Since January 2018, Umhlanga Sands has been engaged in what the trade calls “a major soft refurb”, and major it is. Many will know what a task it can be to redecorate their homes; now imagine if, like Umhlanga Sands, that home were a multi-storeyed beachfront landmark with 237 apartments. A “soft refurb” might sound vaguely like an ice-cream or cocktail, but it’s hard, daunting work – and as Derek McKillop, the General Manager, suggests, it’s also work that gives a huge sense of accomplishment.
A soft refurbishment, he explained, involves replacing or restoring “soft” items in a room, as opposed to making structural changes; there is thus little construction work per se. The purpose is not primarily to upgrade the edifice of the building. Instead it’s the equally necessary one of dealing with the wear and tear caused by the resort’s thriving human population and its living, breathing marine climate.
This is the reason for the current refurbishment. “The property has run in excess of 90% capacity for the past 12 years,” Derek said, “so we plan a refurbishment for every six years. Earlier, we closed it in 2012 for the previous refurb.” Apart from the resort’s high rate of occupancy, the sea is another factor to be reckoned with. “It’s right on our doorstep, and the sea air takes a lot out on the rooms.”
Accordingly, the scope of work has been comprehensive, with the focus on the quality of the rooms’ amenities, on the texture of the experience they provide.
Derek listed the details at pace. First, the beds are being replaced by eye-catching floating beds – they lack visible support, so they appear to hover coolly above the floor in geostationary orbit with it; the open space underneath them creates further room to pack luggage. Next up are the couches, chairs and tables: all gone. It’s out with the old, in with the new. Ditto with kettles, toasters, microwaves and fridges. All the cupboards are being replaced, and some of the flooring and carpeting as well.
Light fittings, bedside reading lights, the blinds and curtains: these are new. What’s more, given that the apartments are sea-facing, curtains are fitted with sun filters to enable fine-tuned modulation of light shining in from the ocean. As for the TV sets, they’re bigger and better. HD, large-screen, and internet-ready for streaming movies and media, they are seamlessly in sync with the needs of hi-tech travellers and their even higher-tech children – Umhlanga Sands is, famously, where Kid is King. And, oh yes, don’t forget the wall hangings. They, too, have been revamped and given fresh sparkle.
“Then,” said Derek, “because we’re taking the whole room out, we also do a full maintenance of it.” Among other things, this entails repainting rooms and balconies, in addition to which main entrance doors are being cladded with stainless-steel trim to prevent them from splitting if they are slammed.
A major soft refurb, indeed. The project commenced on 20 January, with teams beginning on the 17th floor and working their way downwards. Each apartment takes about two weeks to complete, and the resort has been at pains to keep any disruption to a minimum. It is relocating guests far away from active refurbishments, limiting work to certain hours of the day, and ensuring that there is always an empty storey cushioned between rooms in progress and rooms in occupation.
Yet though the refurbishment has been carried out in 2018, the planning and prepping for it go back several years. Derek explained that well before the heavy lifting got under way, Umhlanga Sands ran a number of mock-up rooms – one for two years, and two each for about a year – to see how the designs would fare in the flesh and what reaction they’d draw from timeshare owners. One recurring concern, for instance, was that the cupboards didn’t have enough hanging space, so the designs were duly tweaked. “Everybody had a go at giving us their comments,” Derek recalled.
Speaking in mid-August, he said 85% of the resort had been refurbished and the job in its entirety was due for completion in October. And the response so far from guests? “The look-and-feel of the rooms is absolutely awesome, and the feedback we’re getting is unbelievable. While we’ve been working through the refurbs, our eGuest Ratings are sitting at 90%. People are going, ‘Wow!’ The rooms are modern, fresh, new-look and lighter – they’ve got everything people want.”
Is he himself pleased with the results? “We’re running ahead of schedule, and in line with budgets, so there are no overspends, and the project has gone exceptionally well. So, yes: very pleased.”