La Villa Boutique Hotel, Accra Ghana is a wonderful hospitality facility in the heart of Ghana’s Capital. Leeford Quarshie, General Manager of this resort-like property in this special interview with Lucky Onoriode George of African Travel Times magazine bares his mind on what makes the La Villa special and attractive to long list of international visitors.
During my first visit here, I was astound that a facility like this exists in the city centre; why a resort like hotel in the city?
The only explanation I can give you is that the promoter or owners of this business are people that had travelled far and wide. They are of Italian origin and widely travelled.
As the general manager, I am also privileged to have travelled wide, and we are able to bring to bear Italian and African experience into the making of this amiable and serene facility.
To succinctly put, I call this facility an ‘Oasis in the Heart of the City’.
Walking in, I noticed several international awards on the wall, how come so many awards?
I think it’s the level of professionalism, experience and dedication of the staff. Above all, the ability of the owner and management to also create something distinctively different in the heart of a city, are some of the factors that have made it possible to be well appreciated by guests and industry observers.
We take customers care very seriously and like you also said, if you are here, it’s hard to believe that it’s in the heart of a city. The environment is serene with the fountain running.
If you are blindfolded and brought in here, you will think you are in the middle of an Island.
Besides that you are in the middle of Accra, where vehicles’ noise is supposed to be hard every moment, this is not well noticed because of the fountain and the trees that provide another melodious noise entirely.
Just to give some little background of this place, the facility use to be the former Russian Embassy here in Ghana. Regarding the awards, most of them are international recognitions.
We have won three major awards in succession and this month, I am also travelling to Romania to receive yet another international recognition award. We actually entered for these awards, but the selection process is tough and discreet.
The organisers visit all the properties that had voluntarily entered unknown and sample the facility to ascertain if such merit the award, and at the end marks are awarded and the eventual winners announced.
Like I said, they stay quietly and sample every aspect of the hotel they are visiting, prepare their reports and winners are chosen based on what they see, experienced and liked.
How has Ghanaians or the local market better put, react to this facility, because by no means, its expensive?
As you can see for yourself, this facility is a business hotel and that has been the market we have been chasing since inception.
This is not a leisure hotel because most of such hotel is designed in most cases to have varieties or categories of rooms that can for instance, accommodate or designed for sharing which is not the case here.
We have just one king size bed in all the rooms and as such, the usual two separate beds that you see in others for sharing purposes are not available here. As a business hotel, we have all facilities that business travellers need to work with.
The internet facility is great here, so also are entertainment equipment as well as International Direct Dial [IDD] for the convenience of the guests in all our rooms.
Again, you can take it for granted; we have buffet breakfast that starts from 6.30 to 10.30 am in the morning.
You may have also noticed that most of our guests are foreigners. Even at that, they are often invited into the country by their local counterparts and as such; they recommend La Villa Boutique for their stay.
Besides the recommendation or referrers by friends and business partners, international travellers also make use of well-known and trusted platform like Trip Advisor for comment and recommendation of travellers that have stayed here which has greatly helped.
Can you describe what really makes your rooms and the hotel different from others in Accra here or in Ghana generally?
To start with, I will not describe our rooms as luxury type, but well decorated and furnished rooms because when you talk of luxury, most travellers have more of it in their various homes compared to where they stay when they are on the road for business.
Such travellers just need a decent place to stay and services are assured. You know our rooms very well and I can say that they are rustic in nature because the materials are used in their prime; meaning they are used in their characters.
As you may have noticed too in the rooms, the woods or most materials that are used for the décor and furnishing are not polished, but merely used in their true state so that the guest can appreciate them better in their original forms.
Our lamp shades are normal roofing tiles that are ingeniously used for that purpose and just something different from the usual. If you also take a closer look at our cottons, you will discover that they are just the normal Calico that blended well with Cadillac painting that is washable.
Again, if you are staying for a week and we decided to move you around, you will also discover that the rooms are not the same because each has a separate theme.
Cost is a factor for tourists or even the business travellers, much more local people, what are you doing to accommodating the locals that also want to have a taste of this unique facility in terms of affordability?
Sincerely, the issue of cost is not just for the locals alone, but the international visitors also do regularly ask for discount which is normal in this type of business.
As you are familiar with, we do have in place a discount regime and corporate rates.
The type of discounts range from long stay to weekend rate or in most packaged discounts as well. The aforementioned are done for everyone to have a chance to stay here in one way or the other.
Low crimes and stable political environment are some of the factors attracting international visitors to a destination. With Ghana relatively safe and stable, how has that impacted on tourism in general and the hospitality sector?
The stable political environment here in Ghana can be taken for granted. But I can tell you that we Ghanaians are proud of this. In spite of the peace and tranquillity that we enjoy here, this country as I have heard expressed by many people, is a very expensive destination.
One key area is the air fare compared to other or major destinations around the world…even in Africa here, and the hotels are not left out because of the expenses incurred by the hoteliers in putting in place facilities that are needed to be put in place for the convenience of the visitors or tourists when they arrive Ghana.
The overhead is so much and I personally think the government should look into it and reduce the burden of operators, by ensuring that more people visit because that is the only way that rates will go down, because it would now be volume based.
From my rough overview of the sector in Ghana, arrivals are dropping by the day, while facilities are expanding. Presently, the people that are visiting the few attractions in the country are business people who just took time off to relax for few hours.
However, what we need are people that would be visiting for a week or two and that is the only way the sector can stabilise.
What has Ghana Tourism Authority [GHA] been doing in marketing this country abroad aggressively, like the South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Egypt are doing?
Unfortunately, I am not working with any government agency and would not be able to speak on their behalf. The GHA is Ghana’s Destination Marketing Organisation [DMO] for this country and like you rightly said, it’s their duty to conduct research and survey based on SWOT analysis to channel their energy properly on things that would boost arrivals into Ghana.
Just like many, I am of the opinion that they are not on top of their game, or else we would have been seeing results.
Again if you look back 10 years, you will realise that we have made tremendous progress. However, we could do better…especially with the middle class growing in Africa, we can attract millions from the continent.
Imagine Nigeria’s population alone that is just 35 minutes away by air and 7 hours or so by road, and I would want to believe that those in-charge of marketing Ghana are also thinking along this line.
How much of a problem is electricity or utilities generally in Ghana to the hospitality sector?
It’s a lot of burden I must confess. Ghana like most African countries that have discovered oil find it difficult to generate enough electricity, therefore, we have to make provision for power plants that come at a cost to every business and household users because as a hotel, one cannot afford to operate in darkness.
What impact has the influx of international chains into Ghana has had on the sector generally?
Without doubt, it has helped to raise the profile of the sector, however, what we urgently needed are institutions that can help train personnel for the industry.
All the international chains that have come only come with some limited and specific staff and the rest they poached from the local or existing business that they considered experienced and familiar with the terrain.
We need institutions that can help train more people now that facilities are expanding and for it not to impact negatively on quality and standard, we must act now.
You recently graduated with a Master Degree alongside few others from a university here in Ghana, how much do you think this will help you and benefit the industry?
A lot my brother, but it’s sad that we are on 9 people in a country of almost 25 million. I want more people to have this same knowledge that have been impacted on us to accelerate development and facilitate the growth of human resource capital for tourism in general, not just hospitality alone.
I am happy that I have been able to achieve this Executive Masters programme. But again what can this few people do and regrettably this are people that are already in the industry and I think we need new people joining.
Honestly speaking the tourism sector alone can help solve most of our unemployment problems by training people for the sector.
Every hotel in Ghana has a place for security, receptionists, cooks, house-keeping staff, gardeners, cleaners among others, yet, people do not still want to see the sector as an industry where they can build a career, rather, they just see it as stop gap to the big thing that is coming or yet to come.
I for one also came into the industry with such mentality in the beginning because I was bilingual, have stayed with my father who was with foreign affairs and my thinking initially too was to work with same institution and perhaps end up as an ambassador.
But once I came into the sector, I fell in love and decided to remain and how times flies, am now almost 30 years in the industry.
What would you want the government to do for the sector?
There must be more collaborative efforts with the private sector because we are the operators. Again more associations should also come on board, such as the car hire operator among others.
Your hotel and several others are making efforts to attract visitors from Nigeria, instead of the government and its agency doing this, what is your message to Nigerians?
That we are ready to provide alternative facilities for their holiday and conference facilities that will give value for their money, because, especially for staff development and training, they need to be away from home to avoid distraction.
To our Nigerian brothers, sisters and businesses, Ghana is home because we have everything that are similar, they won’t miss home while here in Ghana.
Finally to add, I am looking forward to the first set of travel and agents, tour operators and the larger media coming here to sample the products and return home to sell to the people back home.