HOSPITALITY EXPERT: Fairgrounds Holdings Chief Executive Officer, Gorata Gabaraane

Having been seduced by the hospitality industryas a youngster travelling around the world with her parents, Fairgrounds Holdings CEO, GorataGabaraane has turned her childhood ambition into her everyday reality.

In this interview with The Voice’s KABELO ADAMSON, Gabaraane explains how the style and elegance of those hotels inspired her to become a Hotelier.

She also reflects in detail on the recent Consumer Fair, giving a forthright assessment on how Fairgrounds Holdings’ flagship event has flagged in recent years.

What made you choose this career path?

As a young girl I used to travel a lot with my parents.

We used to stay in hotels and I would just sit there and admire the glitz and glamour that comes with the hotel industry.

I also liked cooking, so, I thought to myself, maybe I should try this as I liked what I saw and I went for it.

I actually made the decision to venture into this industry when I was 15 years old and that I am going to study Hotel Management.

Interesting! So when did you start your career?

Before coming here, I had been in the hospitality working for Cresta Hotels for 13 years.

My first appointment as senior position at Cresta was of General Manager at the age of 27. I was a GM at Riley’s Hotel then went on to manage Cresta President Hotel.

In addition, I did special projects for the entire Cresta Group. After that I then went into two different organisations.

Firstly I was at Local Enterprising Authority (LEA), serving as a Tourism Specialist and later on moved to the strategy office where I did strategy and quality management, which I also did at Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC).

Overall, I am a Hotelier, a hospitality person and also a strategist if you may say – an all rounded businessperson really!

So when did you join Fairgrounds Holdings?

I joined Fairgrounds Holdings in March last year.

The annual Consumer Fair, which is one of your flagship events, has just come to an end. Do you feel the fair is growing or has it become stagnant?

It depends! There are two sides of it but generally it is growing.

This is an event which started many years ago. When you look at it from the time it started, we are seeing a bit of decline.

But when I compare last year with this year we have grown, especially in exhibitor participation.

We managed to register much more exhibitors this year as compared to the previous year.

We have also seen some improvements in terms of visitations from last year.

But in comparison to the past years we are seeing a decline and that is a concern for us, which we will have a serious conversation about as management to make sure we really revamp it and try to get the best out of it.

You say the event is in decline, explain in what sense.

Attendance mostly, visitations, but in terms of exhibitor participation that has been constant.

In your view, why are people losing interest in the Consumer Fair?

I think we need to up content because as much as I am saying we have the right numbers of exhibitors, we need to look at the mix of exhibitors and ask ourselves if we have the right exhibitors content to drive interest for people to visit.

From the feedback we get from the public, we have more of service providers than products.

We want to increase trading, buying and selling and we want to see more tangible products than services.

We are seeing more government branches and more service providers coming to sell their value proposition which is good for a fair, we very much welcome them!

But feedback from people and even exhibitors who are here is that if there could be a better mix of service providers and product traders then it would be good.

Don’t you think the timing also has an influence on this decline? The fair used to be held during school vacations but public schools calendars have since been altered.

I am not sure because from the statistics that we are seeing, especially on a Saturday we have more school-going children.

You would probably want to have them right through the week if schools were closed. But the other thing is, you want the exhibitors to be happy in terms of people buying from them and the elders are the ones who have the buying power.

So, it’s a balancing act and we have to look at it from that point of view. Everybody’s expectations need to be met.

But do you feel it is still relevant or has it been overtaken by other events?

It is still relevant because the mandate of the fair is to link buyers and sellers to give them that platform.

We have given them the platform, but perhaps we need to look at how we can better it.

However, relevance remains because there is no fair like it in Botswana; the most important thing is to ensure that it delivers better!

You spoke about revamping it – what exactly would that involve?

You will find that a lot of SMMEs who come here come under the banners of the likes of LEA or CEDA, others came under Innovation Hub.

But I feel that we could give them much more prominence in the fair such that we could group them together.

We are already thinking about it, having a market place and giving it a catchy Tswana name, which is going to house all of them, but also still giving the likes of LEA, CEDA and Innovation Hub prominence as sponsors whilst making sure we give these SMMEs more space to showcase their products so that they bring a lot of stock.

In addition to this, we want to go out and attract international traders of the same level or even better to go into that same market so that when one comes into the fair, the first thing you see portrays precisely the theme of the show.

The other thing about this fair is that it is a family outing.

You will find that the entertainment provided is more skewed towards children and now we want to balance it so that it is not age restrictive and appeals to adults too.

Besides the fair, which other notable events do you organise?

We have started the International Food Festival, which came through during my time – the first one took place last year – where we bring in representatives from embassies to come and showcase their culture cuisines.

It was a success, especially for a first, but we will be improving it year on year such that it becomes even better.

There is another one called the Food Safety and Quality Management Conference, which we collaborated on with the Ministries of Agriculture and Health and many other organisations.

So it is really about promoting food safety and healthy living in the country. It’s also going to be an annual event.

Any other plans?

We have intentions to develop this Fairgrounds Holdings complex as we have a 34-hectare piece of land and only 20 percent of it is utilized.

The idea is to come with a live work/ play mixed area that will have in it things like hotels, improved conference facilities, amusement park, all supporting the core business which is conferencing.

We are at the tail-end of the feasibility study where now we will be making decisions of the route that we are taking regarding the actual developments. It’s very exciting – hopefully I will be the CEO who will oversee this project to fruition!

Share with our readers the objectives you set for yourself when you arrived.

The first one was around growing the core business, which is to provide conferencing, exhibitions, events and meetings.

My aim was to grow that to a higher level as well as bring value to it and bringing in new meetings that have never been held here.

The second one was to grow service levels for the business in all interactions and thus improve customer service in all aspects of the business.

That has been achieved and another thing was to ensure that we utilize the asset base of Fairgrounds Holdings, which is the land that we have. We have ample land which is underutilized.

Sounds like a demanding job! Away from the office, how do you pass time/unwind?

I travel a lot with family and also go out with friends and family.

Finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what have you got planned for the weekend?

I will go to Tlokweng. I have started a little farming project at my backyard to keep myself busy because my children are in boarding school in South Africa so our lives at home have completely changed and one has to find a hobby!

That is what I will do and I will also probably go out with my friends.

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