Valor Hospitality to open the first voco in South Africa
When my friend and business partner Steve Cesinger and I founded Valor Hospitality Partners in 2012, we knew we wanted to build a firm that would take risks and do exciting work. To that end, we’ve never hesitated to take on projects that might give other managers pause, like being the first to bring a new brand to market. The same can be said for my two oldest personal friends and the leaders of Valor Hospitality Partners Africa & Middle East, Tony Romer-Lee and Michael Pownall.
One project that we’re especially excited about this year is our 131-room voco™ Johannesburg Rosebank—which will be the first voco hotel to open its doors on the African continent. The hotel is located in the Rosebank suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, and is in the ‘The Bank’ development on the corner of Cradock and Tyrwhitt Avenues.
We first became involved in the project in early 2019 when the hotel’s Cape Town-based owner/ developer Blend Property Group was looking for someone to help oversee the development, construction and management of a property in The Bank development (called The Bank because parts of the building were previously an FNB Bank). We developed a wonderful and trusting relationship with Martin Epstein (a true visionary), who chairs the firm, as well as Mark Corbishley, CEO, and Jonathan Levy, COO, from his senior leadership team. They knew of us and our reputation, and we pitched them Valor’s management services, in addition to our programming, tech services and branding assistance.
Once we familiarized ourselves with the site, we knew that voco was the right brand for the property. When IHG® Hotels & Resorts first launched voco in 2018, we were attracted not only to its focus on striking design and a compelling guest experience, but by the idea of retrofitting parts of an old building into something fresh and new while still maintaining the core of its story. The development itself, created by Italian architect Enrico Daffonchio of Daffonchio Architects, is unique and impressive, and voco not only allows but encourages owners to put their own tastes and design sensibility into the hotel. It was just a perfect fit. And of course, we loved the fact that if we went with voco, it would be the premiere of the brand in Africa. It ensures attention from the local community, and from an IHG perspective, satisfies a massive unaccommodated demand. It’s a one-of-a-kind brand and we hope to grow it further.
Valor was officially signed to manage the property in late 2019, and from there, the project, which was headed by Blend’s senior project manager, Stefano Cardoso, really took off. Because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, the height of the summer season extends from November to March/April. We were on track for a November/December 2020 opening, but then the world stopped turning when COVID-19 hit.
We were in the middle of construction when the pandemic started to impact our progress. Thankfully, we were able to keep crews on site, but the process slowed down and there were significant material delays. For example, it took much longer than anticipated for our FF&E to arrive due to supply chain issues.
Luckily, we were able to overcome those challenges to finish the design. The building itself is absolutely stunning. It’s a true mixed-use property, so there’s full office space for lease and a co-working space owned by a company called Workshop 17. Each Workshop 17 location has a bespoke café, state-of-the- art, high-speed WiFi, meeting rooms and auditoriums for rent. The hotel’s restaurant, Proud Mary, is the brainchild of local restauranteur Jose dos Passos and his partners. It has already had a largely successful soft opening despite COVID-19 and social distancing. There’s also a really cool coffee bar—called Proud Coffee—that complements the restaurant. Both provide amazing F&B to the office and Workshop 17 tenants, as well as hotel guests and local walk-ins alike.
Perhaps my favorite part of the voco Johannesburg Rosebank is the lobby. It’s an incredibly engaging and vibrant space with a number of shops to explore, including a florist and a barber. The look and feel of the space are elevated by another one of Martin Epstein’s businesses, the fabulous Art Gazette; an art curation company that showcases up-and-coming South African artists. There are so many different styles of artwork throughout the lobby space and hotel, which lends an amazing energy to the entire property.
Today, the hotel is effectively finished, but we are still unable to open due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. We’re now pursuing an opening somewhere between late July and early September of this year. It’s frustrating on a lot of fronts. Despite the fact that the F&B and office spaces are open, we can’t launch the hotel to the public. The ownership group therefore has no revenue coming in to offset the costs that come with operating and maintaining a finished hotel. Perhaps most frustrating is that we really can’t deploy our incredibly strong global and local resources on any pre-opening sales or marketing yet, because we simply don’t know when the hotel will be able to open. That date sets the stage for our entire performance. We had a lot of momentum, yet now we’re finding ourselves in this very awkward and unusual holding pattern. We all know that it will be massively successful and profitable once the hotel is open, but it’s hard to justify opening a hotel when occupancy is in the single digits.
Building a hotel during a global pandemic was challenging, but the real challenge has been waiting to open our doors. It has required patience, and if you’re going to succeed in this industry, patience is key. You have to fight really hard and continually make your case to investors, lenders, local leaders, brands, architects, builders and everyone in between. You have to believe in the ultimate vision of your hotel and know that this pandemic will end one day, and the world will start traveling once again. When it does, watch this space—this hotel is one for the ages.
— Euan McGlashan, Global Co-founder & CEO Valor Hospitality Partners
Reprinted from IHG Owner Magazine Q1 2021