By Barbara Hollands
RESIDENTS in the picturesque Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet are reeling over the closure of the landmark 200-year old Drostdy Hotel which has shut its doors amid rumours its management company has run into financial difficulties.
Despite the majestic, antique-filled hotel recently showing a marked increase in occupancy levels and improvement in the quality of its service, the establishment was not open for business this past week – allegedly because Celsius Hospitality Services had money troubles – wreaking havoc with tourist bookings.
According to Graaff-Reinet marketing and development project manager Mandy Roets, the hotel, which was designed by famous French architect Louis Michel Thibault and built in 1806, had become very popular with tour groups from countries like Holland, Germany and Britain.
“Huge damage has been done because all the tours have been cancelled. This will have a huge economic impact on a small town like this.”
A former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Celsius Hospitality Services, owned by East London-based True Group, had experienced financial difficulties due to the failure of other hospitality businesses it managed countrywide.
True Group financial manager Debbie Flanagan would not verify this or answer any other questions. She instead referred Weekend Post to the hotel’s landlord, Historical Homes, but Historical Homes manager Petra du Preez also declined to comment.
But Weekend Post has established that an employee who had taken over the management of the hotel two years ago immediately realised the establishment was in financial difficulty.
The man, who did not want to be named, said the manager had been forced to pay for “eggs and bacon for the restaurant and beers for the bar” from his own pocket because the hotel had debts going back to 2007.
“The sheriff of the court came to the hotel once a week with an order to seize assets for historical debt, but this was eventually sorted out.”
He added that while over the years local residents had stopped frequenting the hotel’s restaurants and pub, they started returning after the new manager took over and improved standards. The restaurant and pub became so popular that advance bookings became necessary to secure a seat at the in-house Camdeboo Restaurant.
The source said following the manager’s sacking a tour group which booked a six-week stay in the hotel left after 10 days, complaining of poor service – a loss representing more than R1.5-million for the hotel which consists of 51 bedrooms.
Apparently the hotel’s 60 staff members, some of whom had been employed for up to 25 years, are now without jobs. Those lodging in the hotel’s staff quarters have reportedly been given a month to vacate.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday April 28, 2012.