Soweto Hotel is a unique property; a 4-star hotel in the middle of a South African township. With its inception came job opportunities, economic development and of course, a lot more tourists. The hotel is certified by Fair Trade Tourism, meaning that it adheres to strict criteria in regards to wages, working conditions and community development to name a few. But it doesn’t stop there. The newly appointed General Manager has bold plans to change the perception of Soweto and to bring in new, high-spending crowds.
Soweto born and bred Mbali Mngomezulu took over the reins of Soweto Hotel in June 2014. It was a move meant to nurture her career ambitions, something that is close to the heart of the hotel directors. But it is clear that Mbali will not just do her time and move on; she will do her outmost to put Soweto Hotel on the map as an understated luxury base from where to experience the “real Soweto”.
With many years’ experience from sales & marketing in big hotel chains, working across the African continent, Mbali knows how to think outside the box. “We need to show the people that go to Sandton and Rosebank that Soweto can’t just rival that experience – we can beat it!” She is talking about the young, fun-loving crowds that come from other parts of Africa to shop, eat, drink, dance and (let’s be frank) show off. But she is not just going after the international visitors. “There are still too few South Africans coming to experience the awesome vibe in Soweto, be that by day or by night”. She has plans for a lot of exciting events to change that. A neighbourgoods style market on Freedom Square; collaborations with fashion and entertainment companies; and plenty of opportunities for locals and visitors alike to dress up and let their hair down. Soweto Hotel will at the same time continue to be a venue for the South African jazz and township cuisine it has become so known for. “People really enjoy that they can get steamed bread, chakalaka and a proper shisanyama here”
Mbali is also fostering an environment of great service delivered with a friendly smile among her staff. This has been achieved through a combination of listening closely to guest feedback and allowing the staff not just to grow as professionals but also to have fun on the job. The day I visited was All Stars Friday, meaning that all staff were wearing Converse!
All of these new initiatives will not just be good for the hotel, they will help to change the perception of the township and they will bring a new crowd into Soweto that will benefit many traders and business owners. I can’t wait to see some of these plans be turned into reality!