The Hotel Guru
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, visit www.newmarkhotels.com.