Wayne Coetzer has long occupied a space in our minds that counts him among the world's great hoteliers. Possessed of a street wisdom that entitles him to get up several hours after the rest of us and still win the race, Coetzer's peoples' skills have been honed in the front row of hospitality's 'hurly-burly'. His understanding of the mechanics of his trade borders on the Biblical, he has an intuitive knack of knowing his customers, and polishes it with an impish sense of humour which he maintains whatever the job throws at him.Read More
Filtering by Tag: Phinda Game Reserve
"Increasingly, travellers seek destinations that accommodate lifestyle and weather, bespoken to their surroundings and community."
Cheryl and I have been travelling a lot of late. The Wild Coast (there is only one) Cape Town, Jo'burg, Thanda Game Reserve, Phinda of the same, Melbourne and Yasawa Island in Fiji. Quite a mixture. It's premature to talk about Fiji, because we've only just arrived, but it's fair to say that it measures up to everything Captains Hook and Bligh said about it in the good old days ( in Bligh's case, before the Bounty Crew made him walk the plank!)
Being racehorse breeders and hoteliers, you can't avoid the comparisons between the way we do things and how others go about their businesses. Survival in the modern world depends upon how you distinguish your product from others, and I suspect that whatever Summerhill and Hartford are, it's because they were built without money. When you have the funds, you simply pay and you get. When you don't, you have to be creative, you have to be intuitive about what gets a pulse racing. It's about authenticity, atmosphere and adventure, sounds, scents and scenery, tastes and taboos. Good hotels and good horses always reflect a sense of "place", their environment, their histories, their traditions and importantly, their people. In the world of travel, a high level of discernment is creeping into every arena. Today, the customer's interest in artisanal beer and food, for example, is echoed in an interest in artisanal hospitality. Hartford House is dedicated to sating people's interest in the world's distinctive places: you quickly lose any sense of being in a unique environment when staying in a typical high-end hotel in London, Paris or Shanghai, Cape Town, Sydney or Dubai.
Increasingly, travellers seek destinations that accommodate lifestyle and weather, bespoken to their surroundings and community. Hotels should reflect their past, and the architecture of their neighbourhood; discerning guests understand the difference between décor and design, and seldom mistake decoration for good design.
Travel these days takes more than money. It takes the most precious commodity of the lot: time. Most people can buy a car, a handbag or a smart pair of shoes, but travel calls for energy, curiosity, a degree of adventure, even bravery. Not long from now, the greatest indulgence will not be a Ferrari; it will be a fortnight in Zululand, or even a living being; let's not forget, the greatest creature the good Lord ever created, is the racehorse. And you can come by yours with a week at Hartford. An Argentinean polo player on a recent visit to us, tells it like this: "I was waiting for that combination of bliss and despair which makes African journeys so memorable - a melodramatic pose, a "Hendricks" and tonic coursing through my veins, a three day scruff of beard, a whiff of revolution in the air!".
Our places thrive because of their originality, they survive on account of their old fashioned values. The more technologically focused the world becomes, the less people want to check-in via iPad and have their pillow preferences stored in a computer. Instead, our guests like to arrive and be greeted by their surnames; they soon get to know themselves again by their first names. And if you'll give us the time to unpack for you, you'll find your clothes pressed and hanging in the closet. Simple, old-style service is the most pleasant luxury.
Hartford and Summerhill have become beacons of their trades. In a world in which it's no longer so "cool" to be a waiter or a groom, we remember, every day, what an honour it is to serve.
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(Photos : Leigh Willson, Amorette Kramer and Michael Nefdt)
Summerhill Group Conference
Summerhill is lucky in its friends and its people. One of our most treasured associations is with a group who call themselves (appropriately,) the Land Of Legends. It is the only collection of properties whose raison d'etre lies in their histories, their culture and their tradition. It was founded by ourselves (Hartford House) and the late David Rattray's Fugitives' Drift Lodge, and these days it includes the The Oyster Box, the Beverley Hills,Fordoun Spa, Rocktail Bay Lodge, Ardmore Ceramics and Phinda Game Reserve. By now you'll have spotted the fact that these are KwaZulu-Natal's pride in hospitality, establishments of legendary repute that rank with the best in the world.
For our twelfth annual conference, we've been hiding out at Bayete camp, deep in the nether regions of Phinda's spectacular bushveld. No cellphone signal, no radios or televisions, no pack drill. And in a matter of days, the Big Five, in every shape or form. Phinda isn't South Africa's finest bush experience for nothing. Authentic, wild, professional, diverse, down-to-earth, riveting. Oh, and luxurious, but at Phinda, luxury is just the journey, not the destination.
Summerhill has faced many challenges in its three decades and more. The rich and the powerful, the cunning and the envious, the enterprising and the resourceful. There was no inheritance at Summerhill, no big business to fund its growth, just relationships and the sacrifice of our people. That means we have to get up that bit earlier in the mornings, we have to box that bit smarter, just to stay in the swim.
These gatherings in the bush are moments of reflection, for galvanising the spirits, and for recharging the batteries. When the stormclouds approach, don't seek shelter. Put on your raincoat, and get back to work. At the end of the day, you have to decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life sipping sugar water, or do you want to change the world? At Summerhill, that's a rhetorical question. We are what we are because our people chose to write their own histories.
By the time the curtain came down on this jamboree Friday morning, I was more convinced than ever that this team is in better shape to deal with the future than any time in our past. Given they already have seven Breeder's titles under their belts, that's some statement. But a few days in the bush reminds me that these are paragons of enthusiasm, good humour and curiosity, Renaissance people in an era that badly needs them.
They've already prepared themselves for the day they come second, and they've already defined the benchmarks by which they want to be measured down the road. This team knows the equations others don't know. Times may be unbelievably tough, but great harvests come from arid sources. Pleasure comes, often enough, from restraint.
The other thing that drives them, is knowing that one day you're going to get beaten. It's the best way of avoiding the trap of thinking you have something to lose; you are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Be a pirate; don't join the navy.
And speaking of challenges, you're not to worry. I know the authors well and I already know how this narrative is going to end. This team will make sure the good guys win.
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