Seizing Opportunities in Botswana
Operating a successful hotel in a country where most of the land isn’t arable, and stringent government policies routinely restrict the import of critical assets like food and skilled workers, doesn’t phase Mazwi Mmango, Resident Manager at the AVANI Gaborone Hotel & Casino in Botswana (pictured at right). This is the third in a series of blogs about my experiences participating in the SAP Social Sabbatical program, which is part of my company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitment. I talked with Mmango during my four-week stay at the hotel he manages in Botswana. Coincidentally, the 196-room hotel is a member of Business Botswana, which was my Sabbatical team’s assignment. Business Botswana advocates on behalf of businesses to the government, aiming to spark the country’s economic growth.
Mmango is a great example of how people can overcome the odds and build a career. After earning his diploma in Culinary Arts from the International School of Cuisine in Marrakech, Morocco, he began as a kitchen management trainee in a hotel in Swaziland, advancing to general assistant followed by food and beverage manager. He’s been with Sun International for over 20 years, and in his current position at the AVANI Hotel since 2009. According to Mmango, getting ahead in Africa involves seizing opportunities as they arise.
“I studied science in school, but then applied everywhere for scholarships including health inspection and dental hygiene,” he said. “Then I saw an advert in Morocco for catering, and decided that tourism was a major growth opportunity. After that, everything has fallen into place.”
Transparency motivates workers
My visit coincided with Botswana’s seasonal business slowdown during the region’s summer months. Proudly pointing out that almost half of his managers are now local, (as opposed to ex-patriots from other countries), Mmango credits the hotel’s success to high standards as well as information transparency. “It might be tough some months, but we still have to deliver a profit without compromising on quality for our guests. When our team sees the numbers, and has a say in developing strategies to address the gaps, they have greater ownership of the results. They know the everyday hiccups, and can share ideas to help themselves work smarter.” He added that managers at the hotel receive performance-based bonuses.
A former board member and treasurer of the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), Mmango has deep ties to the local business community, including Business Botswana. With membership in both groups, he’s well-positioned to help government decision-makers understand the importance of tourism and guest expectations.
“Being part of Business Botswana and HATAB means we can speak with one voice to the government, and that’s a key achievement for us,” he said. “We rely on Business Botswana to connect us directly with Ministry updates on areas like water and electricity. The hotel was able to obtain water during the country’s recent shortage in this way.”
As much as Mmango has achieved, he’s not standing still. Plans are underway to renovate the main façade of the hotel, along with the lounge, reception areas, restaurants and pool bar. I can testify that all these areas are already pretty nice so the renovations are sure to be even more impressive.
Interacting with so many businesses throughout my stay in Botswana, I was most impressed by Mmango’s entrepreneurial spirit. Facing government restrictions that control the number of foreign worker permits, the hotel conducts continuous trainings to upgrade workers’ skills. Mmango works with import specialists to source quality food despite government embargos on imports that can include items like pork ribs, lamb, dairy products and tomatoes. He’s also big on balancing his home and family life, extending that work ethic to employees. “You have to carve out time for both family and work, and do the same for employees,” he said. “If your workforce is happy at home, they’re happy at work, providing guests with the best experience. When your guests are happy, that’s the first thing that makes you happy.”
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