September celebrates Heritage Day and it is Tourism month, so let’s gather inspiration from a tourism icon in our town, Liz Biden. She is the owner and founder of The Royal Portfolio, a collection of luxury hotels in iconic destinations across South Africa which began in 1999 with the opening of Royal Malewane. Liz started her career as a teacher, ran a medical debt-collecting business when her children were young, and ran a fashion retail business before turning their holiday home into a guest lodge. She then converted two more holiday homes into exclusive hotels, and is currently planning to open their fourth property at the end of 2016. This family business sees Liz setting the stage for guests to have a perfect experience (as she says, all the fun stuff!) and her husband and son running the financial side of the business. Liz had no formal training in hospitality, but always loved travelling, and over the years developed an instinct and eye for attention to detail whilst working in the field of fashion retail. I was keen to find out which is her favourite property – bush, beach or winelands. Liz loves them like she loves her children – differently, but equally. I then asked her for a few secrets to success:
- I really love what I do, every day.
- Start small, but don’t think small. We ran the first property on the principles of running a huge business.
- I hire staff for their good attitude – you can teach anybody anything if they want to learn.
- Good service means always having a smile on your face.
- We have created a culture of learning, and we make sure that every member of the team strives to be their best.
- We have monthly motivation sessions for staff.
- We have many staff that have long service awards, some have left and returned, others have stayed with us many years because they have grown with the business.
‘In this exciting industry you can do anything. A job is not a job but a lifestyle, and while one works longs hours, it is creative; constantly changing and you work with wonderful people. I had five jobs at varsity, from making jewellery and lampshades (getting my husband to sell them), working with him at a travelling disco, and being the first female waitress at the Golden Spur.’
Liz’s last piece of advice resonated with me – ‘If this industry appeals to you start with a menial job, if you have the right attitude and are prepared to work really hard, you will be noticed and can then start working your way up. Just get your foot in the door.’