Nature's Group, the company that has run all the restaurants in the Kruger National Park (KNP) for the last four years has gone into liquidation, after South African National Parks applied to the Pretoria High Court to liquidate parent company Vilayet (Pty) Ltd. Nature's Group was already on the way out, as in July this year Sanparks gave them six months' notice to cease operations "following continuous poor service levels."
According to Sanparks senior manager for business development, Giju Varghese, complaints about poor service in the restaurants began as early as 2001. Complaints were ongoing,and Sanparks met with Nature's Group on a legal level again in 2003. The restaurant operator agreed that certain interventions were necessary, but by July this year Sanparks decided that the contract, due to run until 2010, should be terminated.
Varghese said that Nature's Group had made a number of changes, but these were "sporadic" and that there was "no uniformity or continuation". Should the liquidator decide that Nature's Group cannot continue to operate until the end of January, Varghese says an interim service provider who "can and will move immediately" will take over the operation of the restaurants.
Sanparks took emergency legal action on November 15 to bring Vilayet into liquidation after the company informed them that they could not pay their staff, creditors or Sanparks. Close to 450 people are employed by Nature's Group and any interim contractor appointed by Sanparks will be required to continue employing the staff.
The interim contractor will be charged with looking after the restaurants for the next 12 months, during which time Sanparks will look for an operator that will take Kruger's eateries up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Varghese indicated that the new operator "would be required to have a better understanding of the restaurant business" and would have to be BEE compliant.
He also said they would required to make investments into the restaurants early on, improving the existing infrastructure as soon as possible. Nature's Group had just launched a newlook deli eatery in Skukuza this September, and construction was in progress at Satara to create a similar facility there.
This has now come to a standstill, but Varghese says that Sanparks will ensure that the construction will be completed at Satara. Responding to Sanparks' criticism of Nature's Group's service levels, group operations manager Wayne Blake said, "Capacity levels are now far superior to when we received/took over staff from KNP, and even those inefficient staff received are now far superior to when Sanparks handed them over."
He add that the management crew "have created a sustainable base from which the next concessionaire will benefit, and it will always be retained as Nature's Group efforts, as the 'guinea pig', that paved the way for a workable concession agreement between the parties." Nature's Group had just launched a new-look deli eatery in Skukuza this September, and construction was in progress at Satara (left) to create a similar facility there.
Despite the fact that around 70 percent of all visitors to Kruger are South African residents, the majority of the business in the restaurants comes from foreign guests and tour operators. Varghese indicated that Sanparks would like to see an increase in both local and foreign tourists in the restaurant, acknowledging that currently the "prices are very high", and that this may have driven many locals away.