Lance Hurly hailing from South Africa arrived in Rwanda for the first time in 2020.
He is not a new figure in the hospitality sector as he assumed related duties in different countries in West Africa and Southern Africa
The man who started working in hotels in South Africa at the age of 14 has disclosed that he worked in the hospitality sector in 15 countries noting that acquired experience, coupled with a spirit of teamwork will help him discharge his duties diligently.
Speaking with IGIHE, Hurly shared more about his journey as a hotelier, what should be done to overhaul the hospitality sector and his projections as the new General Manager.
Would you please give us a brief overview of your professional background?
Hurly: My name is Lance Hurly. I’m the newly appointed General Manager at Mythos Hotel in Kigali in Kiyovu. I’m from South Africa, although I’ve worked in a number of African countries in West Africa and Southern Africa. Before coming to Mythos, I spent two years at Akagera Game Lodge in the National Park
What attracted you to this position and what are your initial goals?
Hurly: Well, interestingly enough, a colleague of mine who was employed here as General Manager, was offered a different opportunity, which he decided to take, and he asked me if I would be interested in coming on board. At the time, I was very interested in moving to a new role, and so, I accepted the offer to come to Mythos. In terms of initial goals, my first is to get to understand the hotel’s operations and the team that currently works here, and also to understand the market in Kigali.
And then obviously moving forward, we’re looking at making some changes to enhance the business and guest experience.
What are your previous roles and experiences in the hospitality industry, and how have they prepared you for this new position?
Hurly: I started off working in hotels at the age of 14 during my school holidays. I had an uncle who owned a restaurant, and an aunt who owned a hotel where I used to go and work during my school holidays.
My uncle put me to work washing pots and dishes for the first year I worked for him. When I finished school, I went to hotel school and earned a national diploma in Hotel Management in South Africa.
My career started working around South Africa initially, and I then branched out into several neighbouring countries. I also spent some time working a number of different countries in West Africa.
When I arrived in Rwanda in 2020, to take up my role at Akagera, it was the first time I’d actually worked in East Africa. And it’s quite different to my previous experiences.
What was your familiarity with the hotel and its brand before joining Mythos Boutique Hotel?
I knew of and had seen the property while travelling in Kigali, but honestly, didn’t know much about it.
What initially sparked your interest in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry, and what steps did you take to enter this field?
Hurly: During my early years in secondary school, I used to watch a television series called ‘Hotel’, and I fell in love with the excitement and glamour of the industry.
Hurly: It showed all the good bits. From then on, it’s was something I always wanted.
The best aspect of this industry is that it is constantly changing and evolving, and so it’s an ongoing challenge to try and stay on top of things, to manage processes that might have not gone according to plan while you were out on a sales trip, or having taken a few days off.
One of the challenges Mythos Hotel faces is that it’s a standalone. It’s not part of one of the internationally-branded chains, and that comes with benefits and downsides.
One of the more challenging aspect of operating a standalone property, is to develop market loyalty. It takes time and effort to find your place in the market, and build a successful business.
There are a handful of successful, privately-owned properties in Kigali. They have been in the market for a reasonable period of time, and they have developed a loyal following through offering great service to their guests.
For those who may not be familiar with Mythos Boutique Hotel, could you please give a brief introduction to the hotel and its services?
Hurly: I think one of one the benefits of being a Boutique Hotel is that you are small enough to be able to give each guest personal attention. It’s about the way we manage our relationship with our guests. A boutique is a style of service that is much more personal, and it gives you the opportunity to build relationships, not just as a manager, but also the staff members, the team on the ground that are actually dealing with the guests far more frequently than management generally does.
Mythos has 24 rooms, 12 of which are executive suites and 12 of which are deluxe rooms. The executive suites have a separate lounge area and en-suite, and the deluxe are rooms with an en-suite but no separate lounge.
One of the more unique aspect of the Mythos Hotel is that each of our rooms has a kitchenette. This is especially appreciated by our longer-staying guests who like to do their own cooking from time to time.
We offer airport shuttle transfers from the airport, which are in our own vehicles. We have a conference facility and obviously, as I said, we have a restaurant.
One of the other things that we do, which is fairly unique for a boutique hotel, is that we offer 24-hour room service. So, if a guest comes in at 1:30 on a flight in the morning, we can pick them up at the airport, bring them here and they can still order something to eat.
Also, we’re in a wonderful area. Kiyovu is safe and secure. It’s beautiful. I go running and walking almost every evening. I’m continually discovering new things that I think are really nice.
Atmosphere restaurant has amazing views of the Kimihurura valley, as do all of the first and second floor bedrooms, and so a lot of our guests that come here will come and have drinks on the terrace in the evening.
What strategies do you have in mind to improve the hotel’s operations and enhance the guest experience, and how would you implement them?
Hurly: Well, there are a number of strategies. And bear in mind, I’ve been here for a month and a half, and so I am still very much in a learning phase.
The team has discussed some ideas in terms of what we want to do.
One thing we plan on doing towards the end of March is to re-launch the restaurant with its own brand in the marketplace, with a new menu, quite different to the existing fare that we offer.
We also have to standardize service levels across the hotel. In order to do that, we are creating standard operating procedures which try to address every possible interaction with a guest, whether good or bad. We have procedures in place that manage the way we react and behave towards our guests, and we use those procedures to train our staff so that they react in the same way every time.
When I’m guest in an hotel, there is nothing more satisfying that telling say, a server in the restaurant, that I have a challenge, and that person addresses it. They don’t call a supervisor, they don’t call a manager. They say “I’m going to fix that for you”, and they take ownership to ensure that its done. That, for me, is a sign of an empowered team who understand the value of the customer to their business.
All team members must be able to think on their feet and make decisions, and management must in turn then interrogate those decisions in a way that allows the staff members to feel comfortable in making and better decisions in the future.
Training staff to be thoughtful is very different to training technical skills.
We are also doing a lot of work on our online presence, and hopefully the fruit of that will begin to show in the short term.
How do you keep up-to-date with industry trends and best practices, and what measures will you take to ensure the hotel remains competitive in the market?
Hurly: I read a lot, and also discuss challenges with colleagues. Hotel managers are always prepared to share their solutions and ideas.
New trends and ideas abound, especially after the mental gymnastics we had to perform during COVID to keep our business afloat, and relevant. Hospitality is a highly-innovative space to work in, which is what makes it such an exciting industry.
In your opinion, how do you see the role of a hotel manager evolving in the future, and what steps do you plan to take to stay ahead of these changes?
Hurly: The wonderful thing is that hoteliers are used to changing because the industry is continuously evolving.
We have a marketplace that tells us what they want from us, and we continually adapt to the needs of our guests.
As an example, most modern day tourists don’t just want to go on holiday. They want to immerse themselves in the places that they visit, and to feel that they have somehow contributed to a better world through their interaction with local residents or programs. They want an experience that they will always remember, hopefully in a positive way!
Many guests today are much more environmentally aware than they were even 5 years ago. The Rwandan government has also been extremely pro-active with their interventions to help us achieve more environmentally-friendly practices.
Social media will continue to play a massive role in both the way we market ourselves and also in the way that our guests tell others about us. Tech-savvy hoteliers are very aware of this, and many are able to leverage on it.
Where do you see Mythos Boutique Hotel in five years to come?
Hurly: In the next five years, I see Mythos in good space in terms of being sustainable as a business.
I think certainly in the Kigali market, be it Rwandan citizens or foreign residents, one needs to keep re-inventing oneself, and so it is difficult to say exactly how Mythos will do this in the next 5 years.
There is so much competition and innovation happening in the city, and residents are continually exposed to more choices and options, especially in terms of dining out.
It’s vital to keep re-assessing the business and asking, how can I do this better? How can I provide the guests with higher levels of service? How can I do this more profitably? We have to critically assess our own businesses all the time in order to improve.
I think, if I look at guests’ comments and especially from the guests that I speak to, satisfaction levels are generally fairly high, but there is always room to improve, and acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and are willing to make changes, is the difference between succeeding a failing.