needed jobs,” he said.
He urged establishments in the area to get involved with the Nkomazi Local Tourism Organisation and Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism for a united front to drive the industry forward and work with local authorities.
Goffinet and Terblanche would like to thank SA Tourism and the MTPA for the recognition and their efforts to boost the tourism sector.
According to the Lilizela Awards website, Ngwenya Lodge (between Marloth Park and Komatipoort) was named a national finalist in the category Wildlife Encounters.
For more information on the awards, click here.