Gary Koetser is the CEO of Century City Conference Centre and Hotels, owned by Rabie Property Group. It’s a position he has held jointly with Glyn Taylor until recently, when the two have separated their vast portfolio to allow each to better focus on specific brands within the group. We caught up with Gary to find out more about this strategic shift and what it means for the CCCC and the local events industry.
Why did you choose to work in the hospitality industry – or did it choose you?
I garnered an interest in hospitality at a young age and started working at a restaurant, before pursuing an in-service traineeship with Protea Hotels, which kickstarted my career.
The hospitality industry is a dynamic and challenging field that requires dedication, passion, and a commitment to delivering exceptional customer experiences. The opportunity to create memorable experiences for guests and to contribute to the growth of the industry is what inspires me and drives me to excel in this field.
Following several stints as Regional and General Manager for various hotels, how did you find the transition to CEO of a conference centre and hotel?
As General Manager and then Regional Manager, I oversaw the operations of several hotels across South Africa, ensuring the delivery of high-quality services and experiences to our guests. My responsibilities included developing and implementing the hotels’ strategic plans, managing budgets and financial performance, leading and coaching teams, and ensuring compliance with industry regulations and Marriott’s brand standards.
I worked closely with the sales and marketing teams to drive revenue growth and increase market share, while also monitoring and improving guest satisfaction metrics. I also played a key role in building and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders, including property owners and industry associations, to promote the value of the Marriott brand and drive business success.
This experience was therefore paramount and I continue to fulfil many of these responsibilities. However, transitioning to the role of CEO brought a whole new set of responsibilities and challenges.
The biggest changes include developing and implementing a long-term strategic plan for the entire organisation and numerous businesses and being involved in less of the operations of the businesses.
Building a strong positive culture and working environment and providing clear expectations and the necessary support to help employees perform at their best has remained key priorities in both my previous roles and especially now in my current role.
What do you think is the key difference between Century City Conference Centre (CCCC) and other event venues around South Africa?
The real magic in our Centre does not lie in the bricks and mortar but in the soul that is our staff. Every single guest and client feedback comes with singing praises on the engagement with our staff and experiences that our staff create. Our staff really create moments of magic during the guest journey.
Then, although the second largest conference venue in Cape Town, we pride ourselves on our boutique 6-star offering. This pertains to the quality of our service, food and technical offerings. A massive strength of ours is our flexibility and agility. As we are privately owned and managed, we are able to make quick decisions and provide tailored solutions.
You’ve been at the helm of CCCC and Century City Hotel since 2015; what are you most proud of when you look back over the past 8 years?
I am incredibly proud of the accomplishments we have achieved over the past 8 years.
I am proud of our team’s ability to consistently provide exceptional service to our guests and clients. But I am even prouder of their own professional and personal achievements during their journey with us. Seeing team members start with us with little to no experience and become specialists in their fields or leaders in the organisation – absolutely goosebump moments.
Furthermore, I am proud of our commitment to environmental sustainability and acting as a responsible and fair business. We have implemented numerous green initiatives, such as our water and energy conservation programs, and have received awards for our efforts in this area. We continue to drive these initiatives as well as those of diversity, equality and inclusion in all aspects of our business. Environmental sustainability and fair business practices are really in our DNA. Overall, I am proud of the positive culture and innovation that we have fostered at Century City Conference Centre and Hotels, and look forward to continuing to build upon our successes in the future.
We have seen many developments in the events and hospitality industries over the past years, since the pandemic, as companies have had to adapt and gear themselves for the future in new and innovative ways. In your opinion, what has been the most exciting development and which trends and developments do you see for the future?
Indeed, the events and hospitality industries have undergone significant changes over the past few years due to the pandemic, with a focus on adapting and innovating to meet the changing needs of customers. One of the most exciting developments that has emerged during this time is the increased use of technology to enhance the guest experience. This includes contactless check-ins and digital solutions we have introduced throughout the guest journey.
In terms of future trends, I believe that sustainability and wellness will continue to be significant areas of focus for the hospitality industry. Customers are becoming increasingly aware of their impact on the environment, and they are seeking out hotels and event venues that prioritise sustainability practices. The importance of wellness and self-care is more important than ever.
We are seeing a growing demand for wellness-oriented experiences, such as healthy and functional food options as well fitness and outdoor fitness and lifestyle options. This is true for our guests and our staff and we continue to foster this for both. We have a couple of sustainability and staff wellness programmes in process of deployment and are excited to launch this in the coming weeks.
Cape Town is poised to experience a massive boost in tourism and business over the next couple of years – what do you think this means for South Africa’s events industry and what has Century City Conference Centre and Hotels done to anticipate this?
The anticipated boost in tourism and business in Cape Town is certainly an exciting prospect for the events industry in South Africa. We expect to see an increase in demand for world-class conference and event venues, as well as high-quality accommodation options for delegates and attendees.
We are already seeing this demand with growth on 2019 and business on the books for 2024, 2025 and even 2026! 2024 is ahead of the 2019 pace by almost 40% .
At Century City Conference Centre and Hotels, we have been proactively preparing for this growth by continuously investing in our facilities and services, as well as staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technology. We have also been building strong relationships with local and international event planners, and working closely with our partners in the tourism industry to promote Cape Town as a premier destination for events.
Overall, we are excited about the future of the events industry in South Africa and are committed to providing our guests with world-class facilities and service to help make their events a success.
Holding a joint CEO position is unusual. What do you think made your partnership with Glyn Taylor work so well?
Having two CEOs can bring several benefits when starting a new company. Firstly, it allows for a more diverse set of skills and perspectives at the top level of management. Each CEO can bring their unique experiences and strengths to the role, which can help to complement each other and ensure that the company is making well-rounded decisions.
We were also able to provide a greater level of support and accountability to each other. It can be a lonely job at the top, and having someone to share the responsibilities and challenges with can help to alleviate some of the stress and pressure that comes with the role.
Having two CEOs can also help to promote a more collaborative and inclusive culture within the company. It sends a message that different voices and opinions are valued at all levels of the organisation and can help to create a more open and transparent working environment – which was vital when establishing a new business and company culture.
Lastly, we were able to take on bigger roles and split our focuses towards new projects and developments.
Now that Rabie Property Group has made some strategic changes and you are sole CEO of CCCC, what are your plans for the CCCC and what changes can we expect to see in the coming months and years?
Not sure if I am ready to let the cat out of the bag too much! But I am excited for the future and have several plans to continue to grow and evolve the company. We will continue to focus on providing exceptional service to our guests and clients, while also investing in the latest technology and infrastructure to enhance our offerings.
Overall, our goal is to continue to be at the forefront of the events and hospitality industries, providing our guests and clients with the best possible experience while also contributing to the growth of the tourism industry in South Africa.
Left: Gary Koetser and Glyn Taylor