I love having guests in and out of my home, and have even built up relationships with regular visitors’
Ray Leitch, 66, is divorced and has four grown-up children. She lives in Shaka’s Rock, and runs Comfort House, a four-star B&B, as an extension of her home.
THE IDEA I’m a qualified lawyer and conveyancer, and have run several of my own practices, but when I had my kids, I stopped working. My ex-husband, Noel, had a successful business, so we didn’t need the second income. Our neighbour ran a B&B from her home, and when all her rooms were rented out, she’d ask if she and her husband could stay in our guest flat, paying R100pn as a gesture. Over the years, as my kids went to varsity,
I started feeling the need to fill the house again. Seeing how well my neighbour’s business was going, I chatted to Noel about my idea for running our own B&B to use our unoccupied rooms, while bringing in a small income. He loved the idea, and that was the beginning of Comfort House.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT We had to get permission from the municipality to convert our private property into a commercial one, then obtain a business license.
It took a few months so, while I was waiting, I made changes to the house. First, I upgraded two existing bathrooms, and later added a few more so each room was en-suite. I bought luxe goods of percale linen, bath gowns, soaps and lotions to improve my grading. Noel helped with small costs, and I used my savings to fund renovations. I decided I’d do the cooking and admin myself, and my gardener and two domestic workers were willing to do a bit extra, so I didn’t have to hire staff. We used as many of our rooms as we could, so Noel and I moved into a back room. It was a wrench to give up my spacious bedroom, but it has a great sea view and I knew it would be the best money-spinner. I subscribed to Portfolio, a site that suggests top-notch destinations for local travellers to visit, and got onto other travel sites like TripAdvisor and WhereToStay.co.za. I asked someone to create my website for me, and designed an advertising pamphlet to send to the local press. Soon local and international tourists were booking with me.
BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT When Noel and I got divorced, I put all of my energy into making the B&B a success. As I spent more time on guest relations,
I found I was a natural with people and became more passionate about hospitality. Having guests in my home was a welcome distraction but, more than that,
I was proud of succeeding on my own -I had five suites and a steady visitor influx.
TESTING TIMES The 2010 FIFA World Cup was challenging. Hotels were encouraged to suspend regular bookings and to only make rooms available to FIFA’s clients. Even though we had to offer restricted rates, I liked the idea of promoting my country, so I gave it a try. Unfortunately, we took quite a dip, as FIFA paid no deposits, and we had to bear the brunt if clients didn’t arrive.
WHERE I AM NOW I have employed three more women to help with the increased laundry- and cooking needs, and hired my niece as a manager. She’s done wonders, and we have gone from a 50 to 70% average occupancy. She speaks Zulu, so is great with staff, and has excellent marketing and computer skills. We’ve also been blessed with 97%-positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Our success has enabled me to go back to practising law, and I now divide my time between the firm’s Ballito office and the B&B, taking bookings in the evenings, and working every second weekend. Running a B&B takes over your life, but I love it.
MY TIP It’s a competitive industry, so offer something different (like all-day breakfast), to show you are willing to go the extra mile.
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