The new owner of Durban’s landmark Royal Hotel, which sold for R78m on Wednesday, has vowed to return the grand old lady of the hospitality industry to its glory days.
And the news that property magnate and hotelier Saantha Naidu’s Coastlands Hotels and Resorts – part of the Saantha Naidu Group-is to take transfer of the 170-year-old hotel, was welcomed by industry experts on Wednesday night.
“This is a good thing for Durban. Saantha has got the hotel knowledge to turn the Royal Hotel around and to make it into a reasonable business again. It has lost its shine and he can bring the polish back so that it is part of the hotel scene again,” said Mike Jackson, chairman of the regional branch of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa).
James Seymour, the chief executive of the Durban KwaZulu-Natal Convention Bureau hailed the news as “really good” for Durban and the convention business.
“Considering the quality of the Coastlands Hotels, he is just the developer to turn the Royal Hotel around.”
Naidu and his company bought the hotel on auction, when auctioneer David Soutter, the chief executive of Reliance Auctions, said that the event was a watershed moment for the hotel and they were about to witness history as the hotel went under the hammer.
The owner, Swaziland businessman Moses Motsa, who bought the hotel from the Three Cities Group/Durban Hotels Ltd three years ago, for an undisclosed sum, was in the packed room.
With the municipal valuation of the hotel, with its 206 sectional title rooms on 16 floors, being R120m, Soutter opened the bidding at R120m, although there were no takers at that price.
Earlier, he had told the packed room that the original Royal Hotel had cost 40 pounds – and said “I will take R80m because you are not going to get it for 40 pounds.”
When someone started the bidding at R60m, there was no stopping the excitement as the figure shot up minute by minute to R62m, then R65m and R67m. Then it went to R70m…R72m…R74m…R76m.
“Don’t lose it; everyone is here to witness this,” the auctioneer reminded everyone.
The bidding resumed at R77m-and finally reached R78m, with the auctioneer offering his “congratulations and jubilations,” to the successful unnamed bidder, whom Naidu said later was his partner.
The unassuming Naidu, who went off to see to the documentation, left the talking to his two sons, Rushen and Shamir.
Asked what they thought of the final price, Rushen said: “How can you put a price on history? This is a magnificent, beautiful place…it’s a good price.”
There were many reasons they had bought the hotel, they said, citing the “historic value to eThekwini, and being proudly Durban citizens.”
The company had been in the hotel business for some 20 years and had the Coastlands Durban, the flagship four-star Coastlands uMhlanga and the Coastlands in Musgrave.
These hotels were “doing fantastic,” Rushen said.
The Royal Hotel had some challenges, which they could not disclose, but they were looking forward to turning the hotel around to the premier hotel that it used to be.
They were also looking forward to working with the staff as a team to make the business a success.
Some staff have been at the hotel for years, including Kistin Naidoo, who has more than 30 years service.
Motsa said he had put the hotel on the market as he was “looking at something else in South Africa.”
By BARBARA COLE