The landmark Katberg Hotel, which closed its doors three years ago, is to re-open not only as as a tranquil country establishment but also as a hotel training school for the Kat Leisure Group.
Nestled high in the Winterberg Mountains, the picturesque Katberg Hotel was an iconic country retreat for generations of families who enjoyed languid buffet lunches and fireside drinks, but closed in July 2014 with the announcement it was no longer economically viable.
At the time, operations manager Russell Osner said it had become clear that families were choosing self-catering holidays in favour of a traditional country hotel experience.
But this week, Osner said that after three years of standing empty, the hotel was being brought back to life. “We had done nothing with the hotel and it was standing dormant,” Osner said.
“We had inquiries and people coming out to look at it, but nothing came of it, but then we thought it would be the perfect environment for young people to learn. There are no distractions, no malls or night clubs or bad influences.”
Osner explained that while the Kat Leisure Group, which owns nine hotels and B&Bs in East London, had been involved in training and developing its staff as well as unemployed youth in its hotels for four years, the decision had now been made to move this function to Katberg. At the same time, a part of the 60-bed sprawling hotel will once again welcome visitors and offer “old-fashioned country-style hospitality, the way it should be”.
Osner said no major refurbishments were being carried out at the hotel, but that it was being spruced up after standing empty for so long.
“We are just doing routine maintenance like new gutters and paint. It’s just a tidy up. We will start with humble beginnings and only open one or two [accommodation] blocks at a time and build it up to what it once was.”
The newly formed Katberg Academy of Learning and Development will work in partnership with the International Hotel School and Harambee, a non-profit organisation that connects employers to young work-seekers.
“We are starting on a small scale with 32 students. Some are our own staff from East London and the others are 21 unemployed learners we have recruited from the Katberg communities,” Osner said.
“We are very excited and positive about training rural people and there has been a fantastic response from them.”
Students will be taught theory in subjects like professional cookery, food and beverage services and hospitality reception during the week and, at weekends, would put gain valuable on-site experience by cooking and caring for guests.
At the time of its closure, 37 staff were retrenched.
“It was a hard decision to take, but we had an asset sitting here and we can now use it to offer free learnerships to the local community and, once they are finished the course, our intention is to absorb as many as we can at our hotels.” — firstname.lastname@example.org