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Hotelier sees a very different Zimbabwe this time next year, writes Andrew Molefe

By unknown | Nov 02, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Dave Bunyard either knows something we don't or he's simply naive.

Dave Bunyard either knows something we don't or he's simply naive.

The gospel according to him is that come this time next year, Zimbabwe will be a different kettle of fish from the wasteland it is today.

Talk is cheap, but Bunyard and his company, Zimbabwe Sun Limited are backing their unwavering beliefs in that blighted country with hard, cold cash.

The general-manager of marketing of this dominant Zimbabwean hotel chain - it owns 13 hotels in Zimbabwe which employ some 1800 people - said he and his company were excited

The chain has also built or acquired hotels in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, South Africa (The Grace) and have set their eyes on neighbouring Botswana.

"The situation can only improve," he told me over coffee at the recently-revamped The Grace boutique hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

"At the Zimbabwean Sun group we want to position ourselves so that we are ready when international tourists start pouring into the country again," he said.

After Mugabe seized white-owned farms in a massive, controversial land grab in 2003, tourism to Zimbabwe dwindled .

Today, a little more than 60percent of hotel guests are locals with a fair share of visitors from neighbouring countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique.

Bunyard, unlike any other white man I have come across, believes that at some stage land redistribution was inevitable and that white dominance of farms was unsustainable.

You don't have to be a battle-weary journo to know that. No board member of a large concern would want to be critical of a regime on whose empire his welfare rests.

Bunyard is no different. For starters, his PR company requested that I asked no fat political questions.

As we sat down at The Grace, he told me: "I'm no politician.

"I'm a hotelier with a great hope for the future of my country".

He was, of course, born in Zimbabwe. He hadn't experienced the brutal and sometimes murderous uprooting of the people of his forefathers.

"You could say I'm a city boy. I was born, went to school and grew up in Harare".

But PR or not, you can't but be amazed at this eternal optimist.

The Zimbabwe Sun's flagship hotels, the Victoria Falls Holiday Inn and the Harare Holiday Inn are big cash cows.

A few months earlier I spent 10 days at the Harare Holiday Inn and was not impressed. Far from that. Food was bad and sparse. Every other bottle of beer had some foreign bodies floating inside.

Of course, you can't blame the hotel for that. It simply supplies its guests with what the local breweries dish out.

But that is a sure sign of how low that beautiful country has sunk.

Quality control institutions have either closed shop or their best people have migrated to better climes. The workforce is demotivated.

Who wouldn't be when the most you could expect is less than R400 a month?

Sad, sad little country.

But Bunyard believes things will eventually turn out for the better.

Hope is a rare commodity in that part of the world.

But his hope is infectious. It rubs off on you.

As many multinationals, including many South African companies cut their losses and pull out of Zimbabwe, he is looking at building more hotels and golf estates.

With sanctions pushing Zimbabwe to the edge of an economic collapse and worker salaries being slashed, Bunyard and his people increased pay of their workforce by 150percent this year alone.

"We apply the basic principles of hoteling," he told me. "An underpaid worker creates an unhappy guest."

The hotel chain also helps its workers with school fees and contributes hugely from its social responsibility programme.

I was an unhappy guest at one of his hotels, mainly because of the pedestrian grub and bad customer service.

But he assures me that next time I'm in the land of Monomotapa, things will be hunky-dory.

Next time I cross the Limpopo River and venture into that wonderful and ancient country, I will get my favourite sirloin steak, spare ribs or leg of lamb.

That is if I take Bunyard on his word.

How they plan to achieve that in a land where farms are wastelands and hard foreign currency is as scarce as chicken teeth, does not need one to be a rocket scientist, according to Bunyard.

Next year this time I hope to be back in Zimbabwe and also hope to enjoy a home-grown piece of quality steak and good home-made cheese.

I'm taking you on your word, Dave. And good-luck with your country.


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