An interview with Gidon Novick: the brains behind Home Suite Hotels and LIFT Airline
A local expert answers questions about post-pandemic travel
Gidon Novick is co-founder of Home Suite Hotels and South Africa’s newest low-cost airline, LIFT. We sat down with him and his fur-baby Harold at Home Suites Sea Point to chat about the future of travel in South Africa and abroad.
Novick explains that while it’s been a terrible time for the tourism and hospitality industries, travel is coming back with a vengeance. He also shares his thoughts on new trends in business and pet travel, plus why he opened his brand-new serviced suites and apartments in Sea Point.
Q: COVID-19 has, and continues to have, a devastating impact on the travel and tourism sectors. From your vantage point, what opportunities, if any, has it presented to businesses operating in those sectors?
It’s been the worst time for the travel industry in living memory, shares Novick, choosing hotels and an airline to invest in the COVID landscape has been challenging, but, we saw it as an opportunity to build a new offering and do it differently and in a way, that hopefully resonates with the modern traveller – and the good news is that travel is coming back with a vengeance.
Novick believes that people love and need to travel. Pre-COVID over a billion people were travelling globally every year - travel as a category is undoubtedly going to recover, and it will keep on growing. The other interesting new travel phenomenon happening worldwide, shares Novick, is that people want to spend their money on experiences rather than things. People realise that “things” are transient and replaceable, but memories last forever – and that for him is what travel is all about.
Q: Amidst all these changes, are flight and accommodation prices still reasonable? Can people still afford to travel?
Pricing is a very dynamic, with rolling lockdowns and restrictions flight and hotel prices hit rock bottom, which is not good place for providers like ourselves to be, shares Novick. Globally, there was a price shift as the international market disappeared, and is only now slowly recovering. Domestic travellers have been able to take advantage of the lower price points and have enjoyed the opportunity of being able to see more of our beautiful country at more affordable prices.
Novick believes that specials will continue to exist. Why, he adds, because there are always peaks and troughs in bookings, and if you are flexible with your time, there will always be well-priced flights and or accommodation available. The key is flexibility. If you have this flexible mindset, you will benefit significantly from the lower price point rates available.
Q: Do you think corporate travel will ever return to pre-pandemic levels and how does this impact hospitality as a whole?
A consequence of Covid is that now we can work from wherever we want and throwing in a midweek break is totally acceptable - workcations are the next big thing. Previously, people planned their getaways around the holidays or weekends, but now they can get away whenever they want.
Although, corporate travel will be different, it might be less different than we originally thought. We’ve learnt a lot of lessons – primarily, that human connection is necessary, and Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Novick shares that Stephan Ekbergh, a friend and founder of Travelstart believes that business travel is not just about the business trip itself, but more about getting out of the house for a few days to enjoy a change of scenery. Short in-person meetings have been replaced with digital ones, therefore removing the need for the short stayover, and a pattern of longer work stays are emerging.
Q: What does the modern traveller of today want to experience when travelling?
The modern-day traveller is all about service, it’s a serviced-based business driven by the interaction you have with your people. To be in business, the basics like safety, reliability, cleanliness and fast internet have to be in place and executed well.
Novick describes the Home Suite Hotel’s personalised service culture that is driven by its team – although he finds it hard to put into words, he adds, it’s a feeling of welcome, warmth and sense of being at home. Home Suite Hotel employees naturally take ownership of all situations, and are able to assist guests where possible - which makes a huge difference to the service offering.
Q: Why do you think Sea Point is a good location for opening local accommodation for the experiential traveller? What draws people to Sea Point/Cape Town, and why is it a great local vacation spot?
Novick has lived in Cape Town for five years and enjoys the prime position that the Atlantic Seaboard has to offer, access to the ocean and the mountains, which are both gems that Cape Town offers.
Home Suites Sea Point is perfectly wedged between the ocean and the mountain – from an access and a visual point of view it’s sublime - being able to see the sea and the mountain from one place is very special.
Sea Point is also about the activity, it offers so much in terms of retail and restaurants, you’ll find an array of beautiful restaurants literary on your doorstep. The location also allows guests the independence of doing their own thing, with the city and the beautiful Camps Bay and Llandudno beaches not too far away.
Q: Finally, your love of pets is well-documented. Are more people travelling with their pets, and do you think this presents an opportunity for the hospitality industry?
Definitely, shares Novick, our Airline, LIFT, became pet-friendly about a year ago. Traditionally, you can check your doggie into an airline, and the dog gets taken away and put into the hold. I have done it many times, and it is quite a stressful experience. After jumping over quite a few hurdles, we managed to get a dispensation for smaller dogs to go in a small carrier bag as a passenger on the plane. It works well because people love their animals, and it is a global trend that people want to travel with their pets.
At Home Suite Hotels Bristol, we have Hazel (who was rescued from Oscar’s Arc). She is so much more than just our resident dog and very much part of the Home Suite Hotel family. When you walk into Home Suite Hotel Bristol, Hazel comes running out to greet you!
After all, adds Novick, we want everyone to feel welcome when they stay with us – humans and animals alike. We encourage guests to bring their own pets. And obviously, you have to be respectful and mindful of other guests, but dogs create an energy in a place that makes it feel like home.