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Thursday Mar 05, 2015

Durban's Royal Hotel gets a new owner

Ownership of a Durban landmark, the Royal Hotel, in Anton Lembede (Smith) Street, returned home yesterday when Durban property mogul Saantha Naidu bought it for R78 million from Swaziland businessman Moses Motsa.

Brothers Shamir and Rushen Naidu outside the Royal Hotel in Anton Lembede (Smith) Street yesterday after their father, property mogul Saantha Naidu, won the bidding at auction to buy the landmark hotel.

Naidu is the owner of the Saantha Naidu Group, which is in charge of the 124-room Coastlands Umhlanga Hotel, the 256-room Coastlands On the Ridge Hotel on the Berea, the 101-room Coastlands Musgrave, and a number of resorts on the coast. Motsa bought the hotel in February 2012.

The auction run by Sandton-based Reliance Auctions took about an hour, but the actual bidding was over in five minutes.

The conference venue inside the hotel was packed with business people and some of the staff who wanted to witness the change of power in their workplace.

Naidu's sons, Rushen and Shamir, who are both involved in the business, were also present during the auction.

Speaking on behalf of his father, who was in a closed meeting with the seller and auctioneers, Rushen later said the group did not plan to change the facility into something else but would keep it as a hotel, despite challenges.

"We are looking forward to this venture and turning the hotel around and making it what it used to be, Durban's premium Royal Hotel. The hotel has some challenges at the moment, but we will be acting upon that and take it to what it used to be," he said.

Among the reasons for buying the hotel was the historic value of the property.

"This is a monument; it is a beautiful place in Durban. It has hosted people like Madiba before," he said.

Asked if the group's plans would affect the current hotel employees, Rushen said: "At the moment the purchaser (Saantha Naidu Group) and the seller (Moses Motsa) are in discussions in terms of how they are going to move forward in terms of staff."

The hotel is one of the oldest in southern Africa. It has accommodated Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's Princess Anne, King Goodwill Zwelithini, Nelson Mandela, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

It has 21 floors, 206 rooms, conference facilities, a coffee shop, restaurants, bars and a health centre. It also sports a rooftop swimming pool.

It started as simple accommodation in the 1830s when Hugh McDonald took in paying guests. In 1845 it announced itself open to the public, then known as the Commercial. It first became known as the Royal Hotel in 1859.

Before Motsa took charge, the Royal was under the management of Three Cities Hotels.

Rushen said Naidu was a Durban man whose family history in the country dated from the 1800s when his great-grandfather had arrived in a ship with Mahatma Gandhi.

"He developed a passion for property and had been in the hotel market for the last 20 years or so," said Rushen.

Motsa's right-hand man, Blackie Swart, said they could have sold the hotel at a higher price but were satisfied with the R78m price tag.

The Mercury

 
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