The Last Word: South Africa

From Booze to Boutique Hotels—The Peter Fleck Story

My wife and I, and another couple, recently returned from a trip to South Africa. A wonderful experience as we toured from one end of the country to the other—major cities, photo safari, animal reserves, seaside towns, and, of course, wine country.

I’ll be writing about South African wines at a later date. But, now, I’d like to tell you about a former Seagram colleague and the incredible boutique group of hotels he owns, called The Last Word.

About Peter Fleck

Peter Fleck
Peter Fleck

Peter’s work life started as a journalist for a local newspaper, which led to a PR position with KWV South Africa (Pty) LTD, a large wine cooperative, and currently a leading producer of wines and spirits. From there he moved to International Distillers and Vintners (IDV), a predecessor company to Diageo, starting as a brand manager and ending up as the South African CEO. Along the way, together with James Espey and Tom Jago, he created Malibu Rum. (He also has been involved with James and Tom in the Last Drop Distillers.)

In the early 1990s, he joined Seagram to start a new affiliate in South Africa and was the country’s GM until the sale of Seagram in 2001. Those of us who knew Peter in those days always admired his tenacity, business skill and sense of humor—an all around terrific guy with a focus on innovation. But I didn’t realize just how innovative.

On a business trip to the Cameroons, in West Africa on behalf of Seagram, an idea struck him. He had just finished lunch at “the best eating place in Africa.” The restaurant was part of a small hotel that was an oasis amidst “Africa’s trademark poverty.” It was an oasis of warmth, friendship, and full of hopes and dreams. In his words,

No amount of imagination could have anticipated such contrast; leafy-green palms, bamboo and lawns surrounding a sprawling mansion in immaculate condition. Inside were seven luxurious bedrooms and, of course, an intriguing restaurant. The smiles, laughter and charm were enchanting… The restaurant, like the accommodation, was Africa’s hidden secret.

Despite an old colonial style it was authentic Africa, full of hopes and dreams… This was my kind of place, a diamond discovered in the rough, a vivid memory of geniality where time and space worked together to produce one of the world’s best places to stay. 

In 2003, the daydreaming stopped and The Last Word was launched.

The Mice That Roar

Peter and his team put together an employee manual in the form of a book for the staff to understand the properties, their goals and values and what it takes to exceed expectations. How many employee manuals are you aware of that are 170 well-written and thoughtful pages? How many hotels—or any service entity for that matter—have “delight the customer” at the heart of their business proposition?

An excerpt from that manual:

The mice that roar

While we are a little known travel product we take on the quietness of a mouse, moving into new space as though by stealth, under the radar. We act with grace; our preparedness nevertheless has to be extensive. Even in mice survival requires a big heart. And if we are heard about only in whispers initially, this is also by design, for to be discovered as a hidden gem and whispered about like a secret has an innate power of its own.

The Hotels

Let’s look at the three Last Word properties. All are a 5 star experience and none have more than 10 rooms. They are all consistent in their spaciousness, ambiance, hospitality, and the staff’s desire to make you feel welcome and at home. The only difference among them is the locale, which is why we stayed at all three.

Franschhoek Hotel

The Last Word Franschhoek 2015 (91)

In the heart of wine country, with amazing vineyards in Franschhoek and nearby Stellenbosch, this hotel consists of 10 rooms (including 2 pool suites), and is in the heart of the city. The hotel reflects its Huguenot heritage, and has been a consecutive finalist in the World Travel Awards for South Africa’s Leading Boutique Hotel.

Constantia Hotel

Constania

Here is how I described this property in TripAdvisor. It is in a Cape Town suburb and near to sites like Cape Point, Victoria & Albert Waterfront, a penguin reserve, and more.

“All the boutique hotels in The Last Word group are magnificent and special. But, this property was outstanding. The grounds, the rooms, the overall ambiance, and the helpfulness of the staff were just terrific. The setting is not to be believed and a joy to come back to after a hard day of sightseeing.”

Long Beach Hotel

The Last Word Long Beach 2015 (20)This was a wonderful way to relax and unwind on this beach property, which is exactly how we ended our trip. Each of the 6 rooms overlooks the beach and ocean. In fact, you go directly on to the beach from the hotel. It turns out this was the first of three properties and started as a B&B in Peter’s home.

Long Beach

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The worlds of spirits/wine and hospitality have much in common. Both thrive on product excellence and innovativeness. And, selling entertainment in a bottle is not all that different than selling entertainment in an experience.

By the way, an outstanding breakfast, wifi and premium spirits and fabulous South African wines are included.

The Last Word locations
The Last Word locations
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4 comments

  1. Having experienced all three Last Word Boutique hotels (with you) and Peter’s good humor and great hospitality, i could not agree more with this assessment. These properties are each an oasis of calm luxury that would be difficult, if not impossible, for any hotelier to duplicate.

    Highly recommended to anyone contemplating a visit to this amazing continent My only concern is the availability of ‘room at the inn’ when we return.

  2. I’ve also experienced all three and they are my inspiration for starting my own small chain of special boutique hotels. Its the little things – cheaper rates for locals, always being upgraded to a better room somehow, the open bar and mini fridge included in the booking and last but not least the creme brulee turndown [well that sealed the deal as I travel the world looking for the next best creme brulee!) My only small quibble is that the breakfasts don’t really match the level of special of everything else. The decor, while beautiful and fitting could be uplifted with lots of example of local artwork and wares, and the selection of coffee table books expanded on. I love the way the hotels just sneak into the local community, with hardly a murmur, I’m intrigued that the inspiration was a small place in Africa because I had a childhood of following a dad who was a deepsea fisherman all over Africa – but he had good taste. He had eaten in the best restaurants all over the world, returned bad steak at Maxim’s and schooled many a venue on exactly how he knew how old the fish was. The same man who always said to me as a child, act as if you belong there and no one will ever question you. My first experience of fine dining was on the Drakensberg Express… from this to cleaning your own crayfish in Mozambique. I could go on forever but he instilled a lifelong passion for travel and food, for investing in experiences rather than status symbols. The Last Word would have been his kind of place. Although he would probably have drunk the free bar dry without trying very hard!

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