19 Apr A day in the life of a Lodge General Manager
We are looking at how the different parts of Nambiti Private Game Reserve come together to make one harmonious experience for our guests. This month we want to take a look at what a General Manager at one of our Lodges would experience.
The assumption is normally that a General Manager is the face of a business and quite a glamorous and sought-after position (attending promotional dinners and mingling with guests, early wine evenings with friends or cocktail parties) and while this may be true in some cases, it is definitely not as glorious as it sounds. A manager is only as good as the team that backs him or her up, and it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, long hours and a huge responsibility to be a General Manager in the Lodge industry.
The saying “a Jack of all trades, but a master of none” is very relevant – you have to know and understand each aspect/department in the lodge environment – from maintenance to service, to housekeeping and guiding – but you don’t have to be able to master all those skills. The main skill will be to employ passionate staff who can be experts in their own fields, to ensure an overall great experience for our guests.
As a General Manager one is responsible for the entire lodge (buildings, equipment, etc), the staff compliment as well as all the guests who travel through your doors. This is a huge task especially in a Big 5 environment where the lodge is not fenced in.
From the minute guests arrive to when they leave, they become your responsibility and anything they need or require, or anything that may happen to them, rests solely on your shoulders. They might feel unwell; you have to ensure you do what you can to make their stay comfortable – arranging a trip to town to ensure their medication is collected on their behalf, etc. When they go out on a game drive and when they opt for an exciting walking safari, their safety is ultimately your responsibility.
It takes a team …
You should trust your team, as well as suppliers, to look after your guests’ needs. As a General Manager, you should ensure that staff take care of any dietary requirements (that might be based on allergies) and ensure the meals are made with the freshest ingredients for example – every guest and their health and safety are your responsibility for the time they are staying at your lodge.
Each member of staff in your team is your responsibility when they are at the Lodge, for the period of time that they work there. Taking them back and forth to their homes, they are your responsibility while you drive them to and from work. You must act as a mother/father figure, listen to their problems at home, support their dreams, advise them and help train them up (a constant and daily task). When they are worried about something, you may become the go-to person for advice which can be very difficult at times as cultures differ.
The responsibility doesn’t end when you take a couple of well-deserved days off and it also doesn’t stop when you go to bed at night – being a General Manager really is a 24-hour job!
It is a lifestyle, and working in the Lodge environment differs greatly from the hotel industry. Here you are on duty basically 24/7. In a hotel, you can head home at night and you generally have night porters/managers dealing with the guests at night while you are off duty.
At a smaller Lodge, you would also be required to answer phones and emails; make reservations; manage rosters, guiding allocations and work schedules; do check-outs and check-ins; host and serve guests; even help prepare food; handle guests’ feedback (good or bad) and handle staff issues. You also get involved in the fun things – arranging team building, setup for an engagement or adding the special touches over special days such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas.
And so the day begins …
Generally, a General Manager would start the day around 06h30 with a morning meeting so the team knows what to expect for the day. There might be emails that require attention or booking enquiries that need your input. Then there is the social media aspect we do at a smaller lodge – live feeds and posts so guests can keep in touch with what is happening at the Lodge. Often there will be a staff member who needs some time to chat about their work or life in general.
Water and maintenance departments will report what is happening and urgent jobs will need to be handed out. Then the general checks will happen with a walk about the Lodge area and seeing everyone in their departments. Phone calls and discussions about the next couple of days … and this all happens before breakfast service!
In between marketing strategies may be discussed, rate structures and what the competitors are doing. Touching base with suppliers and ensuring that the Accounts Department have the payments and invoices for the week. Monthly reports and budgets are worked on and put forward to owners, weekly team meetings may happen at this time as well. Issuing equipment to staff when needed as well as drawing up a shopping list for the week. Contacting suppliers and arranging special requests for guests, as well as possibly doing the shopping yourself.
Guests needs are seen to throughout mealtimes and with activity requests, as well as with hosting meals and making sure that everyone’s dietary needs and entertainment is taken care of.
Once all guests have gone off to bed, we sanitize all areas and close up the Lodge before we head home as well. It may be long hours, but this is a lifestyle and working with great staff and looking after happy guests, makes it a pleasure to put in the hours.
On the funny side …
The stories, experiences and sometimes strange events could easily be turned into a book. They are mainly humorous and one needs to see the funny side where possible to maintain one’s sanity in this sometimes-insane industry. We also have some funny stories to share from our experiences.
Another reality is that you can manage and run a Lodge without Electricity (for a while), but you cannot run a Lodge without water! The Battle between the Water wanting to be outside the Pipe and the Maintenance team wanting the Water to remain inside the pipe is real! When you see a Housekeeper walking towards you with a concerned look on their face (you will know it when you see it), you immediately have this vision of a gushing fountain of precious water escaping the pipe. This vision is normally confirmed by the Housekeeper advising that there is water coming out of the ground! This folks is not a natural spring, no, this is the water winning the fight to escape the Pipe.
As part of this reserve, we are fortunate enough to have Cape Buffalo regularly frequent our Lodges. The precious water being efficient at its goal to escape occasionally receives assistance from the Local Wildlife, Nambiti being a Big 5 game reserve. We found that whenever the Buffalo were in camp, the ever-escaping water would be disappearing. Every morning the maintenance team would report water tanks empty, but after searching for the amazing natural water springs, we came up with nothing. Until by chance a staff member witnessed the strange event resulting in the ‘freeing of the trapped water’. The Buffalo thought that the red handles on the fire hydrants were a great item to scratch up against, with this turning the handles and opening the hydrant, allowing the water to be free! This resulted in us making a plan to ensure that the Buffalo don’t move the handles!
Once we had an elephant bull in musth at one of the Lodges for a week! He refused to move despite our best efforts – blowing on fog horns, bashing pots and pans together, putting up black bags to scare him away, playing the sound of bees or even throwing eggs! We had to resort to bringing our guests in through the front of the Lodge as he refused to move off. It looked like it was a game for him to keep us on our toes that week. Even though he had easy access to the water at the waterhole in front of the Lodge as well as the clean water from the swimming pool, he destroyed our water tanks. Not once but twice! It seems he loved seeing us sweat having to fix the latter enclosure, as well as the two 5000lt tanks.
We have had an elephant walk away with our electric cable he dug up! Luckily, we have a generator that kick in, but we had to arrange electricians to come and fix the cable and bury it again.