Should you buy and run a guesthouse?

Private Property South Africa
Martin Hatchuel

It sounds perfect: we’ll buy a little guest house or B&B in the boondies - with a nice view and everything - and everyone will pay to come and stay with us while we laze our days away in the sun. G&Ts at lunch time, long days by the pool, endless nights dancing under the moon (which will, of course, be reflecting off a romantic lagoon. Or at least a decently-sized farm dam).

“The best thing about staying in your own guest house is that you’re close to work, and the worst thing about staying in your own guest house is that you’re close to work,” said Ypie Kingma, who has fifteen years experience in the sector - during which time she’s spent ten years living in, and five living out.

She and hubbie Erik Ekkelkamp currently run three businesses: Knysna Country House, Wayside Inn (also in Knysna), and Platinum Golf (which was named Africa’s Best Golf Tour Operator in the 2014 World Golf Awards). They live at Knysna Country House.

From the business’s perspective, said Ypie, it’s definitely best to live on site - but this does have its challenges for your private life.

“You need to create your own privacy.”

TIME FOR YOURSELF

Ypie and Erik begin their day by preparing and serving breakfast to their guests - they like to do this themselves because it gives them time to interact with the guests - but after that, she said, there’s generally enough time to do all the other things that you need to do to keep the business going. This includes administration, shopping, attending to the needs of the staff, and (and this is the big one) marketing - which, especially for small business owners, means spending a lot of time on the social web (although, of course, social and review sites should form just a part of any guest house owner’s marketing mix).

Ypie said that running a guest house is a twenty-four hour, 365-day job.

“You have to have someone always available for the guests, and to attend to check-ins and departures - but we’re lucky because we’re big enough to employ a duty manager to look after Knysna Country House in the afternoons.

“Erik’s worked out that you should be able to employ a manager if you have a minimum of about eight or nine rooms - and having a manager does free you up to attend to other things.”

She said that running a guest house has definite rewards: “It’s not a difficult job, but it is time-consuming, and you have to like people!”

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Estate agents have this habit of advertising almost any many-roomed house at the coast as ‘ideal B&B or guest lodge potential,’ but is there really enough room for more accommodation establishment?

“I think there is,” said Ypie.

“South Africa has a good reputation for the quality of its small-scale hospitality establishments, but I can tell you that as tour operators, it’s always a challenge to find good accommodation at reasonable prices in out-of-the way places.

“So while the market might be a little saturated in some of the larger centres or the most popular destinations, there’s definitely a need.

“But even in the popular destinations, you can still make it work - because the success of any guest house or B&B has everything to do with the attitude of its owners,” she said.

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