The Ho­tel Guru

SLOW Magazine - - Contents -

Pas­sion­ate in­dus­try vi­sion­ary, Neil Markovitz, is the man be­hind the New­mark Group – the man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing com­pany for a num­ber of renowned lux­ury ho­tels, re­serves, and lodges in Africa. Cape Town-born Markovitz knew from an early age that work­ing in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try was his des­tiny. Dur­ing school hol­i­days, he worked as a waiter, break­fast chef, and porter be­fore go­ing on to study a Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence and Hos­pi­tal­ity Man­age­ment in 1984 at John­son and Wales Uni­ver­sity in Providence, Rhode Is­land, in the United States.

He worked as a food and bev­er­age man­ager for a few years af­ter his stud­ies with the in­ten­tion to build his ca­reer in North Amer­ica. While there, he re­ceived a phone call from his late fa­ther, Leon Markovitz, who ex­cit­edly told him about the up­com­ing V&A Wa­ter­front de­vel­op­ment in Cape Town, and en­cour­aged him to move back home and take ad­van­tage of this in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity.

Markovitz, who was 25 at the time, did just that. Af­ter tak­ing quite a few risks to­gether with his fa­ther and another part­ner, the V&A Ho­tel – the first ho­tel in the Wa­ter­front – opened its doors on the 26 De­cem­ber 1990.

SLOW caught up with Markovitz (N.M) to learn more about his jour­ney since then.

SLOW: Over a decade af­ter as­sist­ing with the con­struc­tion of the V&A Ho­tel, you es­tab­lished New­mark Ho­tels in 2007 and it has since grown into a pres­ti­gious port­fo­lio. Could you tell us a bit about this jour­ney?

N.M: We were an in­de­pen­dent ho­tel in a very new de­vel­op­ment and I re­alised early on that our abil­ity to reach our cus­tomers and op­er­a­tors, do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, was ex­tremely lim­ited due to the tiny bud­get that we had for travel in those days. Even as we grew the prop­er­ties in the Wa­ter­front, I saw that there was a need for cre­at­ing a group of iconic, so-called in­de­pen­dent prop­er­ties, that all had syn­ergy with each other. I then started build­ing the New­mark Group. I feel that the dif­fer­ence with New­mark, as op­posed to other ho­tel com­pa­nies, is that we cel­e­brate the iconic na­ture and in­di­vid­u­al­ity of each prop­erty un­der the New­mark um­brella. We never di­lute the in­di­vid­u­al­ity, yet by cre­at­ing a group of like-minded ho­tels and lodges, you start sell­ing within your own port­fo­lio. For in­stance, you might have the same guest stay­ing at Chuini Lodge in Zanz­ibar, Motswari in the Tim­ba­vati, and the Queen Vic­to­ria Ho­tel in Cape Town. This is when things started to re­ally make sense, not only for in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties, but for the brand it­self.

SLOW: What are some of your favourite New­mark prop­er­ties to visit and why?

N.M: I sup­pose I have an affin­ity with each one of them. As the group has grown and con­tin­ues to grow, I am very con­scious of not ex­pand­ing just for the sake of adding to the port­fo­lio. We re­ally need to feel that we can make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence to the per­for­mance of each prop­erty. I must say, even though big city ho­tels are eas­ier to build and open, it’s the smaller lodge prop­er­ties that I be­lieve add so much di­ver­sity to our over­all of­fer­ing. I’m not sure where my love came from to want to grow into Africa, but I found the po­ten­tial ex­tremely ex­cit­ing, es­pe­cially with our lat­est ad­di­tion – the mag­nif­i­cent Chuini Lodge in Zanz­ibar.

SLOW: What have some of your biggest chal­lenges been?

N.M: The biggest chal­lenge was achiev­ing scale and a model that made sense as one group. We now have per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tion in our key in­ter­na­tional mar­kets – North Amer­ica and the United King­dom – which has en­abled us to be more strate­gic and ef­fec­tive. We are very at­ten­tive to de­tail, and very com­mit­ted for each prop­erty to out­per­form its com­peti­tors. Ev­ery­one in this com­pany has heard me say a mil­lion times: “Our suc­cess is based on the fact that we re­main fix­ated on ‘have-to-haves’, not ‘nice-to-haves’.” In other words, we need to fish where the fish are. We can­not sim­ply just throw our lines out and hope the fish will swim past.

SLOW: When you’re not run­ning a ho­tel em­pire, what do you like to do to re­lax?

N.M: I must be hon­est, I do strug­gle to find bal­ance. When you op­er­ate a busi­ness that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you need to work hard to cre­ate bal­ance in your life. My wife, Lisa, and two chil­dren, Matthew and Jamie, are hugely im­por­tant in my life, and my wife is a very im­por­tant com­po­nent in keep­ing my life bal­anced. I also ex­er­cise ev­ery day, which is good for my stress lev­els.

SLOW: Who in­spires you the most? N.M: I have spent a lot of time and en­ergy in cre­at­ing a solid and ro­bust in­fra­struc­ture to take on growth. I sit with my amaz­ing team reg­u­larly and they re­ally in­spire me the most. This is not just my gig, they are very much part of the growth and where we are go­ing. You re­ally can­not al­low ego to get into the way of growth, es­pe­cially in such a cap­i­tal­in­ten­sive in­dus­try.

SLOW: What ad­vice do you have for busi­ness­peo­ple who want to make it big in the cut-throat in­dus­try of ho­tel man­age­ment?

N.M: I know it’s a cliché, but I re­ally learnt this busi­ness from the bot­tom up. I never for­get where I came from. I re­mem­ber the days when we bought sec­ond-hand crock­ery on auc­tion and sec­ond-hand car­pets for the ho­tels, as we couldn’t af­ford new. As the busi­ness grows, I re­ally do be­lieve in stick­ing to the plan and not al­low­ing your­self to be swayed by more prop­er­ties. I com­pletely sub­scribe to the idea that less is more. Growth must re­ally make sense to you. I also like to hire peo­ple that don’t nec­es­sar­ily come from the ho­tel in­dus­try. It is im­por­tant to di­ver­sify your team, to con­stantly look at as­pects of your busi­ness with dif­fer­ent eyes. I have be­lieved at times that we hote­liers can be­come quite in­su­lar, and have a struc­tured, box-tick­ing men­tal­ity. It’s im­por­tant to bring peo­ple into your team who are free thinkers and cre­atives. Of­ten man­age­ment are prone to in­tro­duce things into oper­a­tion that make it eas­ier for man­age­ment, but af­fects the end re­sult in terms of guest sat­is­fac­tion. This should never be en­ter­tained. Striv­ing to im­prove guest ex­pe­ri­ence must be at the fore­front of any oper­a­tion.

The im­pres­sive New­mark Group is cer­tainly a tes­ta­ment to the cre­ative vi­sion of Markovitz.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the New­mark Group, visit­markho­

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