Daily Archives: June 19, 2016

Team Work Is The Secret Of Our Successes – GM Hotel Presidential

Hotel Presidential is one of the oldest hospitality edifices in the country, and often referred to as the old lady of Niger Delta hospitality business; now privately managed for the River State Government. Joseph Rennie, General Manager and Rex Yakpogoro, Assistant General Manager respectively of the Port Harcourt based hotel, revealed in a chat with Lucky Onoriode George, African Travel Times Magazine Editor the secret of their successes.

This hotel has come of age, how are you able to keep it up and running?

The secret we can confirm to you is team work.

In achieving the team work, how much of a headache is it for management?

Being a government owned hotel, we perfected a strategy of relating and dealing with the uniqueness of this environment; especially government agencies as well as well nurtured community relations. With an extreme cordial relationship with staff too, we have been able to achieve the standard that we maintain till date.

Yelling at staff doesn’t help. Most times, myself and my assistant go around the hotel to see what the staff are doing and if need be we can grab a staff’s shoulder to correct a staff, ‘saying what we want’.

The aforementioned being said, skilled hospitality workers in Nigeria are scarce, how much of training do you do?

We have a decent training manager and we lay so much emphasis on periodic training programme; unit by unit, departmental or general ones. We can confirm to you that training is taken seriously because it’s an essential part of any organisation that wants to succeed.

Like we said earlier, we don’t just sit in our offices, rather we move around the hotel to reception, bar, restaurants, pool and other public areas just to ensure nothing goes wrong.

What are those external forces that pose challenges to your operations?

When the federal government privatised the power sector, we were very excited because power supply improved to about 18 hours daily and recently when the new tariff was announced, our rate doubled from about 23 kobo per kilowatt to about 35 kobo now.

Succinctly put, our electricity bill has doubled which is not helpful to our operations; not just only our hotel, but all hotels in Rivers State.

You understand the nature of hospitality business; even when you have just one guest, electricity must remain because your food and food ingredients will still have to be properly preserved.

However, most disappointingly, was the statement credited to Raji Fashola, Minister of Energy, Power and Works that there is nothing he can do to halt incessant hike in electricity rate by the distribution companies, suggesting that there is no one in control.

What are hotel owners doing about the incessant electricity tariff hike?

We are planning to make a formal protest to government through the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria [FTAN], umbrella body for the tourism private sector in Nigeria and we the Nigeria Hotel Association [NHA] Rivers State, and I can confirm to you that there are options available to us to exploit soon because paying the exploitative fixed rate whether there is power or not is unacceptable.

The security situation has remains fairly stable, how much has this impacted on your operations?

We have always been a very safe hotel. Again, most of our patrons do also come with their own security which only again helps boost our security layer.

Presently, we have about three ministers in-house and they all came with their own additional protections, with our ever water-tight security of both uniform and mufti personnel.

How hard has the impact of low crude oil price and production affected Hotel Presidential?

Low price of crude oil in the international market and low production occasioned by the militants’ activities in the Niger Delta, have really affected us. We are hoping for the speedy resolution of the crisis so that normalcy can return.

Despite the short falls in oil companies, or traditional market, we are currently making in-road into other markets, such as, the Non-governmental Organisations [NGO’s] Red Cross, British Council, banks, telecoms and airlines.

At the moment, we have two major international airlines staying with us. Again, the recent kick off of the pending cleaning exercise of the Ogoniland and other polluted Niger Delta areas will sure bring hundredths if not thousands of jobs that will increase hotel usage.
Leisure package, what are you doing to lure more here?

We do have our regular weekend rates to encourage locals and people who want to get away for the weekend to benefit from the low weekend rate. However, people do not still turn up as expected because most people do not still have cash to spare.

What do you think the government can do, should Rivers State want to emerge as a leisure destination for Nigerians?

Well, the state government recently said that it would build a major park that would be the best in Africa, and that it would be so attractive that people will chose to visit Rivers State instead of going abroad.

Has the hospitality sector grown in the last few years?

Not necessarily, because it’s still same names that are here for ages now that we still hear.
How do you think government can still stimulate the sector?

Government should as a matter of urgency considers intervention fund for the sector just as it’s been done in banking, aviation, and textile. The federal government cannot continue to overlook the tourism sector that has created and sustained millions of direct and indirect jobs nationwide.

Presently, there are several hotels that cannot afford to change their towels, bedding and even cutleries due to lack of money.

With intervention fund, operators and owners can access cheap loans at single digits that they can easily repay back without stress.

Majority of hotel workers in Nigeria are not trained, what do you think can be done to encourage your people taking up career in the sector?

There should be more catering and hotel schools that their students can be placed in hotel as part of their training progrmmes.

We are happy whenever we receive students from tourism, hotel or hotel training institutions across the state.From such schools, cooks, receptionists and chefs can be recruited directly.

The private sector must encourage and promote employers to always consider employing tourism graduates. The incident I witnessed in Abuja sometime was not a pleasant one where a tourism graduate complained of how she was rejected by the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC] for her national service programme.

Africa Hotel Investment Forum [AHIF] is holding in West Africa for the very first time, what should be the focus of such gathering?

The gathering should focus on how to encourage local professionals and grow them. As usual, the industry as a whole should be thoroughly profiled.

What should we expect from the management of Hotel Presidential before the end of the year?

At the moment, there is nothing much to be done. However, if we are willing to do anything, the finance isn’t there this year.

Akpabio Canvases For Policy To Grow Local Hospitality Brands

Ini Akpbio, Managing Director, NANET Hotels Limited, one of Nigeria’s leading indigenous hospitality management companies, has called on the federal government to come up with a policy or legislation that can limit international brands on what category of hotels they can manage to allow the local operators grow.

Akpbio gave the advice recently during an interview with Lucky Onoriode George, Publisher/Editor of African Travel Times Magazine.

According to him, the international chains are integral part of the entire industry system on the continent, and as such must work with related national bodies if the impact is to be felt rather than being an Island to themselves or a system with a system.

Akpabio noted that without being ashamed, “There is always an inferiority complex with the local actors across the continent, but also praised the presence of the likes of Hilton, Sheraton, Golden Tulip; and even the continental brand like Protea have brought international standard thus also help pushed up the quality of services and standards among local operators.

On the emergence of ‘brand franchising’ in Nigeria and most part of West Africa, Akpabio said it’s a welcome development too because of the role brand plays in modern hospitality business.

He however, warned that there must be a mechanism in place to ensure that the franchisees comply with the standard prescribed by the franchisors.

As one of the few privileged professionals to have been trained in one of Britain’s Universities top hotel and hospitality department, Akpabio posited that in United Kingdom, there is a government agency under the Ministry of Commerce that oversees franchising of brands in the hospitality sector to ensure compliance by franchisees.

Akpabio regrets that here in Africa, there are in most cases absence of monitoring and quality control by necessary government agency and that the franchisors are at the mercy of franchisees.

“We must understand that brand or brands connote quality and standard”. If someone that is used to a particular brand or brands back home, wherever they travel to, they always look out for such and where they also expected same standard and quality to be same and similar”, he said.

While responding to questions on the upcoming Africa Hotel Investment Forum [AHIF], Akpabio noted that the idea is a welcome development, but that such initiative must bring all stakeholders together for the benefit of the entire travel and tourism industry.

Also reacting on what has been the impact of the 2013 Nigeria Supreme Court judgement that handed over issues relating to Hotel and hospitality registration, grading and classification to the states and Federal Capital Territory [FCT] respectively, he posited that the judgement presented the states and the FCT an ample opportunity to build capacity as well as engaging qualified consultants to appropriately carryout effective and efficient registration, grading and classification.

He said angrily that the industry lost nothing with the judgement, but rather an opportunity to move forward.

“What did the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC], federal government apex tourism agency was saddled with those tasks achieved when they were doing it? He asked.

On what should be the role of the Economic Community of West Africa States [ECOWAS] tourism initiatives that have seen the regional body tourism department squandering millions of Euros of donors monies, Akpabio is of the view that in as much as national governments cannot get their respective tourism policy right, he noted it would be extremely difficult for a regional integration tourism project to work.

On way forward for the sector, Akpabio hinted that the various governments at all levels must work with the private as stakeholders rather than master and servant situation.

What Investors And Hotel Owners Should Know

Several years ago, when hotel asset management was still in its early stages in Europe, I had the fortune to be tasked with looking after a UK portfolio of internationally branded hotels.

Now, in Africa, hotel asset management is attracting increasing interest from developers and owners and is set to grow in importance as the number of hotels continues to grow rapidly across the continent.

What is hotel asset management?

To find a definition that covers all aspects of hotel asset management is not easy. One example is the definition used in the book Accounting and Financial Management, Developments in the International Hospitality Industry, by Harris &Mongiello: ‘The commitment of resources for the purposes of enhancing value and maximizing owner’s returns’. This definition and indeed hotel asset management, generally, presupposes that ownership and operations are vested in different parties.

Another good example of a definition of hotel asset management is given by senior lecturers Humphries and Judge, who developed the brand new module Hotel Asset Management [HA] at theEcoleHôtelière de Lausanne [EHL] in Switzerland. They look at it as a closely intertwined set of definitions:

This definition looks at all aspects of hotel asset management, not just at trying to increase the numbers on the bottom line of an operating statement.
The asset manager aligns objectives between hotel owner and hotel operator, manages the relationship, and sets goals, monitors them, and reports.
Why does a hotel owner need a hotel asset manager?

You could also ask, why worry as a hotel owner about details and specifications if you like to look at the big picture?

Perhaps the big question of any hotel owner would be why they would outsource this responsibility to a supposedly better prepared professional. The answer is that an asset manager can free up a hotel owner’s time by taking on those specific tasks, such as:

• Managing a refurbishment
• Renegotiating a contract
• Monitoring monthly operating statistics
• Ensuring that the hotel is reacting to changes in the market
• Maintaining a sustainable and excellent relationship with the operator
• Optimising the use of available space
• Creating revenue-generating initiatives that do not involve extensive additional cost – flow through to GOP

This detailed research and monitoring requires certain skills an owner may not possess, but which they can acquire through an asset manager. This way, an owner can focus on the big picture and at the same time make informed decisions to drive revenue.

To give you an example, we worked as the asset manager on the owner’s side for a 1,000-room four-star central London hotel undergoing complete renovation. One of the tasks was to define and monitor the budget for small operating equipment, which for a hotel with 1,000 rooms, several restaurants, and a large meeting space was significant.

The owners, a large bank, had no experience [and really shouldn’t have to either] in furnishing a hotel with thousands of cups, teaspoons, and other bits of small operating equipment. By keeping both owner and, most importantly, the operator updated on spending progress, we maintained the budget and saved the owners’ time.

The owners, through the involvement of the asset manager, maintained an excellent relationship with the management of the hotel.

An asset manager can be contracted on a monthly basis –this is the most used form of contract due to the monthly reporting requirement of hotels. In addition, they are also used on an ad hoc basis, for example, during a refurbishment, whilst building an extension, or in a hotel’s development phase.

If an owner needs monthly monitoring of a hotel, an asset manager should ideally be appointed for a minimum of 12 months, as suggested improvements may take time to come into effect. For example, if an asset manager sees an opportunity to increase revenue by sourcing outside membership for the hotel’s health spa, it will take at least six months for the new sales strategy to fully reflect in terms of membership numbers.

The asset manager could be remunerated with a fixed fee per month, or with a fixed fee supplemented by a variable element depending on the success of the asset manager’s involvement.

Who can do it?

An asset manager needs experience on both the investment and hotel operations side to be able to balance the interests between owner and operator and maintain a successful relationship with both. Diplomatic skills are a must, communication skills vital, and organizations skills fundamental.

An owner should search for an asset manager with these combined skills and then can rest assured. What follows then is long-term planning and the drive of profitability with minimal cost impact as well as optimized asset value and appropriate exit strategy.

Irene has worked for 17 years in hotel operations, hotel consulting, and hotel asset management on the owner’s side and in hotel development on the operating side. She has worked with brands such as Mövenpick, Marriott, The Cumberland, London, and The Waldorf Hilton,and has asset managed a hotel portfolio. Irene is now partner at Tempo Hospitality Consulting and is in charge of all hotel-related assignments.

Eko Hotel Remains A Pace Setter In Hospitality Sector

Danny Kioupouroglou, the General Manager, Eko Hotel & Suites and largest in West Africa, in a one on one interaction with Lucky Onoriode George, African Travel Times Editor, explains why his hotel with 824 rooms in 3 Star Eko Garden to Eko Main Building, offering 4 Star accommodation to Eko Suites, a 5 Star facility to the ultimate, Eko Signature a 5 Star Plus accommodation, is the pace setter in the region.

Eko Hotel & Suites is the largest hotel in West Africa-does it also mean your hotel is also the best?
The biggest is not always the best. However, the various units of this magnificent property speak volumes.

To better put it, the biggest has some advantages that are not there in the smaller hotels. What I mean by the aforementioned is that, we have variety of rooms, 824 in total spread across four buildings offering different types of accommodations [sizes and classes] to hotel users.

The Eko Garden offers a 3 Star plus accommodation, the main Building provides a 4 Star accommodation, Eko Suites offers a 5 Star accommodation and Eko Signature provides 5 Star Plus accommodations.

The larger you are the bigger your challenges, what are the disadvantages?

Absolutely! From the marketing point of view, you have a bigger facility to fill, especially in the period of economic down turn. It has also becomes much more difficult to sustain-where variables remains same.

Like we say in Greece, ‘the bigger the ship, the bigger the waves’, and it’s exactly same in hotels.
You have the biggest event venue in West Africa, how has this impacted positively on your sales and marketing efforts?

Without doubt, it’s extremely very important and I can say it was a very smart move by our owners. We opened the EkoConvention Centre in 2010 and I can confirm to you that it has been a fantastic investment and a beautiful contribution to our revenue.

The convention centre in the last six years has been the focal point of events in Nigeria and West Africa since it was opened.

It’s overwhelmingly true that a sizeable percentage of hotel workers in Nigeria are not trained and as such, getting the right worker to fit a particular jog is difficult unlike Europe and America, how much of a problem is this to you here?

It is a concern, but you also have other advantages on the challenges posed by the issues you raised because when you recruits someone, and having at the back of your mind that the market is not a mobile one, you will be ready to train such a worker, knowing fully that he or she will remain loyal for a certain period of time.

With that in mind, we here in Nigeria don’t suffer from frequent job mobility or workers as we see in Europe and America.

In Nigeria, it is much more possible to have such trained staff staying for as long as 10 -15 years with you, though not on same job, but within the organisation.

Again, there are peculiarities that will force you to do things that you will not necessary do in America and Europe; such as employing your security, maintenance team and training programmes through which staff that have no previous hospitality training can be brushed up to international standard, to be able to function because it’s not just issues of capability alone, but that of mind-set.

How many restaurants do you have in the hotel?

We have seven different restaurants. The Steak House at the Eko Suites, Italian Restaurant at the Signature, Lagoon Breeze a barbeque like setting by the swimming pool, Sky restaurant, a fusion of Asian and international menu, a Chinese restaurant called the RED and Casa Chiate also an Italian Restaurant.

The Sky Restaurant has a prestigious reputation, what makes it so special?

It’s a unique restaurant and it’s both location; seating on the pent house that offers a spectacular view of the Ocean and Victoria Island with the kitchen offering Asian fusion of cuisine which we are very proud of.

The main building part of the hotel is old, how much of a headache does it give you?

We put in a significant effort and resources in order to maintain the standard of our different facilities. Last year, we had a complete close down of Eko Suites for a total renovation of the place and as you know, the Signature is a new place.

As for Eko Garden, it was also closed down two and half years ago for renovation and it’s now top class facility. Whereas, the main building has in place a constant soft renovation plan to keep the facility in top shape.

What is the hotel doing to attract more leisure travellers?

Just like most part of the world, hotels like ours focus more on the business community week days and at weekends who in most cases dwell on leisure users which we also do here.

Here at Eko Hotel & Suites, we have flexible rates with which we lure locals and non –business community that pay less to enjoy our fantastic facilities. That said, during tough economic environment, people don’t have disposable income to spend on leisure activities and as such, our target for the leisure market are never met.

Like you can see that there are facilities such as lawn tennis courts, volley ball, handball, decent swimming pool that can keep our guests busy during their stay.

There was a time that the hotel was taking guests to a private beach weekends, what happened to that programme?

That project because it was not sustained due to cost of transportation; mainly boat for moving people and to do so, you must have a nice boat for their safety.

Again, it became too expensive, hence we abandoned it. I missed it myself!

It’s been said in several gatherings that the influx of international hotel chains has helped standardised the sector, how true is this?

That is true! Just as you are also aware, Eko Hotel pioneered all that. Every year and then, we try to introduce something new to challenge the status quo-in the areas of restaurant, convention centre and new hotel among others.

Just like there is no hotel like the Signature anywhere in Nigeria, and no convention centre like ours too.

Succinctly put, we try all the time to be ahead of the competition, but when the international brands are coming, we have the experience and expertise which also help raise the bar based on what we have achieved for the good of everyone.

Operation-wise, how difficult is it for an old hotel with huge numbers of people on your pension list, how are you coping?

You are right that we have quite a sizeable pensioners list. But the good news is that, this hotel is blessed and privileged to have good management and owners that work hand in hand not to carry over or postpone solutions that would become issues in future.

Issues, such as you have risen are never in the backburner of our operations and decisions. Today, I can confirm to you that we never had issue with the benefit of a voluntary or involuntary retired staff that has left the hotel.

We have always been part of labour and industrial relations negotiations over the years and have always played by the rules and standard agreed.

Electricity rate was hiked recently, how much of a problem is this to you?

We never had problem with electricity rates; because we are always prepared to pay our bills if PHCN will supply us with electricity. Unfortunately, this is not always the issue.

How many hours of power do you get a day?

It’s not very pleasant.

Security is an issue in this part of the world, how much of a challenge is this to you?

Here in the hotel, we never had issue and we hope it would remain so. In view of the above, we are not in any way complacent and we keep working and deploying technology to fortified and put in place watertight security to protect our legion of foreign clients and Nigerians alike.

You are a Nigerian now, what is your impression of our hospitality industry?

We Nigerians complain a lot. When I first came here years ago, there were only three hotels in Victoria Island; Eko Hotel, Federal Palace and Moore House. Today, there are several international brands all over now and several other locally managed hotels.

However, there are things that are still needed to be done. We must as a nation address the issue of infrastructure deficit and security that we are faced with now.

What do you want to see in the next five years?

To see the sector continuing to generates revenue to the government and creates more jobs.