/ 25 January 2011

One&Only’s staff try to fulfil ‘unusual’ requests

Staff at Cape Town’s ultra-luxurious One&Only Hotel are used to “unusual” requests.

There was the guest who demanded his suite be darkened during the day so that he was not able to see his hand “6cm from his nose”. The same guest demanded that a fish tank be imported and assembled specially in his room.

The first One&Only hotel to open on South Africa’s shores is in the heart of Cape Town. We share our experience of the five-star accommodation and of course, the famous restaurants Nobu and Maze, as part of our Three City Tour.

Then there was the head of state who imported an entire fleet of security vehicles that had to be assembled piece by piece at the hotel. If that wasn’t enough, the hotel staff had to build exact replicas of his offices in the hotel rooms.

And then there are the celebrities who bring their own chefs and want specific linen with so much stitching and pillows with a fixed percentage of feathers.

“We deal with some very strange and unusual requests,” says Gerhard Erasmus, the hotel’s executive manager in charge of rooms.

“Some of them are … very entertaining.”

Erasmus, who is leading young tourism students — many of them from underprivileged backgrounds — on a tour of the hotel’s premier suites, says he managed to solve the problem of the darkened room by pasting a special foil over the windows.

“It was a challenge, but we got it right in the end,” he says. “The guest was not able to see his hand 6cm from his nose.

“The tasks of assembling the vehicles for the head of state was more difficult. It took two people to carry one of the vehicle’s armour-plated doors.

“And then we had to reconstruct the offices so that they were exact replicas from home.”

R55 000 a night
Erasmus drew gasps from the students when he mentioned that the room costs R55 000 a night.

“I wonder if that includes breakfast,” one of the baffled students mumbled.

Another student wanted to know which room United States teen pop star Justin Bieber stayed in during his recent visit to Cape Town.

“I know he stayed here,” the bright eyed girl says. “Was it this room?”

“Unfortunately we aren’t able to disclose the names of our guests,” a waiting hotel staff member replied.

It important to have en eye for detail, Erasmus says, especially since the hotel’s founder Sol Kerzner (75) can always stop by unpredictably.

The arrival of Kerzner, says Erasmus, “is when it’s all hands on deck”.

“He notices things, like flowers not fitting in with the room or a toilet bin being on the wrong side,” Erasmus says.

“He has a tremendous eye for detail. He notices things you never would.”

It hasn’t been an easy time for the six-star resort which offers splendid views of Table Mountain and which is a stone throw away from the Victoria and Albert Waterfront shopping complex.

Last year the resort appointed its third general manager since its launch in April 2009.

Not only did the hotel launch in the middle of a world recession, but it also had to battle fierce rivalry from other new five-star properties that opened in Cape Town in the past year, such as the Taj in the city centre.

At one point the hotel was forced it to slash its average rates by up to 50%, putting revenue under pressure.

It controversially ended its contract with the notoriously foul mouthed television celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, who had attached his name to the hotel’s main restaurant.

Mention of Ramsay’s name in the One&Only kitchen draws raised eyebrows, uncomfortable side glances and shifting feet.

Arrivals pick up
Word among the staff is that Ramsay, who runs a strings of restaurants, wasn’t present at the hotel enough.

Things appear to have picked up however. A member of the hotel’s marketing staff says occupancy on Monday was at 85%.

“We’re doing well out of the corporate event bookings,” she says.

“We have BMW here today launching their new vehicle. So things are looking up.”

The global hospitality industry was hit hard during the economic downturn. Last year Kerzner International had to shelve plans for a huge development on the Las Vegas Strip.

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk who was accompanying the group of students, says he expects tourism arrivals to improve “significantly” in the coming year.

“We had a good period during the World Cup and then a dip followed and that was perfectly understandable,” he says.

“I’ve seen the forward bookings for the year and I must say things are looking very good.”

The point of the students’ visit to the One and Only is to take them closer to the tourism hospitality industry, says Van Schalkwyk.

“Tourism is one of South Africa’s growth industries. It has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs. We need to get our youngsters involved right from the start.

“But what I really hope we see more of is a growth domestic tourism. That is the backbone of our tourism industry.”

Erasmus exhibits the mattress of the feather layered king size bed and explains how a shower attached to the suite can be used as a steam room.

“We’re like a duck swimming in a pond,” he says philosophically.

“It looks beautiful from the outside, but beneath the water there are two feet that are paddling away. That’s us. We’re the feet that are paddling away.” – Sapa