The Michelangelo Hotel

1-YEAR ON, THESE SANDTON HOTELS ARE STILL CLOSED

Over a year ago it was unthinkable that some of Sandton’s most prominent accommodation could be frozen in time. Having heeded the call to lock-down, a year on, nothing has changed. The lights of Sandton have always been an impressive sight for those driving through the brightly lit streets at night, but for many hotels, lights have been the only vibrant activity for the past 12-months.

 

  • South Africa went into lockdown on 26 March 2020.
  • Sandton currently has a capacity in excess of 5500 beds.
  • Only 12 international flights are flying in and out of South Africa with a much-reduced capacity.
  • Visit www.sandtontimes.co.za for more stories.

 

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa’s hospitality and tourism industry faced it’s greatest challenge yet – no tourists or travelers. The usual bustle of cabin crew arriving and leaving some of Sandton’s 5-Star hotels; the overseas tour groups taking souvenir photographs at Nelson Mandela’s statue a the square named after him; the business delegates grabbing a quick coffee in the lobby of the Sandton Convention Centre – all those are distant memories, and the many hotels who used to accommodate the throngs of visitors are now closed on account of the lockdown.

 

At one Sandton hotel, a lone security guard has been watching the empty premises for over 12-months, whilst at another, no guard or movement is observed at all. The fountains are empty, the parking cobblestone consumed by weeds and the doors closed shut with locks and chains.

Hospitality and tourism has been severely negatively affected countrywide. However, top premium hotels in the larger city centers such as Sandton, Cape Town and Durban, have taken the brunt of it – since by the nature of their customer base, they rely predominantly on international and business tourism, as well as government business. It is a year now, that international travel to South Africa has for all intents and purposes been closed and business travel is exceptionally limited – as is government travel. As such, it has just not been viable for the Hotel Groups to reopen their hotels that rely predominantly on a customer base that is currently non-existent. This is very worrying and we really hope that the Government fast tracks the Vaccine Roll-Out urgently, since without it, we will not be able to regain our international customer base and as such these hotels will remain financially nonviable to reopen.

// National Chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA), Rosemary Anderson

 

The growth in Sandton’s hospitality space almost seemed unending, as one hotel after another opened its doors, and just when it seemed like the bed nights could not be filled, another premium hotel would open its doors with unmatched dining, world-class spa facilities and conferencing. Getting a room in Sandton during the week, often seemed almost impossible, even with the vast amount of choices from budget friendly to top-tier options. From The Saxon Hotel & Spa to The Michelangelo Hotel and the Garden Court to The City Lodge in Sandton, the selection of the best and the busiest was unrivaled.

 

Now, with the flow of international tourists, both from across Africa and the world drying up, the properties once dependent on global guests, stand empty. Sandton has always been a first choice with visitors from around the world for its international feel, perceived safety, convenience, access to dining and nightlife, never-mind the shopping and day excursions to some of Johannesburg’s most desirable sightseeing spots. As all of that came to a sudden halt, those in the hospitality space had to re-imagine their guest profile, from international to local, business to pleasure, and leisure to essential services. The Sandton hospitality scene, has therefore, become very reliant on domestic tourism to survive these challenging times.

The growth in Sandton is slow for now, with flashes in the pan brought about by our loyal domestic regulars who are traveling on business from other provinces or locals wanting to take a break at weekends from lockdown cabin fever.

// Chief Operating Officer at City Lodge Hotel Group, Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo

 

Park Inn Sandton

In South Africa, the business has come from varied sources outside of the norm, initially, such as batches of oil-rig workers and staff for emergency call centres. We, however, understood the business could only go to the hotels that were opened. Our teams worked tirelessly to seek and secure business. They led by example to enhance the guest experience and adhere to strict safety protocols.

// Radisson Hotel Group Regional Director for Africa, William McIntyre

 

Although this has been a really difficult time, most hotels tried to keep their doors open, facilities maintained, clean and secure.

 

The other major drop-off has been corporate business – those many organisations who would book a boardroom here, a forum there and host team breakaways, company strategy sessions, high-level negotiations or merely entertain clients over a swanky lunch. Some business travelers would stay for weeks on end, opting to work in Sandton and live in Umhlanga or Stellenbosch on weekends. It’s a thing of the past, for now.

 

The Saxon Hotel

 

It’s not a question of time, but money, as to how long these properties can afford to remain closed – locked away and maintained until such time as they can open their doors again. The Saxon Hotel & Spa has indicated a reopening in May 2021, but with many hotels in Sandton dependent on local travelers indulging in a staycation or weekend getaway, it’s hard to tell how viable it will be for hotels to reopen and operate to some of the high standards expected by guests. For now, the Park Inn by Radisson Sandton, Holiday Inn Sandton, City Lodge Hotel Sandton, Town Lodge Sandton, InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers, Garden Court Sandton City and The Michelangelo Hotel remain temporarily closed.

 

For those open and able to trade, even at low levels, business is still challenging. One industry insider told The Sandton Times how difficult it is to operate with only weekend trade, reduced front-line teams, low staff morale, heightened hygiene requirements and salary cuts, whilst still trying to deliver at the pre-pandemic service levels, many destinations have become famous for.

The recent announcement made by the President in respect of the vaccination rollout is extremely important to the entire tourism industry, as this will bring back confidence of international markets and give us the green status we desire, in order to have travel bans and restrictions that have been imposed by countries in our source markets lifted.

// Chief Operating Officer at City Lodge Hotel Group, Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo

 

With many Sandton establishments dependent on a high-flow of tourism into the area, having to cut staff hours, consider retrenchments or even halt trade, the question on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown won’t be if there is room at the Inn, but if there will be an Inn left at all.

 

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Sandton Times Correspondent

Sandton Times Correspondent

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