What attracted you to your current role in Botswana? I was considering my options, after being made redundant in December 2011, and typed 'jobs in Africa' into the Xpress Recruitment website and this role came up. I was attracted to the opening of what was to be a significant hotel - the world's first Lansmore (the five-star brand for Lonrho Hotels), a foreign land and a much bigger hotel than I am used to.
What does your responsibilities as general manager entail? The real challenge here has been to buck the local tendency for mediocrity of service. We employed 170 Batswana with natural charm and warmth. In the majority of cases we have trained them from the grass roots up. Gaborone is a small city so PR initiatives gain momentum quickly, though there is are growing number of hotels fighting for the same business.
How difficult was the opening of the hotel? If you see an opening as difficult, you are doing it wrong! It was very challenging but I was lucky in having a pre-opening GM who effectively did all the logistical stuff and the bulk of the recruitment. We made a very good team and his excellence meant I could focus on sales, marketing, PR, standards, quality and essentially the philosophy of the place.
There are obvious frustrations doing business here. If you come from a dynamic environment and are used to getting things done fast, it can be maddening. You are faced with the choice of giving in or pushing and challenging the status quo. We challenge and push; and get things done!
What do you like about living and working in Botswana? The people are friendly, the weather is great, the cost of living is low, traffic not too bad and I am only 90 minutes by plane from amazing places like Cape Town.
And dislike? It is not very cosmopolitan and getting things done is patience-sapping. Some areas of officialdom are very bureaucratic and in general people are too laissez faire and last minute in business terms. Of course this means that off duty time is very relaxing and unhurried.
How developed is the five star hotel market in Botswana? It isn't. Until we arrived there was only one other five star hotel in Gaborone - we are delivering higher standards than they are and I hope the grading people, who are yet to rate us, agree. I would like for Lansmore to be recognised on the world stage in a few years. This is an ambitious goal but worth stretching for.
How widespread are opportunities for British staff to work in the hospitality industry in Botswana? Not great. Visas are a challenge except at the most senior level. Botswana, quite rightly, wants to protect jobs for its own people. Currently there are not the skills at executive level in the local talent pool so they must be imported. We have a responsibility to develop the local people and if I leave one day it would be terrific if I could hand the reigns to a Motswana.
How do you think your experience of working abroad will impact your future career? This is the biggest hotel I have ever run in terms of size and revenue. I have learned a huge amount and drawn upon much of my experience in the UK. It was time to step up from the country house market and get my teeth into something of this size. The principles of good hotelkeeping remain the same regardless of size, though I have to spend more time here on finance and strategy. In terms of my future, I have another (my third) opening under my belt and continue to show a track record in quality, standards, profit and adaptability.
How long do you intend to stay in Botswana? I have been here 15 months now and the hotel is only nine months old. I am really happy and have not thought about my next move. I have a five year visa and who knows, perhaps Lonrho will send me off somewhere else after this?
Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to work? If you had asked me that prior to December 2011 whilst I was in the UK I would have said nowhere but the UK - but I have tried it and love it here. I would not rule anywhere out now, though I am especially drawn to Cape Town.
Rupert Elliott CV
2012-present General manager Lansmore Masa Square, Gaborone, Botswana
2011 General manager, Highbullen Hotel, Golf and Country Club, Chittlehamholt, Devon
2009-2011 General manager, Bibury Court, BIbury, Gloucestershire
2008-2009 Hotel manager, Stapleford Park, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
2007-2008 The Priest House hotel, Castle Donington
2006 Pre-opening team, Banyan Tree, Al Areen, Bahrain
2002-2006 Divisional general manager, Hart's Nottingham
2002 Resident manager, the Stafford hotel, London
1999-2002 General manager, Hambleton Hall, Oakham, Rutland
1998-1999 Deputy assistant to the Master of the Household, Buckingham Palace