by CCID 14 May 2019

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Efi Ella on his vision for the Pepperclub Hotel

Eighteen months ago, Efi Ella joined the five-star Pepperclub Hotel as general manager after an eight-year stint as hotel manager of The Vineyard Hotel in Newlands. Here he talks about making the transition, the state of the CBD hotel industry and how he has risen to the challenge of running an establishment in the heart of the city.

They’re like chalk and cheese. One is an iconic, much-loved Cape Town institution in the leafy southern suburbs while the other is situated in the edgy CBD in the heart of the city. Was it easy to make the transition from The Vineyard to the Pepperclub Hotel?

EE: Yes, it was. After so many years at The Vineyard, it was good to make the change. There are a lot of things about The Vineyard that translate quite easily into the Pepperclub, such as maintaining high standards and giving people what they expect of a five-star hotel. The Vineyard is a very well-run hotel so, in a way, it’s hard to make your mark even if you’re the hotel manager. There is not a lot more you can do to it … at the Pepperclub, however, when I arrived, the product needed some work and I was given a free rein to transform the hotel as I saw fit, with the full support of the owners to whom it is very important. So, it was very exciting.

When you set about upgrading the hotel, what was your brief?

EE: My brief from the hotel’s owners was to make sure we not only retained our market share but also grew it. Basically, if someone is looking to stay in a Central City hotel, we want the Pepperclub to be top of mind.

What changes have you instigated in 18 months?

EE: The hotel looked very different when I took over, and a lot of the facilities were in need of an update. We upgraded our restaurant, COPA, added a new coffee shop, Ruby’s Bakery and Café, upgraded our rooms as well as our conference facilities and the hotel’s spa. We also started focusing on staff training and building a strong team through a few changes we made to our personnel.

There are 40 hotels the Central City. What is your strategy to remain “top of mind”?

EE: It’s a highly competitive industry! The CBD has a slew of hotels all in close proximity to each other: there are at least ten hotels close to the Pepperclub. You need to be on top form and realise that your competitors are out to get you all the time. Our strategy? We make sure the staff are happy, and they make sure that our guests are happy. Guests get a very personalised service here. I also make it my business to be aware of what the other hotels are offering … I do site visits.

What makes the Pepperclub unique? Why would guests choose to stay here?

EE: We have a lot to offer: our location is hard to beat, our facilities are top-class (we have our own cinema, The Odeon), and our pricing strategy is very competitive. As a tourist, staying at the Pepperclub is the closest you can get to staying in the heart of a big globally renowned city but at a fraction of the price. It’s also modern without being pretentious. We pride ourselves on being very welcoming.

Is the strategy working?

EE: The internal and external feedback we have had from guests has been outstanding.

Tell us more about your background … are you familiar with the hotel industry?

EE: Yes, my family is in the hotel business, and I started working in the industry when I was 14. Being in the family business is not as easy as it sounds! I moved to South African 11 years ago and The Vineyard was my first position in this country. Having studied and worked overseas equipped me with all the tools to run hotels. I know what people are looking for in a good hotel. I have a good grasp of the international guest, and now the local one, too.

What is your main market?

EE: The breakdown between local and international guests is 50/50. The domestic market is very big: there are a lot of South Africans who travel, especially on business. We also get a lot of families staying here as we can offer two to three bedrooms as we have a range of guest accommodation.

What challenges does the Central City present to a hotelier?

EE: Very few, if any. Everyone wants to be in the Central City. We sometimes have a bit of street-noise but recently we installed double-glazing on all our windows to counter the problem.

You must have experienced some odd things in your time …

EE: Indeed. One of them was a bomb-scare in the middle of the night while a contingent of high-calibre guests was staying at the hotel where I was working at the time. I chose not to evacuate all the guests while police sniffer dogs combed the hotel. There wasn’t a bomb after all, and the guests were none the wiser when they woke up the following morning. Other challenges? Fire, abusive guests, intoxicated people that wander into the hotel off the street …

How do you maintain that elusive work/life balance working long hours?

EE: I don’t really … the last 18 months have been very intense but luckily my wife understands because she is also in the hospitality industry. I exercise - in the summer I cycle to work on my electric bike from our home in Sea Point – I go to the gym, read.  At the moment, I am (slowly!) reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and the biography, Christo Wiese – Risk and Riches by T. J. Strydom.

IMAGE: Scott Arendse, CCID Online Coordinator