John Aritho has been a general manager at Garden Court Marine Parade for three years with 21 years of experience. We find out about his job and guests' outrageous demands.
How long have you been the GM at The Garden Court Hotel?
I have been with Tsogo Sun for the last 21 years and with Garden Court Marine Parade for 3 years having worked extensively opening and operating hotels in the Middle East, Asia and Africa with Tsogo Sun.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day? There is no such thing as a typical day! Every day in a hotelier's life can and will vary because of the complexity of dealing with so many factors. Mine starts with a cup of coffee followed with a complete walkabout of the building meeting my team members and picking up any operational issues that may have risen. I spend most of my time meeting guests and corresponding to guests. I have minimal meetings as I believe in time better spent on the floor than long monotonous meetings. I hold a quick morning briefing with the key managers to chart the day’s activities then it is all systems go.
I travel around KZN to meet various key partners that book their clients with us and this makes me see the countryside and meet various people a lot. Hoteliers do have long days but I encourage my team to balance their lives and deliver quality rather than quantity and that way they have a good day at work and the guests have great experiences.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I have to say dealing with people is the core part of the hotel business and this is one aspect that I thoroughly enjoy – both guests and colleagues. Achieving great results and having happy staff is my key driver ensuring that the hotel does well and the guest remains the core purpose of our jobs. Motivating team members is one thing I really enjoy as happy team members means very happy guests. A great passion that I have is imparting knowledge to young upcoming hoteliers/ students hence I really enjoy being a guest lecturer/ mentor in local hospitality colleges and sharing knowledge in hotel management fundamentals.
What is the strangest request you have received?
Well, there are very many strange requests that one receives but I have to say one of the strangest must have been a request for Beluga caviar when I was in Dubai from a fellow hotelier in the Seychelles where we had to get fresh caviar and fly down 8 hours to deliver the consignment within 24 hours to the guest for his dinner the next day.
And what is the most common?
The most common request has to be honeymooners, birthdays and special requests. Some guests request flowers, cake and other goodies at the stroke of midnight, so we have to honor that to the best of our ability.
In which ways have you gone the extra mile to make sure guests were happy?
Well, when you work in a hotel the amount of extra miles one goes are beyond counting as there are always requests for different ways to delight the guest. I thrive in ensuring that my team and I know what the personal preferences for each guest are at the most try and anticipate what they would like in their rooms or meals before they arrive making them feel very much at home. My team does a great job on this.
If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
I really cannot say there is any aspect that I dislike though the position comes with a long of curve balls, of which rude guests top the list. It really makes someone’s day great by being civil, respectful and courteous with someone in the service industry – you get so much better service that way I believe.
What makes Durban special or unique?
Durban is unique for very many reasons – the rich heritage of the Zulu Kingdom and the Indian and European mixtures make way for a truly global village in one city. Durban is relatively safe and the people are very warm and welcoming and no wonder this is the Conference & Convention Capital of Africa and one of the best in the world.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Durban?
To continuously find new places and hidden gems in and around Durban. There are too many to count from hidden places in Umlazi, Kwa Mashu to down town Durban and the suburbs. I ride motorbikes a lot and this has to be one of my favorite past times as it gives me the freedom to explore various spots in and around Durban.
What sets a regular holiday apart from a truly exceptional one?
A regular holiday all depends on the persons’ likes and needs. I personally think a regular holiday is one that has no surprises at all and a routine that does not send your pulse beating. If your senses are not alerted then that’s pretty regular. An exceptional holiday is one full of the unknown – kind of visiting the Far East where the food, culture, people and landscape is all new and touches the person’s five senses in their fullest. An exceptional holiday makes one want to come back again based on the rich cultural experiences.
Describe a perfect day in Durban that you would recommend to guests?
A perfect day in Durban would include waking up to the crashing of waves, having some fresh fruits and muesli for breakfast, then taking a bicycle ride on the Durban Promenade to Moses Mabhida, going up on the Sky car or jumping off the Big Swing, taking taxi to the Botanical Gardens for a walk, wandering through the restaurants in Glenwood, a trip top Max or Eyadini in Umlazi is a necessity while the Umhlanga Chartwell strip will give a true Durban feel of mix of cultures. To finish off the day, a walk on the Umhlanga promenade and a drink at Beverly Hills will finish the day off in great style.
What is your "must have" when you book into a hotel?
A must have at a hotel would certainly be friendly and happy staff, great freshly made breakfast, clean beddings and bathroom with a power shower, fast Wifi – the fact is that most people would forgo most of the other comforts to great free, fast Wifi! A must have in any location is security and peace of mind that is brought about by clean and well looked after surrounds.
What kind of a holiday do you like?
I like adventurous holidays that are pretty unusual from the norm. I love travelling so I like exploring new cultures, meet new people, learn new cuisines, learn new languages and definitely spend time with the local people so as to understand their culture, way of life and foods.
What’s your favorite dish at your hotel?
I have to say the butter chicken is top shelf. I have travelled extensively in India and Sri Lanka so a great spicy dish full of flavors will make a hard day seem easy and put a smile on your face!