In this special interview, Overdrive sits down with Robert More, an EO South Africa – Johannesburg member, and co-founder and CEO of More Hotels, to talk about the big game industry, rebuilding his business and the importance of conservation.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into South Africa’s big game market?
“I was born into the operation of running a big-game estate, which adjoins South Africa’s renowned Kruger Park. The property had been owned by my family for four generations. It wasn’t until the area was flooded by torrential rains in 2000 that my brother, Nick, and I decided to really develop our legacy. We invested heavily in a rebuilding program, which would upgrade the lodges and roads and compete at the top end of the Big Five tourism market.”
What inspired your decision to rebuild your business?
“The decision was made based solely on gut instinct—like most entrepreneurial decisions are—and in the business of game, trusting one’s instincts are vital to holding a safe position while taking the clients beyond their expectations. I am very wary of ‘analysis paralysis’ caused by over-thinking decisions. Nick remained in place in the game-rich Sabi Sands area, while I opted to build a brand circuit of more 5-star properties in Cape Town and in northwest of the country.
What was the rebuilding process like?
“I was 30 when I began this exercise. I had zero business experience, but blind faith that my country was the finest tourism resource in Africa. I knew that we had to be in it for the long run. Tourism is a hard slog. Fundamentally, it’s an asset business, and that makes it a long-term investment. The asset is its big game, a specialty in which I did have the contacts and experience to make constructive decisions.
“The global economic recession and shrinking leisure spend hit the tourism industry particularly hard, but not having a defensive mindset, Nick and I accepted the setback as a plus for our planning and company discipline. It levelled the playing field. Most of the big players in our market were cutting costs to conserve their profit margins. Meanwhile, I took over two historic buildings in Cape Town and converted them into luxury private hotels. They linked our bush-held properties to a major international city. That synergy helped us compete more cost-effectively for international traffic.”
You launched your rebuilt company in 2011. What was the response?
“I was 38 when I finally launched our company as co-founder and CEO in 2011. I kept it low-profile in my own country, but by then I had already been networking the major tourism expos in the U.S. and Europe for five years. I was working with a minimal marketing budget, but building buzz with travel awards and hosting top-viewership reality shows in the U.S. I’m comfortable to remain under the radar at this stage. There are one or two acquisitions I’d like to make before the chickens start fluttering in the henhouse, though. I think of it as operating in ‘stalk mode’— tracking my targets with a single focus as the big cats do in the bush.”
Where do you see your business 10 years from now?
“In the next decade, I anticipate extending my company’s reach into Southern Africa by using the same model. Right now, my prize target is the family safari market. It’s brought fresh definition to Africa as a holiday destination, and in the present climate where South Africa is operating in a safe and economically stable space, the idea of family safaris to South Africa has huge potential. Given that advantage, I recently took over another property in the northwest of the country, in the Madikwe reserve. It’s another substantial outlay during a tough economic climate, but I’m confident it’s the right move.”
Why is your business important to you and your family?
“Having young twins of my own, I appreciate that taking time together as a family is the heartbeat of a holiday trip. Such holidays are not simply about checking off sightings of lions, rhinos, leopards, elephants, buffalo and other photographic treasures on the endangered species list. They are landmarks in the family experience. Conservation and sustaining the ecology is the culture of our company. It’s as important to me as it is to the younger generation today. It’s a passion we share, and the best reason I know to build a business.”