WATCH | What it takes to open a hotel according to a seasoned GM

2019-10-08 04:50 - Gabi Zietsman
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Ever wondered what goes into opening a hotel?

Radisson Blu Residence general manager Desmond O'Connor knows all too well - he's already got two openings under his belt. Since his humble beginnings in Johannesburg's Sandton Sun straight after his conscription service, he's worked all over South Africa's hotels, and was in charge of the opening of The Cape Royale and, more recently, the Radisson Blu Residence in Cape Town.

WATCH: Taste of Radisson: The hotel group that loves to feed you 

bartender pouring cocktails

Desmond O'Connor and a bartender at Radisson Blu Residence's Ghibli Bar. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Impeccably dressed and a warm cheer emanating from his interactions with everyone around him, O'Connor sees his job as more of an innkeeper ready to welcome weary travellers. 

"It's like when you phone a big corporate - whenever do you get to speak to the CEO or chairman of the board? Never, these people are untouchable, they live in a completely parallel universe to the rest of us. And I don't want to lose that, for me it's so important that I have that tactile, direct conversation with my guests."

And he's hosted some pretty impressive guests - Robbie Williams, Barack Obama, Sean Connery, Lena Heady, Gwendoline Christie and even the King of Jordan has come and gone through hotels that he's managed. He only once asked for an autograph though - his mother-in-law was a big fan of Josh Groban.

The hotel closest to his heart? His time at The Table Bay Hotel, situated in the heart of the V&A Waterfront, and the people he worked with there. 

"My GM was very close to me and still is, and is in fact the current GM at The Silo Hotel, and that's what makes you remember a hotel and what makes it special for you," says O'Connor.

READ: From waitress to executive housekeeper at the Radisson: How this super-mom of five didn't give up

One of his funniest stories from the job? While working as a banqueting manager at Indaba Hotel, he was working a beautiful 500-people Greek wedding which involved a massive seven-tier wedding cake.

"They insisted that the cake does not stay static in the room but that it gets brought into the room at some point to get cut. As luck would have it, two trainees were carrying this cake and as they got right in front of the bridal table the whole thing flipped and toppled over and went from a seven-tier cake to a one-tier cake in two seconds."

In the moment it was a disaster and catastrophe with "a crying bride and a groom who's about to kill whoever", but as time goes on you end up laughing about the funny side of it all.

It's never a dull moment during a career in hospitality. 

ALSO READ: When you manage a hotel that is a train on a bridge in Kruger, dreaming up crazy ideas are the norm

red suitcase in a hotel room

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

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