Since taking office in October 2018 as Cabana Beach’s general manager, Barend Olivier has been on a mission to look, learn and listen, applying himself with gusto to the favourite part of his job: interacting with guests to understand what makes timeshare owners a breed apart and how to make “a stunning property” even better. We spoke to Barend to let guests learn a thing or two about him in turn.
Q: Barend, where were you working before you came here?
A: I was the general manager at Garden Court Kimberley, and succeeded Ron Klambt at Cabana Beach when he retired in 2018 after 18 years as general manager.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your background?
A: I was born in 1973 in Reitz, a small town in the Free State. My dad worked for Toyota, so we moved around a lot and I attended primary school in Kempton Park. Later, we went back to the Free State, and I matriculated in Senekal. From there, I started my working career at United Bank in Bethlehem.
About a year and a half later, I changed branches to Bloemfontein, where a funny thing happened. At a party one night I got speaking to a guy in a chef’s uniform. He told me such an interesting story about the hospitality industry that I went in and resigned from the bank the following day – and I’m usually the most cautious person there is when it comes to life-changing decisions.
I went on to study hospitality management at Free State Technikon, which included doing my chef’s practical at the Hilton Hotel in Durban. That’s where I began in the industry, working in reception. I’d also had a great time doing in-service training at Southern Sun Elangeni, and kept in touch. Over coffee one day, the general manager said there was a position for me at Umhlanga Sands, and would I like to work for them? I said: How soon can I start? That was in 2002 and how my career began in Tsogo Sun.
Q: Fast-forwarding 17 years, what’s it been like at Cabana Beach?
A: Moving to Umhlanga has been like moving to paradise! Cabana Beach is a stunning, stunning property. I’ve got beautiful guests who frequent the resort, and I’ve got an amazing team. This is my seventh month here, and it’s been seven months of pure bliss.
Q: What’s a big difference between where you were and where you are now?
A: When you’re managing corporate hotels, your interaction with guests can be quite limited – and I like to talk to people. At a timeshare resort, it’s the opposite. You talk to guests the whole day, and get to catching up on other work in the time remaining between the conversations you’ve had.
Q: For guests who haven’t met you in person yet, what can they expect?
A: I’m very relaxed and laid-back. I’m open, and, as I say, I like to talk to people, so I really enjoy guest interaction. To give you an idea, I come to work in shorts, a golf T-shirt and what I call yacht shoes. And that’s how my approach is: I’m not one for stiff suits and that sort of thing. I’m not a butler!
Q: What is your approach, then, to managing the resort?
I’m very detail-oriented, and want the resort always looking at its best – I believe first impressions are lasting ones. It’s also about interacting with the guests to find out their needs, because at the end of the day, it’s not my resort – it’s our guests’ resort. So it’s about listening to guests and seeing how we can incorporate their feedback into our five- and ten-year plans and enhance their experience.
I say “experience”, because when people come and stay here, it’s more than just a holiday for them. A lot of our guests have been coming to Cabana Beach for 35 to 40 years, so for them this is like a second home. People come here for an experience, so from our side as the property managers, the question is, How can we turn a great guest experience into an awesome one?
Q: And when you’re at home yourself, what are your pursuits and passions?
A: I’m an avid reader, and love motor sports – I’m a follower of MotoGP, and do some motor cross myself. I’m also a big fan of classical music and opera.