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Lifestyle | The ins and outs of running a guest house

By Amy Johnson

If you are interested in this topic, take a look at our University of Cape Town Guest House Management course.

Most guest house owners will admit that owning and running a guest house started off as a dream to be their own boss, make more money and pursue a new career path. Little did they know that this dream would involve a lot of hard work.

In reality, the guest house owner must play the role of marketing executive, financial manager, customer service liaison and legal expert – all at once. It’s this multiplicity of job descriptions that requires guest house owners to be particularly clued up on an array of subjects.

Brush up on your marketing skills

If you own a guest house, first and foremost on your agenda should be your marketing efforts. If no one is aware that your guest house even exists, it is unlikely that it will survive in South Africa’s competitive hospitality market.

A listing in a telephone directory simply will not suffice in the digital age. The internet is the first port of call for most local and foreign tourists. A search engine optimised website with online booking facilities can do wonders to boost guest intakes.

Individuals usually search for guest houses according to area and, if your website ranks well on search engines, you could see an influx of guests for the plain and simple reason that you were easy enough to find online.

Online marketing need not cost you a fortune either. A Facebook page, Twitter account or a blog can also be used to maintain contact with established and potential guests.

With a little technological know-how, you can maintain these marketing efforts yourself, thereby ensuring that you stay within the reach of your existing clientele and potentially open up a line of communication for new guests.

These platforms encourage interaction, which means that they can double as a customer service tool. Potential and existing clientele can ask you questions and provide feedback, giving you the opportunity to respond instantaneously.

Be money wise

It’s a common assumption - if you buy a large house with a few extra rooms, you can rent them out and rake in the cash. However, there are numerous hidden costs that need to be taken into consideration.

Many guest house owners rely on external staff to assist them with cleaning, cooking and maintenance, as the work load is simply too much to bear on an ongoing basis.  However, minimum wage salaries are increased on a regular basis. Room rates, on the other hand, have to remain competitive if you want your guest house to survive.

You cannot charge more purely because people cannot afford more. The tourism and leisure industry is a competitive one, so guest house owners usually have to carry the burden of extra expenses themselves if they are to remain viable. 

The price per room that guest house owners can reasonably charge is also dependent on the region the guest house is operating in.

A well-situated guest house in Cape Town, for instance, could charge more than a guest house operating in a less frequented area like Oudtshoorn.

Stay abreast of the law

Complying with the law can also prove costly. Licencing is a major concern for guest house owners who have to ensure that they have a trade licence, a liquor licence, a music licence and a business TV licence, depending on the type of services offered.

For instance, every TV set in a guest house requires its own TV licence. And if you want to install DStv, you’ll need to purchase a decoder for every room too.

Do you want to serve breakfast or any other meals at your guest house? You’ll need a trade licence, which involves lengthy inspection processes. Do you want to serve alcohol at your guest house? You’ll need a liquor licence, which can take up to 12 months to be issued.

Complying with these types of requirements can cost the guest house owner a substantial sum of money, which is why it is best to go into this type of business with your eyes wide open and with an iron will to succeed.

Running a guest house is a multi-faceted job. It requires business savvy and a number of skill sets. However, the challenges that come with running a guest house are counterbalanced with great rewards - financial and personal - if you approach your various roles with tenacity and good knowledge of the industry.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

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