​Obed Mbatha does hospitality best

Obed Mbatha with his colourful jacket at the entrance to the Hilton Durban. (Photo: Siya Miti)

Obed Mbatha with his colourful jacket at the entrance to the Hilton Durban. (Photo: Siya Miti)

Obed Mbatha, head doorman of the Hilton Durban, has been welcoming guests with a warm smile and positive energy since he started working there in 1997.

This week he was busy welcoming delegates from various African companies and organisation to Africa’s Travel Indaba, formerly the Tourism Indaba, which takes place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre from May 8-10.

Mbatha has an endearing demeanour and a warm, energetic character. In 2013, the Hilton Worldwide group honoured him with the Light and Warmth Award, in appreciation of his unique style of welcoming visitors. With the award, Mbatha took top spot among 3 000 of the group’s employees, which he literally wears as a badge of honour among the various souvenir badges that embellish his khaki and black coat.

“I started collecting these badges in 2001 to create an image for myself. I wanted to make myself accessible and use these badges as an ice-breaker, to start up conversations between myself and the guests. This is part of my story telling,” Mbatha explains. Some of his badges are tiny flags from various countries such as Scotland, Sweden and Canada; others are emblems of various organisations in Africa and from further afield.

A father of four, Mbatha says he loves his job so much that even at age 76 he is not ready to retire. “It is an understatement to say I am enthusiastic about my job. It makes me very happy, because I love people. I am interested in their various cultures and I do all I can to make them feel welcome. Even if I am put on retirement tomorrow, I would still like to go on and continue using my energy in another job,” he said.

Mbatha says when TV arrived in South Africa he became aware of the wider world, full of interesting people, and he wanted to meet them.

“I thought one day I would see some of these people. God is great: he gave me this job and I was able to greet and welcome guests from all over the world in my lifetime.”

Mbatha says during the course of his career in hospitality he has met various interesting characters from politicians, to sports personalities and celebrities.

“I have met many presidents from the African Union. Some of those who stand out in my mind include former president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda, who was very happy to see me here and he even wished me well. I have also met former president Nelson Mandela through my job, then came Thabo Mbeki and we had a nice chat. Former president Jacob Zuma is also one of the guests I have welcomed here and I have also met Bollywood stars. I have also welcomed (former speaker of the National Assembly) Frene Ginwala; all these are people of our land, my brothers and sisters whom I love,” says Mbatha.