John Creighton, has been appointed managing director of Three Cities Exceptional Hotels. Heading up one of Southern Africa’s foremost hotel brands is not for the faint-hearted. The Three Cities Group was formed in 1988 to offer specialized services in the tourism industry. Today, it manages and markets over 32 quality tourism and leisure properties and has a strong network of sales and marketing specialists working out of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, London and Germany. Its distinctive portfolio includes four operating divisions – City Hotels, Resorts, Exceptional Safaris and its Exceptional Collection.
“In a nutshell, my primary role is to lead and to provide focus to a team of great individuals in order to implement our company’s strategic plans while remaining true to our culture and values,” he explains.
Known as a people person, Creighton admits to being “somewhat analytical and structured”. As a practical thinker, he tends to quickly find workable solutions to challenges. “Although the hospitality basics remain the same, the challenge will always be seeking differentiators, always keeping up with current trends and, most importantly, understanding guest needs, wants and expectations in a rapidly evolving world. Today’s ‘nice to have’s’ and ‘differentiators’ become tomorrow’s minimum requirements very quickly.”
He attributes his successful career within the hospitality industry – which dates back 30 years – to investing time, energy and effort into whatever he tackles. “That always brings results. There are no short cuts! Nevertheless, it has been extremely rewarding to have followed a career that has always kept me looking forward to tomorrow,” he says.
Creighton’s first job in the hospitality sector was at the age of 16 during the December school holidays at a holiday resort on the Garden Route outside Sedgefield. “I worked at the security gate, controlling access and counting cars, people and boats! My first ‘real’ job in a hotel was when I finished my National Service and became a switchboard operator at the Capetonian Hotel in Cape Town,” he laughs.
Since then, he has worked in various positions at a number of different hotels and hospitality establishments worldwide. “I’ve been a rooms division manager at a resort on the Natal South Coast, food and beverage operations manager at a Swaziland resort, general manager of eight different hotels in South Africa and regional general manager looking after a group of 15 local hotels. Together with a friend, I also opened one of South Africa’s largest private chef’s schools, rolling out six campuses across South Africa. Oh yes, I also started a small group of restaurants and worked in the United Kingdom and the USA,” he remembers.
From day one, he says he was attracted to a career in hospitality. “As a child, a television series based on the workings of a hotel made it look like it was all just fun – if only I’d known!”
What he has learnt since then is the advice he gives to youngsters wanting to follow in his footsteps. “Don’t try to learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ just learn the trade. You will have a career that doesn’t box you in. It’s always varied, always challenging and as a result, exciting! It allows you to grow and calls on multitudes of different talents, including both business savvy and artistic creativity. There are always new trends and opportunities. If you have energy, an entrepreneurial spirit and a penchant for people, you can do extremely well.”
In the small amount of time away from his desk, Creighton is a keen cyclist and surfs and gyms regularly. The fact that he enjoys travelling is a perfect fit with the industry in which he finds himself – and he lists the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Oahu in Hawaii and the Karoo as the top destinations he has visited.