by Ralph Staniforth

Leading the pack

The sky’s the limit for Premier Hotels & Resorts


South Africa can be described as a world in one country and, although it doesn’t offer everything you can see around the world, the variety of what this beautiful country has to offer is quite astounding. From the wondrous Table Mountain to the natural beauty and wildlife of our numerous, world-renowned game reserves, there is no shortage of wonders for tourists to explore.

Proof of this is that, despite the country’s challenges, tourists still continue to flock to the South African shores time and again. Whether it is international or local leisure tourists, they are always keen to see what’s on offer.

As for business tourism—well, that’s literally booming!

Not far off the pinnacle of world tourism, South Africa has shown itself to be more than just competitive in the race to attract tourists. Over the years, this created great business opportunities for many people in the hospitality sector as they vied for their slice of the tourist spend.

One company that has taken its fair share of the tourist cake is Premier Hotels & Resorts. Celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, the Group has established itself as one of the leading hotel groups within South Africa. At the head of the operation sits Samuel Nassimov, the group’s Managing Director and owner.

Financial Crunch

Nassimov arrived in South Africa in the early 90s and started his dream of owning a hotel by purchasing and renovating what is now the Premier Hotel King David in East London. This dream grew to the point where it is today, as the group now owns numerous properties around South Africa. These properties range from 4- and 3-star hotels, to Game Reserves and a number of conference facilities, including the 5-star East London International Convention Centre. And that’s only the beginning!

While tourism remains a massive financial gain for South Africa, the numbers have also dropped in recent years. This is mainly due to the financial crunch the world has experienced. However, the Rand exchange rate makes the country a very popular place to visit.

When asked how Premier Hotels & Resorts have managed to continue expansion plans despite the lower number of tourists, Pierre Roux, group financial manager, credits Nassimov for being an astute businessman and entrepreneur. Roux says that Nassimov has been patient throughout the growth of Premier Hotels & Resorts, having the patience to wait “for the right time, the right opportunity, the right place and at the right price before acquiring a new property”.


Due to this acute and conservative business approach, Premier Hotels & Resorts have managed to find good locations for their properties over the last two-and-a-half decades. “Because of this approach, it has allowed Nassimov to open new hotels with no to very little debt,” says Roux.

As with any business, not everything is or has been smooth sailing. During the 25th anniversary gala dinner earlier this year, Nassimov admitted himself how many issues arose once he had started – and how many times he’d almost thrown in the towel. However, his perseverance has proven to be the key to how the group has flourished over the years.


Constant improvements or expansions are required for any business to remain relevant in today’s fast-moving world, and Premier Hotels & Resorts are not about to get left behind.

About 35km from East London you will find the Mpongo Private Game Reserve, which Premier Hotels & Resorts have owned since 1991. However, recently they have started renovating the property while still remaining open to the public.

According to the General Manager at Mpongo, Martin Jansen van Rensburg, it was key that they renovated as they could only accommodate 70 guests and often had to turn away larger groups. The expansion includes the building of two new lodges, the larger of the two being called Ndlovu Lodge (Elephant in Xhosa). Along with the 50-bed Ndlovu lodge there will be two dormitories where up to 32 children can be accommodated. These expansions will allow Mpongo to almost double its capacity and be able to accommodate up to 120 guests. They also have two conference facilities which cater for up to 200 guests.

An even bigger project that Premier Hotels & Resorts are currently busy with, is their Sani Pass property. This project is for a full refurbishment in which they are turning Premier Hotel Sani Pass from a 3-star to a 4-star resort. According to Nassimov, the first stage is expected to be concluded in December 2016.

Built in 1958 and surrounded by the Drakensberg Mountains, the refurbishment includes the building of 34 additional rooms—each with their own balcony. Other changes include air-conditioning installation, Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, garden rooms outside the main hotel and family entertainment facilities, which includes a brand-new wellness centre.

“The purpose of our R75 million investment in Premier Hotel Sani Pass is to see the hotel become the best 4-star resort in the southern Drakensberg. After months of planning and careful deliberation, we are looking forward to providing our guests with even better, quality rooms and facilities towards the end of 2016,” says Nassimov.

Further expansions are taking place at Premier Hotel Knysna—The Moorings. With the Garden Route becoming a more popular destination for international guests as well as an increase in business tourism, there was a need for larger conference facilities within the area. Premier Hotel Knysna—The Moorings have answered these calls as they look to create the largest conference facility on the Garden Route. In addition, they are also increasing their capacity from 64 rooms to 88.

“The rooms will be spacious, modern and positioned to take full advantage of the tranquil lagoon views that we have to offer,” says Brandon Schafli, General Manager of Premier Hotel Knysna—The Moorings.

The renovations are expected to reach a figure of R 22 million, although the hotel will remain open for business as these renovations are taking place some distance away from the main hotel.

Branding and marketing

Competition within South African tourism sector forces participants to plan their branding and marketing according to their specialised markets. Regardless of how Brexit or a weak economy positively or negatively impacts, in order to get results, a focussed marketing campaign is pertinent and needs to be clearly geared with what the organisation wants to achieve.

The Premier Hotels & Resorts group is no different, and because they focus on a wide variety of tourism, it is of the utmost importance that they spend in the correct areas in order to gain maximum exposure.

Grand Sandham, Group Sales and Marketing Manager and Alan Campbell, Group Brand Manager, tells us that as a group they are heavily focussed on reputation management, especially when it comes to the international market.

”Firstly, we spend a lot of time on numerous rating websites such as as we take our guests feedback very seriously and we then try and action it as soon as possible. We then also ensure that our pricing shows value for money,” explains Sandham.

With a very strong customer focus, the Group, Campbell and Sandham believe in doing the simple things right. According the Sandham, a simple philosophy rings true: “Do the simple things correctly and the bigger things take care of themselves.”

What has assisted them in their marketing team is that the Group have segmented their brand so that they have very specific markets and a clear message for each. The segmentation has taken place into categories such as Hotels, Resorts and Splendid Inns.

Business tourism

Each category is for a different market, but even within that specific market, it can be broken down even further. Some properties, such as Mpongo, Sani Pass and Premier Hotel Knysna—The Moorings are leisure destinations, but with the addition of conferencing facilities, they also offer an option of business travel.

Campbell explains that business tourism is their biggest market segment and because business travel happens mostly between Monday and Friday, many of their hotels are geared for business travel.

As an example, the Premier Hotel OR Tambo is not positioned for leisure travel so almost exclusively gets used for business; however, “Many business people see our facilities during their business travels and because of our royalty rewards program, many redeem those points and return to us for leisure travel with their family,” explains Campbell.

Sandham continues, “Conference facilities at our properties are a conduit for room sales because many take the convention or group package which means they use the conference facilities during the day, have dinner at the hotel and then overnight at the hotel.”

New logo

At their 25th anniversary gala dinner earlier this year, Premier Hotels & Resorts also launched their new logo and corporate branding. While many may believe the creation of a logo is a simple act which a matter of minutes, perhaps a few hours, think again.

For this creation, Premier Hotels & Resorts approached a company called Hippocampus, based in Cape Town, with Managing Director Guy Parton personally taking charge of the campaign.

According to Parton, this process took a number of years, but started the project by taking the existing logo to the people, as the philosophy at Hippocampus is to always look from the outside in—from the users perspective, not the creators.

While the symbol on the logo had many meanings to many different people, an interesting trend took place among the emerging middle- and upper-class.

“They saw it as an African artefact, and we then went and looked at African artefacts and found that it was actually an extremely powerful symbol—the lines of the existing logo were a bit thin and it didn’t have enough gravitas and thus it lacked confidence,” stated Parton. They made the logo three-dimensional and thickened up some areas to heighten the African artefact feel.

Many more processes were followed in the creation of the Premier Hotels & Resorts logo. While black and gold remain the colours on the logo, Parton explains that is “isn’t the solid black it once was”.

The requirement for the logos to visually suit the message the hotel is trying to portray and because Premier Hotels & Resorts target such a wide range of markets, Hippocampus has created logos for each of the market segments.


Premier Hotels & Resorts was born 25 years ago in the small city of East London and today it stands as one of the strongest hotel groups in South Africa, offering properties all over the country. Their expansion continues as new properties become available, and according to Roux, they are looking at increasing their footprint, especially in the secondary cities such as Polokwane, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg.

One man started this adventure, but today, with that man at the helm, and a strong team behind him, they continue to thrive and grow.

Their growth has not only been to their own benefit, but much employment has been created, especially in areas such as East London where opportunities are very limited—Premier Hotels & Resorts also own a college in which they train their employees for their respective positions.

From everyone at Explore South Africa, we would like to congratulate Mr Samuel Nassimov and his entire team at Premier Hotels & Resorts on this wonderful milestone.

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Issue 63


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