Meet the new boss at the Oyster Box
WHEN people ask the new general manager of the Oyster Box Hotel why on earth he moved from Cape Town, his response is immediate. “It’s because of the people and the hotel,” Desmond O’Connor explains.
Two weeks into his dream job at the world-famous award-winning five-star hotel, O’Connor, has also got used to people telling him he must “be mad” to leave Cape Town.
But he says the friendliness of KwaZulu-Natal’s people and the iconic Oyster Box are the reasons he left his top job as the general manager of the Radisson Blue Hotel & Residence in Cape Town, which he opened in 2017, for uMhlanga.
(The Cape Town hotel and residence is a mixed-use, 214-bedroom, 158 apartment business. It is a first-of-its kind in the Radisson Blu fold in the country. Apart from accommodation, the property includes various food and beverage outlets and meeting spaces.)
With 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry – including opening the five-star Cape Royal Luxury Hotel and Residence in Green Point, Cape Town – O’Connor says being appointed the general manager of the Oyster Box Hotel is the pinnacle of his career.
“It is the most iconic hotel in the country and I have always aspired to be the general manager,” he said.
“This hotel is all about people. I have always wanted to be a true host and for me, the Oyster Box embodies exceptional service and standards.
“A famous hotelier once said that you might have the best hotel in the world, but if you do not have service and standards, you might as well shut and go home.”
O’Connor has been overwhelmed by the reception he has had from staff, guests and the “regulars” who have popped in to welcome him to the hotel and uMhlanga.
“People are very friendly and extremely welcoming. They are most gracious and the reception has been really wonderful. People are as friendly as they are in the Eastern Cape where I have also worked,” he recalled.
O’Connor has taken over from the long-standing general manager Wayne Coetzer, who left at the end of November to take up the post of chief executive of Vergelegen Wine Estate in Somerset West (it was voted the top winery in Africa last year).
People tell O’Connor he has big shoes to fill, which he says he understands as Coetzer had such a long history with the hotel.
But he hopes people also respect that he also brings a style and says there is nothing wrong with looking at new concepts, adjustments or tweaks.
It is still early days, but he is gradually getting to know the Oyster Box staff, although he does not know them all by name yet.
“Well, that’s a bit of a tall order at this stage as there are more than 400 staff,” he said, adding that he makes a point of walking around the hotel every day and lunching in the staff dining room to get to know people “and for them to get to know me”.
He is so involved in the day-to-day running of the hotel. He starts at 6.30am and finishes at 8pm or later. Time, he says, “just flies”.
And of course, he has made friends with the hotel’s famous cat Skabenga.
“We’ve hit it off. We are real friends and he talks to me. I have three cats of my own so am a real animal lover,” he says.
He is now planning to meet personalities in the local hospitality business and has already had a get-together with Charles Preece, of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa and John Aritho, the general manager of the neighbouring Beverly Hills Hotel.
Has his “dream job” met his expectations, we asked?
“It has surpassed all expectations,” he beamed. – Barbara Cole
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