You probably won’t notice, but some of the female staff at the Drostdy Hotel have a nametag that identifies them as “Trainee.” In a plush and well-known hotel like this one, in Graaff Reinet, it is surprising, until you learn why.
The Drostdy, the beautiful Cape Dutch hotel with its rows of multicoloured Georgian-style cottages, has for a long time been taking in graduates from the SA College of Tourism, which is located, coincidentally, in Graaff Reinet. In a country like South Africa, where tourism is often (and rightly) seen as one of the biggest potential drivers of the economy, it’s a great idea.
And here, in the heart of the Karoo, the Drostdy Hotel, which is run by the Newmark Hotel group, has a symbiotic relationship with the college. It takes on trainees and then they are sent out into the rest of the country, game lodges, resorts, you name it. The world is their new oyster.
Created by the now deceased Anton Rupert in 2001, the non-profit college is led by the Peace Parks Foundation, of which Rupert was also the chairman at the time.
During our stay, we saw the trainees at work, from the reception desk to the waitress who served us our incredible Chicken Peri Peri starters before the lamb dinner. And they were great. If it hadn’t been for the ‘Trainee’ tag, we never would have known.
The college is aimed primarily at women from a disadvantaged background, and the hotel takes on 30 graduates a year for a 12-month internship, and teaches them how to work in a hospitality environment. (See more about the college and one graduate with a dream in the video at the end.)
Graaff Reinet itself was founded in the late 18th century, and the building where the Drostdy now finds itself dates back to 1805, one of the oldest drostdys in the country, an office of the landdros. The 48 rooms of the hotel have be stayed in by some famous people, including Nelson Mandela.
The benefaction of the Rupert family can be felt in many aspects of the town, from the Hester Rupert Art Gallery around the corner, on Church Street, to the fact that anyone who refurbishes an old building – and there are some gorgeous ones on Donkin and Stockenstroom Streets – is helped financially, so long as they live there (or so we heard), to, of course, the hotel college.
A fellow academy to the one in Graaff Reinet, the Tracker Academy, opened in 2017 on Tswalu, the largest private game reserve in South Africa. The academy has trained 168 trackers so far, once again all of them from disadvantaged communities.