Hotel director on running an affordable luxury boutique hotel and helping boost local tourism

Nut Grove Manor offers affordable accommodation in the Mpumalanga lowveld. Picture: Instagram

Nut Grove Manor offers affordable accommodation in the Mpumalanga lowveld. Picture: Instagram

Published Jan 25, 2024


It’s no secret, safari vacations are synonymous with luxury travel with many safari destinations targeting international travellers. This makes the dream of going on a safari getaway unattainable for domestic travellers.

Finding a middle ground when it comes to affordability becomes necessary to keep tourism going throughout the year and to accommodate local travellers looking to take a sho’t left.

In a world of expensive safari lodges offering services in dollars and euros, Nut Grove Manor in White River, Mpumalanga, is an affordable luxury alternative for travellers looking to explore the Panorama Route, God’s Window and the Kruger National Park.

The dining and breakfast room at Nut Grove Manor. Picture: Instagram

The boutique hotel, conveniently located a short drive from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, started out 10 years ago as a four-bedroom guest house. It has since expanded to 15 luxury suites and two self-catering units thanks to increased tourism to the region.

According to the five-star boutique hotel’s general manager and director, Venessa McTaggart, though local visitors have increased over Covid and the market has predominantly changed, tapping into the local travel market has been quite a challenge since the hotel’s guests consist mainly (92%) of international travellers.

“Our local market is fairly small and that’s where we’re finding that six months of the year from July through to the beginning of December is predominantly a mix of international travellers because that’s when the Europeans travel since they prefer our winter as it’s cooler.

“So during the first six months of the year is where we really need to focus on trying to tap into the local or domestic market because that is our quiet season and that’s probably been our biggest challenge,” said McTaggart.

Despite being perfectly located, McTaggart highlighted that the manor has managed and made a conscious decision to keep its rates affordable for both international and domestic travellers, providing accommodation and breakfast at R2 490 a night for two.

A well-manicured garden and pool at Nut Grove Manor. Picture: Instagram

McTaggart said there has been no rate resistance to their prices and that in theory, Nut Grove Manor’s rates are 30% lower than they should be when considering international exchange rates as the boutique hotel has welcomed Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, French and American guests.

“Since Covid, we’ve only had a 4% increase in our rates purely because we realised that pre-Covid, it was trying to get through Covid. We were very fortunate to stay open during Covid, but also to be able to give the operators, the guests themselves and the travellers, the opportunity to start travelling again and experience what we have here, so we chose to keep our rates low,” she said.

On the subject of Covid, McTaggart revealed that recovery from the pandemic began a lot quicker than they had originally anticipated.

“So during Covid, the fact that we were actually able to remain open was phenomenal. Post-Covid we anticipated that it was going to take us a good two to three years to recover.

“We knew that we would never recover, but in terms of tourism picking up, we honestly didn’t anticipate that would hit a boom. It was very slow in the beginning but then it just spiked, which is fantastic.

“At the same time, we are still not where we were at pre-Covid. Pre-Covid we were at our absolute peak,” said McTaggart.

The general manager said that from a local perspective, digital marketing has also played an important role in helping the manor attract local visitors, as the boutique hotel has a local tab on its website, specifically designed to keep local travellers updated on specials and events being held at the manor.

“We do try and create awareness wherever we possibly can. We’ve also realised that your older generation are still more on Facebook and younger generation are on Instagram and TikTok, so we have to try to keep that balance in trying to reach out to both at any given time,” she said.

A luxury suite at Nut Grove Manor Boutique Hotel. Picture: Instagram

In keeping business going when it’s safari off-season, Nut Grove Manor has a spa, in-house restaurant and hosts events including weddings, christenings and birthday parties, among others.

Nut Grove Manor’s director said that when it comes to selling the Mpumalanga lowveld as a destination, as a community they have to ensure that they take the precautions needed to maintain and not jeopardise tourism in the region.

“The crime situation that we have, is something that is very big in South Africa. It has a negative impact on tourism. We rely on tourism, South Africa relies on tourism. That is a huge income for us. It’s a big contribution to the economy and we need to make sure that we do whatever it takes.

“So what we have done specifically in the lowveld, is we’re on a huge safety and security drive where we reassure our tourists that despite what you see and hear on the news, we have a beautiful destination and like any country, there are good places and bad places,” said McTaggart.

She said that as part of the safety drive in the country, Satsa released a safety app for travellers allowing visitors to log in and report if they feel that their safety has been compromised and get the required assistance.

They’ve also installed cameras and embarked on education drives at specific petrol stations, providing information on how tourists can be assisted.

“This has been a big drive for us because if we don’t do it, we could lose this area as a destination. So we need to make sure that we do what we need to do to secure our destination.

“From a tourism perspective, we feel we need to ensure that our tourists know that we are taking the necessary precautions for their security,” she said.