The Indaba Hotel in Fourways is currently operating as a quarantine hotel facility for a group of repatriated South African residents.
With just under a day's notice to prepare bedrooms and gather resources, the hotel team stepped up to cater for their unusual guests. The last of the repatriated residents arrived at 3am on Friday, 1 May 2020.
"We met on Friday for briefings from the South African Government Department of Health and got all of the correct standard operating procedures in place", explains Crystal Muller, the hotel's marketing administrator. For example, there are now on-site healthcare providers to conduct regular testing for Covid-19 symptoms.
The Indaba Hotel staff have also had to adjust their skillsets. Steve Smit acts typically as the banqueting manager but is currently the Indaba Hotel's health and safety officer for repatriation groups. "The most important part of making us Covid-19 ready was conducting comprehensive risk assessments for every process and employee in the workplace. These were then translated into Safe Working Procedures, and we had intense training sessions", says Steve. "A great deal of ongoing research is done to ensure that we adhere to world-class protocols to keep everyone safe. We require hundreds of litres of alcohol-based sanitiser to clean every surface that guests or staff come into contact with and compliance with set protocols is also strictly monitored".
Thuli Ntuli, the sous chef, knows all about adjustment. She is hard at work as the mealtime miracle worker and shares a little about new protocols. "Preparing food for quarantine has been very difficult because everything has changed. When the delivery arrives we sanitise all the packages, even the hands and feet of drivers before they are allowed in the kitchen. The chefs are wearing masks and gloves all the time but we change gloves regularly as we move to another task. For example, if I am buttering rolls, I would wash and sanitise my hands, put on gloves and then start working with the rolls. After that, I'll wash and sanitise and put on a new set of gloves to start the next task. Masks are changed three times during a single shift and we sanitise our work stations after every task. We have always followed these processes but it is now done more frequently. I need a good hand lotion as my hands are starting to look like an older woman's! Everybody is pulling their weight and doing the best they can under the difficult circumstances we are all facing".
What began as a country house of just 14 bedrooms, Johannesburg's Indaba Hotel has come a long way in 70 years but remains true to its humble roots. It has always strived to remain a comforting home away from home. Today, that's more important than ever.
"We also compiled guest information booklets and briefed the lockdown staff to ensure everyone was always up to date on processes", Crystal explains. "There's been negativity in the media around other quarantine facilities in the country, but this is not what we have experienced".
Indeed. Luckily for these hotel guests, it’s staffed by an exceptional team. Sharon Hunnink, Indaba Hotel's sales and marketing manager articulates immense pride in the group at work right now. "Our hotel staff are on the frontline. Superheroes working hard to ensure that our quarantine hotel is no halfway house. It is home".
Praise across social media platforms confirms Sharon's view. Ina Herselman writes on Facebook about her Mothers Day in quarantine. "A knock on the door and friendly voices with a special little gift...Thank you for your hospitality… although we can't see the smiles behind the masks we can see it in your eyes and hear it in your voices! You have really gone the extra mile to make this unforeseen circumstance a home-away-from-home experience!"
Alain Yon, the assistant food and beverage manager, is currently heading up the room service and meal deliveries for repatriation groups. "My job has changed drastically in the way we have to handle guests now known as PUI's (Person Under Investigation). There is no normal 'personal touch' with each guest now. Something hoteliers are well known for! We have had to adjust."
The hotel has also created a WhatsApp community to provide immediate support and for guests to get to know each other. Candice Geyser is Indaba Hotel’s key account manager and currently assisting as the guest liaison. "It makes me very proud to be part of this, helping a few fellow South Africans in this challenging time and making a difference, no matter how small. Whether it is delivering a birthday cake to someone's door (and seeing them smile from a distance) or comforting someone on the phone as many are by themselves and feeling lonely over this time".
Although quarantined guests can't share much at the moment, they do share their voices. At 6pm every evening a resounding round of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika lifts everyone's spirits. It proves home is where the heart is.
The hotel has also shared tips for mental wellbeing and online yoga Zoom lessons are a cinch thanks to unlimited Wi-Fi (although we all know a good Netflix binge counts as self-care too!) It also allows longer, frequent family chats – sure to keep distant hearts happy.
Another guest, Phyll Mcneil, also testifies to the pervasive homely spirit here. "We are a group of over 200 people repatriated from Australia and had the most amazing good fortune to be accommodated at this hotel for the quarantine period. The attention to our needs has been met at every turn. The team of nurses have been incredible and these are all people giving up their family time to tend to us. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. This is an incredible facility".
This repatriation group is in residence for 14 days and should be departing soon if all goes well.
The Indaba Hotel superheroes are certainly making a difference. Not just to 200 hotel residents, but 58 million people in South Africa. It's easier to save South Africa when a hotel feels like home.