Aloe Lane is nearing its 2nd birthday, which is coming around in September. So we thought this would be a perfect time to cast our thoughts back over the past two years, and quite a way beyond that – to when the idea of creating this little haven of African bush lodge ambience was first conceived. So where did it all begin?
Thoughts of developing a property in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, to establish a boutique guest house, were initially discussed in the run up to SA hosting the FIFA 2010 World Cup – more than five years ago now!
Aloe Lane Guest Lodge was the brainchild of General Manager Russell Goddard, along with his architect uncle Neil Mayston – who had moved abroad around 2000 to build a career in the hubbub and chaos of London. Both saw an opportunity to invest in and develop a property in Johannesburg, and to build a family-run business – using the hospitality skills that Russell had learned at college, and at international grade resorts in Florida, USA and Johannesburg.
As it happened, the 2010 World Cup came and went long before any of our dreams were put into action, and it was by pure chance that the current property was identified from the UK in a real-estate email flyer! Glenferness, Midrand had always been identified as a desirable location because of its rural environment – yet coupled with immediate proximity to major transport links into and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, the two main cities in Gauteng Province.
This particular property offered the ideal package, as the original thatched residence and indigenous gardens had character galore – and were very much designed to take advantage of the site and its surrounding natural beauty. The evening sunset across the valley, and now also over the infinity pool, takes your breath away – and we hoped it would provide the ‘wow’ factor which would bring our guests back here time and again. And this has definitely proved to be the case!
Having purchased the property, the wheels were put in motion to obtain business rights to operate the guest house, followed by a two year period during which we significantly developed the existing residence. Whilst the character and natural ambience were already established, the accommodation and staff areas needed to be added – and a new, more prominent, entrance to the property was needed.
The original character was an essential element, and needed to be adhered to in the new development – and this is most evident immediately as you enter the property, beneath the massive thatched canopy. Saying that, it would now be very difficult to try and identify what was original and what is new, such was the attention paid during the design and construction!
The interiors were completed by a local designer, and the brief was to provide a luxurious and modern African environment. Something which we feel has definitely been achieved, with many guests complimenting us on the fresh but understated African vibe. You won’t find any animal trophies in this lodge, but you will find numerous reference points to the traditional materials, colours and patterns of Africa.
Our staff are a vital part of what has made Aloe Lane Guest Lodge so successful. It was only at the beginning of 2013 that Russell was able to begin to recruit the team – but right from the start, our aim was always to provide a 5-Star service to all of our guests, and so a full complement of staff was an absolute necessity.
At this early stage, before we were even officially open, we had five employees below Russell, and each had a specific role to perform and a wide range of training to complete. This all took place in the months leading up to the official launch at the beginning of September 2013 – most appropriate, as it was the beginning of Spring for us here in South Africa, and the start of a new season in more ways than one.
The Name, and The Opening
The name Aloe Lane Guest Lodge was chosen partly because of the Lodge’s proximity to Aloe Lane, but also because of the immediate link with Africa by way of the indigenous Aloe plant – which is evident all around the property in many rich and diverse species. We also used an image of the Aloe plant as part of our logo, along with the local landmark, Lone Hill rock, which can be seen clearly from the pool terrace.
Before we opened our doors to guests there was one more vital thing that we needed, and that was to be assessed by the South African Tourism Grading Council. We were delighted (though not at all surprised, given all of the hard work which went into making Aloe Lane so special!) to achieve an outstanding internationally-recognised 4-Star grading for our facilities and accommodation. And in September 2013, after many years of dreaming and hard work, we were ready to open our doors, and our arms, with a great big African Welcome!
The Early Days
It wasn’t very long after opening before guests were making enquiries, mostly through word of mount and via our original website which we launched in August 2013. Those who stayed with us in the early days were rewarded with 5-Star hospitality and service in every way possible – and consequently we have seen many guests returning time and again, some on a weekly or monthly basis! This loyalty and repeat custom is something that Russell and the team pride themselves on.
If anything, our service is improving even further, and we have now added another two staff members to the original complement of five – not forgetting of course the Lodge Mascot and family pet, Napoleon the giant tortoise!
The team now includes husband and wife team Anthony and Beverley, who take care of all the day-to-day lodge business, whilst Patrick, Babiki, Priscilla, Madelene and Albert look after our guests by providing sumptuous home-style cooking, refreshments, lodge housekeeping and general maintenance. In everything they do, all our staff consistently adhere to the lodge’s motto – ‘Mabogo Dinku Thebane’ – Working Together We Achieve More!
The Ongoing Development
After the first year of trading, during which time our systems and routines were fully embedded, we decided that it would be important to offer our guests even more in the way of facilities and services during their stay at Aloe Lane. To this end, we started work on two new projects – the first of which was to create a fully-equipped Wellness Suite which provides a range of beauty and relaxation treatments for our guests.
The second project was to develop a purpose-designed conference and meeting room at the lodge, as we discovered that many of our guests were interested in using Aloe Lane for business functions – and being able to provide dedicated meeting facilities was a huge benefit for them. Both of these projects were launched by the end of February 2015, and the new facilities have been welcomed by our guests, both business and leisure. We continue to offer the lodge for private functions and events, and we have established good working relationships with event suppliers, caterers and entertainers in the local area.
On the back of what was a challenging but hugely enjoyable 18 months, we felt confident enough in early 2015 to review our marketing strategy and to broaden our offerings to the international tourism market – helped in part by our listings on Booking.com, Opodo.com and of course TripAdvisor – where we are delighted to have a 5-Star rating from our numerous past guests. We also developed a new website which went live in May – and at the same time we launched our new hand-picked ‘Little Five’ day tours and ‘Big Five’ add-on trips, in conjunction with preferred local tour operators. Ideal for guests who are looking for that little taste of Johannesburg and of Africa, whether staying with us for business or leisure.
So what next?
Now, as we approach our 2nd birthday at the beginning of September, we are ever more confident of our facilities – of the luxurious accommodations, the tranquil surroundings and the ability to provide a quality service and the comforts of home.
To each of our past guests, to those who will return and to those who are yet to visit, we would like to say, ‘Siyabonga’ – thank you for sharing the journey, come walk with us a while longer and feel free to follow us as we travel further along this road!
We thought it would be nice to finish this article with some quotes from our staff – and from one rather more well-known figure who has most definitely been an inspiration for us throughout this process . . .
“I enjoy welcoming our guests from all around the world.” – Anthony
“Since I began work at the lodge I have gained much experience and knowledge, and today I can proudly call myself a barista. I have also met many people from different countries and today I know a few words in their language.” – Babiki
“I am happy working here as handyman and in the garden, which always looks amazing.” – Albert
“When we had our first wedding function it was our first really busy day, but everything went well, and everyone was happy and pleased. That was the day that we really began to understand the importance of our job.” – Priscilla
“I enjoy cooking local meals for our foreign guests. My favourite is boerewors, lamb chops, mielie pap and chackalaka – and they always ask for more!” – Patrick
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, ones feet moving forward.” – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela