Monthly Archives: February 2021

Overcoming slothness

I have had a few people emailing me recently to ask how we are as ‘I have been so quiet’. And it’s true; I haven’t written a blog for a while (at least not this type of blog), nor have I been very good at keeping in touch with people. Apologies.

General slothness

I pondered what had caused my ‘writer’s cramp’ over the weekend whilst I was half-heartedly going through my social media (the ‘half-hearted bit is a clue!); basically, really, I think I have sunk into some sort of lethargy (my late Mum would call it ‘sloth’) whereby I can’t really be bothered to do anything much. I know I am not alone though; everyone that I have been in touch with has said more or less the same, and I think that most of us are just fed up with the whole Covid situation; the constant lockdowns, unlocking-downs, restrictions, changes in restrictions – if you are following as many different countries as we are, then it is nearly impossible to know what you can and can’t do in any specific place, nor what you are required to do if you plan to leave where you are or turn up somewhere else. So the best thing, really, is just to do nothing at all, see what happens and hope that whichever snollygoster (def: ‘a shrewd, unprincipled person, often a politician’) is in charge, they have some idea of what to do next!!

Incidentally, I do know that I shouldn’t complain and there are many, many people living a much more difficult life than we are, let alone those that have been sick or have lost someone – I am amazed that I am still seeing posts on FB and Twitter asking people if they know of someone that has had Covid or died (is there anyone that doesn’t??) We, ourselves, barely know anyone in the CR, in particular, that hasn’t had it, and sadly, just now, we know of five people that have died (one close friend).

But, anyway, my slothness…. it’s not that I have been completely doing nothing; some days I have been pretty busy with all my usual training, cleaning, walking, dancing and so on, plus the sun has been shining, we are able to go out and about, and I have been playing fairly regular tennis with no real knee trouble (and that, alone, is a reason to be cheerful!). But I am definitely suffering from a lack of ‘drive’ – living without any real urgency about anything that we are doing is very strange, and for sure, even though the lockdown here is much easier than it was last year, we are finding it all much more difficult this time around.

(any resemblance to ‘hand-on-cock is entirely coincidental….)

I said all this to my good friend Adam yesterday when I asked him if he was bored (he is in lockdown in London), and he said absolutely not – and that, I suggested, is due to the fact that his work hasn’t been particularly affected (he is an IT wizard) so he is still putting in the working hours every day that I (and lots of my other friends) most definitely am not! Talking about the UK, it seems that with so many vaccines at its disposal, the country is finally managing to get the virus under control a bit; not that that is anything to do with BJ and his merry-men, although giving the vaccine roll-out to the NHS to manage rather than one of their cronies, was clearly a good idea. (By the way, I am going to move on from referring to some politicians as ‘snollygosters’ as I have a better word now; BJ, the ‘quockerwodger’ in chief (‘quockerwodger being a 19th century word that means a ‘puppet-like individual whose strings of action are pulled by someone else’). Love it. But, anyway, as Covid subsides, it will be interesting to see the real effect of Brexit, since no-one, other than my Twitter friends, has been talking about that very much recently.

Just on Brexit though, and I had planned not to mention it (and failed!), I have already had some first-hand experiences of the problems that it is already causing; first some bits that I ordered from the UK failed to turn up as they got stuck in customs in Barcelona and, since they included a pair of boots that I thought I might need for ‘winter in Spain’ and winter (about two weeks!) is now over, they ended up being sent back to the UK without ever getting here (never to be seen again, apparently). And then I had another delivery that did make it through, on which I had to pay something like Euro 45 customs’ duty (on a package that was worth about 10). That’s just my personal experience in the first month, but there is so much other stuff that is mentioned on Twitter, but never makes it to the unbelievably biased English media (the fish that has just rotted away as it cannot now be exported in a timely fashion, even though the fisherman can now catch more of it, the companies that have had to give up on exporting their products and have already gone into bankruptcy as the logistics just don’t work, the empty shelves in the UK supermarkets (and, blimey, I nearly forgot, the closure of Iceland and M&S in the Czech Republic and, soon, Spain, judging by the shelves in those stores here!)…. I hate to say ‘we knew it would be like this’.. but… we knew it would be like this!!

Anyway, I think that is enough politics for now, (although I am seething about the lack of vaccines in the CR and the slowness of the roll-out here in Spain – which is not quite as slow as the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK put it today (their headline that ‘Gibraltar [part of the UK] has already vaccinated 60% of its population whilst [that terrible country] Spain, has only managed 3%….’ made me pretty mad (and I hope I don’t have to explain why….!), since there is not much hope of any of me, Jan or our friends getting the vaccine any time soon… but then, living like we do, does it really matter…?).

Back to my silence on the blogging front; another reason that I haven’t been writing as much has been the normality of our lives right now (well, not normal, but compared with this time last year); in my ‘100 days in Spain’ book, as many of you know, I had endless fun with draining and filling up our pool (something that we are are looking forward to again in a few weeks’ time!), doing my show-jumping steps to the supermarket whilst hunting down ants and hugging trees (I’ve got bored with all of those things now), exercise biking (our poor old bike has given up the ghost and gone to the bike-yard in the sky) and chasing various unsavoury creatures (not Jan) around the house – we have those things to look forward to as well, since it will soon be cockroach time. Can’t wait. But without all of them, (and particularly during my ‘alcohol-free January (successfully completed and now, thank God, over!) it is difficult to find as many funny things to write about during our standard ‘groundhog’ day.

However, since it looks as if we will be stuck here for a while yet, subject to time and enthusiasm, I do plan to get back into regular blogging again, so you may be hearing from me sooner rather than later. In particular, some of our recent ‘social experiences’ in Marbella have been worthy of a blog or two – I will try to try to rally up some energy to write another one soon!

Hospitality in Crisis (V) – The Zuri Zanzibar

Despite most of us feeling as if there is nowhere in the world that isn’t suffering from the Covid Pandemic, and that no-one is feeling the pain more than those in the hospitality industry, there are, surprisingly, a few places and hotels that are relatively unaffected. One destination, in particular, is proving very popular at the moment, and that is the African island of Zanzibar, where the wonderful Zuri Zanzibar resort can be found.

I have been involved with the Zuri pretty much since it was a dream in the owner’s head (and heart). In fact, I wrote the text for the ‘pre-opening website’ based, mostly, on his ideas and drawings (and my own imagination of what is, essentially, some form of paradise). Incidentally, and funnily enough, when lock-down first loosened in Marbella, we visited an art gallery opening (our first ‘social’ event for three months) where a series of photos was on show, all looking very familiar – it turned out they were a series of photos from Zanzibar, some of which had been used on that first, long superseded, website! A small world, as usual.

I have been wondering how the Zuri has been fairing, since we haven’t spoken for a while, but as we hear so little about Africa (or other countries, generally, since every country’s media is so wrapped up in what is happening at home), it is hard to know how each region is coping (other than, in my case, pretty depressing news coming from my former client in South Africa). I therefore thought it would be interesting to talk to the Zuri’s Marketing Director, Andrew Knorova, to find out how things have been going (sadly this had to be by email rather than in person!):

JW: We don’t know too much about the Covid situation in Africa here in Europe, so it would be interesting to know how affected you have been generally in Zanzibar – were there many cases, did the island go into lockdown, and what was the effect of it all on the Zuri – especially in the early, tough days of March-June?  

The beach

AK: The Spring was tough – the entire island was closed to all visitors for around 2 months, and then, once it opened up a bit, we had a very slow start, with just 5% occupancy throughout the island.   We were very lucky to be able to sell our most exclusive villas to our very high-net-worth VIPs, who are usually travelling by private jet (and who could still access the island, whilst the regular airlines were not yet sending any planes to Zanzibar).    The fact is, though, that Zanzibar was not really affected by Covid-19; it had only a minimum number of cases (as far as we are aware) and the official statistics say that only 6 people died in total.   Who knows why; maybe a combination of the local weather, the humidity, and the locals’ strong immune system which enabled them to put up a good fight against the disease.

JW: I know that the whole team came back to Europe for a while in the Spring. Was that as usual (i.e. the closed season) or because you had to close for much longer? I know you were doing a lot of marketing around the fact that Zuri is already suitable for ‘social distancing’ – could you just explain a bit?

AK: Zuri has been running on very high occupancy since day one, so we used the early Covid situation to send all of the possible staff back home to rest and spend some time with their families.   The timing was actually good for us as in May we were supposed to close anyway for our regular maintenance works.  However, by the third month, business had already started to pick up, but it was difficult to get everyone back due to the various lockdown situations around Europe – limited flights, border closures, etc.   And yes, the natural ‘socially distanced’ layout of the resort turned out to be a fantastic benefit for us in this very difficult situation, especially when hotels in other tropical destinations had to close.  The Zuri’s whole design is based on an open-space concept (i.e. everything is outside, in the super-fresh air), and the distance between each accommodation unit, plus the 300 m beach and the other outdoor facilities all combine to make the resort the ideal destination in these Covid times, and we became very popular with guests who knew that they would feel safe in the Zuri, especially with our new ‘Covid-safe’ concept. 

JW: As we are now in winter in Europe, how have you changed your marketing strategy (i.e. are you pushing different things, going after different markets, etc?)

AK: Our traditional markets, such as the UK, Germany, France or Spain, are literally frozen at the moment.  Instead we are experiencing a huge demand from elsewhere; obviously the Czech Republic, but also Poland, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and some of the Arab countries.  But the trends are changing pretty much every month, depending on each country’s own situation and what airline/charter is able to fly.

Zuri pool

The resort has been sold out for 5 months in a row now – and we believe the reason for this is our new marketing strategy, which gives bookers absolute flexibility (in 2020 we introduced a 1 day cancellation policy, and even if a guest did not arrive on their expected day, they could still rebook within the next 365 days without any need to prove their reason for not coming).  We think that this is the most important issue for all clients, ie to know that they wont lose their money if they can’t fly – it has a much bigger value than the massive price undercutting but non-refundable conditions that some other hotels are using.  Of course it is quite risky for us and brings a massive workload for the reservations team as bookings are changing all the time, but the result is very positive – 90% + occupancy.

JW: Have you had to slash prices and what sort of occupancy did you have throughout the last nine months, especially compared to normal?  And what are you expecting over the next few months?

AK: Prices have stayed pretty stable, even though our competitors reduced theirs by up to 50%. We decided to keep our rates, but, as mentioned above, we adjusted our cancellation policies to make them more flexible.  Our usual 90% occupancy during January and February dropped to 0% in 2020 due to the island closure, but as soon as the government opened the borders again, we went back up to 90% within 3 months.  It’s very difficult to predict how long this trend will last, but even future months looks very promising at the moment.  But, you know, nowadays nobody knows what will happen from day to day!😉

JW: How do you personally feel about the whole situation?  Do you think it will benefit Zuri and maybe Africa generally? Do you have any thoughts about Africa/Asia versus Europe as potential holiday destinations for the future, etc?

AK: Having worked in the travel industry for almost 20 years,  I feel very sad and worry about the future for Europe, where I know that the hospitality situation is critical and taking far too long for it to be able to recover easily.   Even though Zuri is doing very well right now, such situations are generally very dangerous for countries such as those in Africa, where the local people are already quite poor and, in many cases, fully dependent on income from tourism.  When I see how the pandemic is affecting usually economically strong countries such as the UK, USA and others, it is very worrying to imagine how damaging the effect of a loss of tourism can be for third world countries, not just for hotels, but also the locals and the various NGOs and charities in Africa who have ended up without any income.

JW: I know most of your marketing is carried out centrally and through various agencies.   Also that in the past you have been targeting the European and US markets.   Will you be/are you changing your strategy as to your general marketing?  

AK: Just now, the main focus is on direct bookers, and for us, Instagram has turned out to be the new strong supplier of direct enquiries.  We are also seeing that Whatsapp is being used for instant direct booking confirmations.  Right now, we cant be too selective about which market we should focus on, as we have to go with the flow and follow any trend.  Generally, though, we will continue to focus on the same markets that have worked for us in the past – actually Zuri has welcomed guests from about 70 different countries already, and even though the majority of our top 10 markets are frozen now,  there will be a day when they will wake up again and we will be ready to welcome them back 😊

JW: Have you had to get rid of many people?  How are you keeping your staff morale going?

Zuri Garden

AK: Unfortunately even @ Zuri we had to reduce our staff during the critical months of spring 2020.  Nobody knew how long the situation would last and we could not allow “the boat to start to sink”.  However, we managed to bring a significant number of staff back as a reaction to our growing occupancy.   Staff morale, though, is extremely difficult to keep up, especially in Europe, where we were all working for some months on our home-office system.  Then in Zanzibar, the staff is extremely busy with a full resort, and even though they see each other daily,  there is not much time left for fun. 

JW: Have you ever felt like just closing the doors and giving up?

AK: NEVER😊  I have to admit to a few “spring tears”, but, as we keep on saying, there must be some way to get our clients back, and even during the closure we were running communication campaigns for our regular clients and social media followers,  creating some relaxing playlists, offering online yoga and meditation classes, and sharing various recipes from our chefs. The positive and supporting responses we received were absolutely priceless battery charges, that kept us all going. Guests wanted so much to come back soon, and we were determined to find ways to make it happen. The creation of our ‘Covid-safe concept’, the flexible conditions we offered, and the fair flexible/no problem refund approach towards existing reservations brought a lot of them back earlier than we could have expected, and we are extremely grateful to them for their support.

JW: What special things do you, personally, do to keep ‘positive’?

AK: I believe that the travel industry will never die,  and people did, are and WILL travel, regardless of any issues. We have all had a bit of a longer break than usual, but the travel world will come back, sooner or later.   I repeat to my team every single week that we are probably the busiest hotel reservation office in Prague (booking for Zanzibar😊) and even though we work 24/7 and our ‘festive period’ looked like some extra long, super crazy day,  we are happy to be busy and for the demand we are experiencing right now.

JW: Is there anything else that you think people could find useful?

AK: Stay positive, and focus on the good things that the current difficult situation might bring – for example, I have never spent as much time with my family and children as I am now. And its fantastic!

JW: And do you have any offers that you can include for readers of the blog?  

AK: Due to our high occupancy, we can’t really offer any special discounts, but at least anyone that books directly via my Whatsapp (+420730815843) and quotes the “JWA” code,  will receive our famous and complimentary romantic ‘sundowner on the beach’, plus I will try my best to find them a nice room 😊