Category Archives: Interview

Tourism Potentials Are Limitless With Our Population – Mbanefo

Sally Mbanefo, Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC] leads the federal government agency for marketing and promotion at this most difficult and complicated economic environment. In this interview with Lucky Onoriode George, Editor, African Travel Times Magazine she bares her mind on the future of the industry in Nigeria.

What is the state of the tourism industry in the country?

The sector is an important part of our economy, but unfortunately, the planners of our national economy have failed to accord the sector the attention it deserved.

Though attempts have been made in the past to make tourism as one of the preferred sector of the economy, regrettably it was never backed up by action and funding, which is a major challenge that is robbing the sector its pride of place at the national, state and local level across Nigeria.

However, now we have the right opportunity to push tourism up in the ladder of our industry priority to create jobs now that there is even more reason to diversify our economy.

Globally, the tourism industry has created community empowerment opportunities through
participation of people in rural areas where most attractions are located.

Here in Nigeria, most of our attractions are in rural areas, and if properly developed by the
various state governments and with support investments by the private sector, we will be
competing very soon with top destinations in West Africa with favourable fame that our
festivals and carnivals, especially Carnival Calabar that is among the most sought after
Africa enjoy.

You said the states should develop attractions in their domain, what do you mean?

Across Africa, there are indisputable evidences that initial investments in the major successful destinations on the continent, were made by governments of those nations before the private sector moved in because of the huge financial requirement as well as the long gestation period that tourism investment takes before it matures.

Here in Nigeria, the history of the hospitality sector started that way. Hotels like Federal Palace, Eko Hotel, Transcorp Hilton, Sheraton Abuja, and Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt that is still owned by the Rivers State Government were conceptualised by government before they were privatised.

Attractions and events like Obudu Mountain Resort and Carnival Calabar were all initiatives of the Cross River State Government.

Lagos State is doing an amazing job in this regard and we at the federal level are excited about partnering with them to replicate their blue print at the national level, our minister who is a good friend of the state has taken a bold step to initiate this process with the governor and we at NTDC are pleased about that.

Who benefits from tourism in a nation?

Globally, everyone benefits. The tourists pay tax that goes to the government on their international air ticket, accommodation among others.

However, tourism accounts for one in every 11 jobs globally, in Nigeria there is insufficient data on the number of people currently employed, however the large numbers of people working in the over 11,000 hotels and close to 30,000 restaurants nationwide of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour force are pointer to the power of tourism to provide the aforementioned.

Other success stories of tourism include its power of inclusive growth; where tourism business thrives and this has created a vast range of business opportunities.

Another area is Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) growth that is the fastest with tourism, because 95 per cent of tourism businesses are small scale, if our tourism industry is well developed it will address social inequality.

Despite the presence of international hotel chains managing various sizes of hospitality outfits in Nigeria, boutique hotels or mid-size property that have dominated the hotel business across Nigeria.

Tourism goes beyond the economic benefits alone, it also has social and health well-being benefits; tourism is a major driver of citizen diplomacy as nationals meet for conferences as we have in Abuja and sporting activities which help people share experiences, build relationships and mutual understanding.

What are your major challenges?

The major challenges faced by the NTDC is that of funding which regrettable did not start today, but even more difficult now because of the economic situation we now face in Nigeria.

In spite of paucity of funds that has stopped us from participating in some regular international travel fairs, we hope to resume our presence and also double our efforts in promoting domestic tourism that I have been championing since I resumed.

For clarity purpose, the NTDC can only market and promote attractions that are ready and developed within the country locally and internationally because people get confused about the role and responsibilities of the NTDC.

Our mandate does not cover building projects, but marketing and promotion of such when ready alone.

Why has tourism received least attention over the years?

Without mincing words, “statistics” Data that can show how much tourism is contributing to the Gross Domestic Product [DGP] of Nigeria are not available. Because tourism is a value chain that touches every sector, we cannot say it’s not contributing; it is contributing. The most important contribution of tourism is employment. It has been creating employment consistently but there is no statistics to back up the claim.

What is the way forward?

The way forward for the tourism sector is for state governments and the private sector to invest in the industry with the federal government providing enabling environment.

However, infrastructure and facilities must also be developed not just for the expected international arrivals, but for the over 170 million people to grow domestic tourism that I have been championing since I came into office.

Lagos Tourism Will Blossom Eventually – Tourism Commissioner

As the Lagos State Government in an attempt to widen its quest to harness and develop the travel and tourism potentials of the state, Folarin Coker, Commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Arts in this interview with Lucky Onoriode George, assures on doing everything that are needed to safeguard against any setbacks in future.

Lagos State has in the last few years embarked on registration of hotels, motels and Inn that would lead to actual grading and classification start, how successful is the exercise?

First of all, we needed to enumerate how many hotels around, where they are and how many rooms or how many have swimming pool, function room, car park among others. Gathering the aforementioned information is a long and tedious process.

It is after gathering the data that we would be able to analyse and as we are going along, we are also observing standards that as we see maybe 5 hotels that are below standard, we also see same figure of good hotels.

Arithmetically, the sector is getting better beyond where it has been before.

I don’t want to mention names, but I will because you cannot compare a new hotel at Ojuelegba with respect to the people of that wonderful area of Lagos to the ones in Ikoyi.

There must be a disparity in terms of quality and standard. Again, there are laws and regulations that are guiding every business, especially the hospitality industry. If you ask people to come and stay in your hotel with their life, properties and safety, you cannot, but provide the best for them and guarantee their safety.
The aspect of the law that concerns my ministry is that you must register with us.

There is another law that concerns taxation which makes it mandatory for you to pay to the appropriate ministry or agency that the owner of such business must fulfilled, or else faces penalty for failure to do so.

Another area is safety and health department that also go round the hotels to ensure that they comply with all necessary standards, to ensure that the water and food served in these hotels are properly stored and cooked in a hygienic environment.

From the above, you can see that the exercise is a multi-ministries activity and we are doing it.

For instance, the safety department has just submitted new guidelines to the governor for direction for our beaches because of some recent incidents in some of the beaches, and we will fully implement those guidelines when we eventually receive them.

Just for information purpose, as at 2014, Lagos State was in shortage of 8, 000 hotel rooms; invariably, we can say that because of the short fall, this is also responsible for the high cost of accommodation in Lagos as well as space for the not too standard hotels to operate.

If more hotels come up, room rates will crash which also suggests that the business is good. Even with the global economic slowdown, depreciation in the value of the Naira and the cut to government spends unlike in the past, are responsible for recent lull in the hospitality business nationwide; that being said, the sector will not still go burst.

Your ministry also register and regulate travel agents and tour operators activities in the state, how did you feel when you read that Accra, Ghana has overtaken Lagos, Nigeria as a major hub in sub-Sahara Africa?

The whole of Ghana is 25 million people and I can say to you today that the day time population of Lagos is almost same figure like the entire country of Ghana. If I may ask, what is the volume that is going through the country of Ghana compared to Nigeria, a country of over 170 million people?

Recently, the National President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies [NANTA] and his executives were with me and we talked about their operations and I reminded them that the law requires them to register with the state and because we are not in the habit just penalising or punishing people or businesses and happy to say that we have reached an agreement and they will comply soonest.

We reached the understanding because the success of every travel agency, tour operator, every hotel and restaurant is my success because it would mean that they are doing well and will be able to pay their taxes and charges that government levy on those businesses.

One of your ministry’s mandates is to make Lagos State one of the top 10 preferred destinations in Africa for entertainment, how successful is the vision?

How profitable can it be with the current exchange rate for anyone to bring a top international artist that could cost 3 million dollars to stage a show in Nigeria? It’s almost impossible because how much ticket can you sell and at what rate to recoup the investment?

In view of the above, we have decided to look inwards, which was why we have continued to use our top Nigerian artists in all our programmes to drive the consumption of Lagos products and its workings.

When are we expecting Lagos State to begin allocating its beach fronts for resort and hotel development like other major destinations that their water front are the most preferred location for such investments to attract international arrivals instead of residential as we are witnessing in the state of late?

One factor I can deduce is that whilst that has not happened in the past was that maybe because tourism as a major business has not been the main stay of our economy; like the Gambia, Kenya and countries of the Caribbean where waterfronts in major cities and towns are reserved for public tourism investments.

For us in the past as a nation, oil and its related businesses have been the focus; as such investments generally were more pro oil businesses which have changed now because of the slumped in the international oil market.

Again, the state will continue to provide the enabling environment because capital or investments flow to destinations where there are opportunities, security and anticipated profitability for such investments.

Also on your mandate list, I observed that the beaches within Lagos territory belong to the state and that your ministry oversees them for the state, how can an investor who is interested in investing on the water front access any of them?

Very simple, send your proposal and we will look at it and after making our recommendation and it’s sent to the governor. Period!
Honourable Commissioner sir, residents of Lagos have still not forgiven the State Government for taking away their beach, “Bar Beach”, what alternative are you providing because every major city that is close to the sea develops the waterfront for public use?

The government understands how they feel; however, there is a process that will soon develop the Kuramo end of the old “Bar Beach” for public use. However too, just along same line there are several other beaches that Lagos residents can continue to use. Places like Alfa, Oniru, Ibeju and even Badagry which the government is recovering now.

The Badagry waterfront is being sand filled and pilling exercise going on, and the state is about to start the refurbishment of the heritage sites. Also on the pipeline is the dredging of the waterway from Lagos to Badagry to provide alternative means of reaching that part of the state.

In a nut shell, we are upgrading our Badagry tourism corridor assets and this year alone, the governor has taken our executive council meeting there twice.

Your ministry is saddled with so many responsibilities, how prepared are your staff to be able to carry out these tasks, training wise?

We have had some internal training sections within the civil service in terms of administration. We have also had some tourism focused training by relevant government agencies too.

However, there is not much technical acumen required for you to count or enumerate how many hotels, where they are, do they have swimming pool and such, which at the end they bring back to the office for proper analysis.

Besides too, we work closely with the hotel association for information as well as the cyber space and individual hotel advertisements that are placed in the media which we also monitor for correlation of information they may have provided in their registration document with us.

With all the tourism data in the ministry of science and technology, we can always access them and use them; just as we are also in dialogue with internal revenue service, because they have names and locations of every travel and tourism establishments which we need to work with because I do not have the man power to monitor every street or to know every new hotel in every street of Lagos weekly, monthly and year round.

Don’t forget that our hotel levy is paid yearly, unlike most other government taxes or levies.

When then do we expect real hotel grading and classification to begin?

Classification is a very tricky and serious aspect of the hospitality industry and it must be done. However, the collation of the data must be concluded before you can begin grading and classification proper.

If we don’t know what exists, where and how many, I cannot classify. And in preparation for that, we have consultants for that within and abroad. We are hoping to be able to hand over our data to them for the analysis.

Sometimes, we do not have to leave my office to go get information about a particular hotel because users leave their comments online which are very important. Issues of water, electricity, security among others are part of the variable conditions that are used in the grading and classification exercise.

You talked of security earlier, there is no state in the country that is committed and has invested what Lagos state is spending to protect the lives and properties of Lagosians and visitors to the state.

There was report of over 70 stabbing incidents at the just concluded Notting Hill Carnival in London and whereas when we had our December 2016 festivals which featured 25 shows across multiple locations simultaneously, how many of such incidents did you see and read about; yet some people will say Lagos is not safe.

During the cross celebration in 2015, how many women were molested, Google the murder capital of the world, you will get the names, but certainly Lagos is not on the list; so, why label Lagos as an unsafe place.

Yes, we have issue of terrorism in the country, but it’s not peculiar to Nigeria and as such we must change the conversation about our state and city.

World Tourism Day is by the corner, what is the state planning?

Traditionally, the day is for a review of the outgoing year of tourism activities and performance and to also project for the year ahead. For us in Lagos State, there will be a gathering of stakeholders to discuss and evaluate the sector performance and the necessary improvement.

What should the industry expect from Lagos in the coming years?

Our major task in the coming years is to achieve all the tourism objectives we have set for Lagos, and change the negative narratives with our positive achievements.

That is needed because a lot is anchored on misinformation about us either by foreign media; wrong travel warnings by official websites of some of the countries that we are trying to attract visitors from, you will see the statements of those governments.

Therefore, we have to also counter those negative perceptions and stories about Lagos with our own positive messages, because if we do not populate digital space with our positive stories of our great city, someone will fill it with what we don’t even know about.

We must populate the digital space with our stories of who we are, where we are and what we do by putting the statistics out there for the world to judge.

I don’t want to mention names, but I am looking forward to prominent Nigerian businessmen, musicians, journalists, sportsmen and women to tell their stories of Lagos to the world.

Again, what about the fact that Lagos and Nigeria is now a haven for religions tourism activities; without doubt there are still many positive stories of Lagos that have not been told and we must do so.

Ghana Must Do More To Attract Regional Traffic – Herbert

Herbert Acquaye is the President, Ghana Hotels Associations [GHA], an hotelier per excellent. In this interview with African Travel Times Magazine Publisher/Editor, Lucky Onoriode George in Lome, Togo during just concluded Africa Hotel Investment Forum [AHIF] held from June 21-22, 2016. He explains why Ghana must do more to attract regional traffic to fill the ever growing hospitality sector.

Across Africa, there are regional or geopolitical hotel and tourism associations, why is West Africa different?

It’s good that you are mentioning this. In Ghana we have what we call Ghana Tourism Federation [GTF], an umbrella body for all tourism trade associations in the country. Though the federation has been in existence for almost 15 years, it only became very active in the last two years.

Since 2014, the federation started organising programmes and also began serious interactions with government and relevant agencies. The aforementioned said, it is our hope that every member nation of Economic Community of West Africa States [ECOWAS] are able to establish their own tourism federation, so that the national body in these countries can link up to eventually form a regional body.

Though, the Gambian federation recently invited us for discussion in line with what you have raised; putting place a West Africa tourism federation and I can see it coming soon.

I was privileged to be part of ECOWAS Hotels, Motels, Inns and Tourist Guide Elaboration Task Force to review the above mentioned in 2010, of which sums of money from the Spanish Government Fund and European Commission has not been implemented till date, what should be the role of ECOWAS?

Without doubt, ECOWAS has a role to play. Most recently, I was invited to a technical meeting where information collated from various member nations on standards among others was discussed.

Over the years, Ghana has made tremendous progress in the tourism sector, especially, the hospitality subsector, what would you say are major obstacles facing your members?

It is true that we have a vibrant hospitality subsector because of it is a very important component of the tourism industry in any country based on the huge investment nature. In spite of the growth of the sector in Ghana and most parts of West Africa, tourism growth generally is in decline if you followed the presentations that were made at this event.

The big challenge facing us is, how do we grow the sector? In my country, our government insisted that it would handle marketing and promotion of Ghana as a destination, and that the private sector should not worry itself in that regards. Sadly, governments across West Africa, including Ghana have only paid lip service to tourism issues; because no conscious efforts have been made to improve regional intra-tourism activities.

What we have seen government officials do all the times, is going to America and Europe and sometimes Asia to do road shows, as well as participating in travel fairs and exhibitions, neglecting Africa with one of the fastest growing middle-class that can help improve arrivals within Africa.

Nigeria alone has the capacity to galvanise tourism activities in Ghana, just as Ghana can have same effect on Togo and Benin, yet nothing is been done in this regard.

Again, there are no conscious efforts to promote our products among ourselves in the sub-region. In today’s world, no country is relying solely on foreign market, especially in this era of insecurity and incessant travel warning that follows; we need to do much more than we are currently doing.

PANAFEST was a major event in Ghana many years ago, what is the situation with now?

PANAFEST can still give to Ghana what it used to give, but it’s currently under promoted and so the emancipation PANAFEST just pass-by yearly without much involvement or contribution from the private sector.
Without mincing words, not working as a team has rubbed the sector many pre-event and post-event activities that would have added value to the economy. It is also the failure of those in charge of not doing enough to carry our communities and the sub-region along, that is even more worrisome to people like me.

What can ECOWAS do to ensure that movement of people across the regional corridor is really free, because the level of extortion and harassment by various Immigrations and Gendarmes is unprecedented?

A lot can be done. It’s really sad and unfortunate. I think what we need to do as travel and tourism industry, is advocacy within our countries to put pressure on our governments to rain in these rogue immigration and security officials in all our borders.

Recently, there was a discussion over the actions and altitude of the Police and Gendarme. With a regional tourism federation in place, we can attend ECOWAS meetings with the view to influencing change of policy among others.

What do you think of this event [Africa Hotel Investment Forum] we are attending here in Lome, Togo?

The first benefit is that the programme has been able to bring regional operators together. Though, I would have been more comfortable, if the event is a little more successful. However, it has generated lots of discussions and we have learnt so much from the various presentations.

Figures and statistics that were presented show what we are doing well and areas that we need to improve on.

It was also nice to see people from outside Africa here for the very first time, to see and learn of the several opportunities that abound.

Above all, the issues discussed here will also help solved some problems identified going forward.

UNWTO Needs A Tourism Statesman Like Myself – Mzembi

Walter Mzembi is Zimbabwe Minister of Tourism and Hospitality, an Engineer by profession as well the longest serving minister of tourism in Africa; now campaigning as a candidate for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation [UNWTO], Secretary General, the second African to put himself forward after late Nigerian Matts Ebaboje Da Silva in the early 80s. In this interview with Lucky Onoriode George in Togo recently, he articulates his vision and mission for the industry.

Why are you here in Togo?

I am here as the guest of the Togolese Government and to also present a position paper at the on-going Africa Hotel Investment Forum [AHIF].

Again, to also present my candidature for the position of the Secretary general of the UNWTO to his Excellency, President Faure Gnassingbé for Togo’s support and that of the region.

Basically, to state the obvious, am here to address the net deficit of Africa tourism. As you are aware, the continent’s tourist arrivals have fallen to -3 per cent in 2015 and the future projections are not too encouraging as well, of which I strongly believe that if we have an African at the helm of the UNWTO, we will reverse and bring attention to Africa’s challenges.

I was privileged to have met with His Excellency before I was designated accompany minister when he visited Zimbabwe, but could not stay with him throughout the visit because I had to travel abroad again on another official engagement.

From what I know too, Togo is also working very hard to develop its eco-tourism potentials alongside its neighbours to attract more visitors, just like we are doing in Southern Africa with Kavango Zambezi [KAZA], comprising five southern African countries: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is centred on the Caprivi-Chobe-Victoria Falls area.

KAZA TFCA process historically evolved from the Okavango Upper Zambezi International Tourism Initiative [OUZIT]. However, unlike its predecessor, the KAZA TFCA initiative is owned and led by the governments of the five partner-countries. There is a clear focus on conservation as the primary form of land use, and on tourism as a by-product.

It encourages ownership by the five countries and reflects the priorities determined by these countries. The meeting articulated a clear vision for the KAZA TFCA: ‘To establish a world-class trans-frontier conservation area and tourism destination in the Okavango and Zambezi river basin regions of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe within the context of sustainable development.

Most importantly, to provide opportunities, facilities and infrastructure that shall transform the KAZA TFCA into a premier tourist destination in Africa, made up of a range of independent yet complementary and integrated sub-regional tourism development.

Similar experience can be done in West Africa – Again during drought as we are experiencing now, caused by ‘El Nino’ eco-tourism locations like Togo, will be considered first for relocation of wildlife before outside Africa.

Like other parts of the world, we must push tourism to serve as buffer to our economy, now that oil and manufacturing are all failing. Finally on this, we would find a way to have a travel balance because more Africans preferred to go outside the continent, instead of within.

We are here in Togo and I am sure many that are here may have connected through Europe before getting here, how does that affect our tourism arrival efforts?

So sad that we African have not been able to take advantage of our huge population to develop our aviation, and tourism industry properly.

The Yammosoukkou Declaration of 1988 was a missed opportunity for African countries to capitalise on to develop, especially its aviation sector.

Shamefully again, African Union [AU] has no tourism agenda, but people like me will continue to push for and campaign for the inclusion of travel and tourism content on AU agenda, though efforts are already being made in this regards.

Training is a major issue, how do we achieve good training for our travel and tourism administrators?
I think we have a good start already with the various geo-political structures on the continent.

When you look at Southern Africa Development Commission [SADC], which has a subsidiary tourism body for the region, just like the East Africa body with its own tourism body, same goes for the Arab-speaking Africans, so, why not West Africa, the most populated region of Africa.

With the aforementioned in place, it’s easier to push for tourism integration and cooperation on the continent. To also develop ‘brand Africa’ project, it’s easier to work along regional level as I have explained before, rather than country to country basis because in future visitors will prefer regional packages rather than country by country packages.

What will be your major tasks if you emerged as the new UNWTO Secretary General?

My first major task will be to speed those disadvantaged parts of the world to acceptable level of tourism development and awareness, as well as establishing county by country representative or regional offices to better serve our industry.

Other specialised United Nations Agencies have regional offices and country representatives across the world, why not tourism, world’s largest employer of labour?

Again, there are some big players that are not members of the fraternity at the moment; we have to bring them into the fold. The Likes of the United Kingdom [UK], United States of America [USA], Canada and Australia not being members of the UNWTO is a setback to Africa and the rest of the world.

It’s unimaginable that the aforementioned countries are not members of a UN organ. However, going forward, the UN will have to look inward to say no member nation will be allowed to belong to any of its agency on voluntary basis any more.

Perhaps, a good proposal will have to be put forward to those members currently not part of the UNWTO. These issues will be my very first set of tasks to be addressed, if I emerged as successor to Rafai Taleb.

Meanwhile, we will package, the following and put them forward to all members of the UN that currently stands at 192 nations and territories, whereas the UNWTO membership is below 100 as at today.
Firstly, to properly spell out the benefits and relationship between destinations and source markets, and that there is value in belonging.

Secondly, the challenges of our modern tourism activities that demand that we work together to find solutions than national prescriptions to challenges that are affecting us. Imagine issues of tourism and security excluding the United States, Canada, Australia and United Kingdom, some of the major source markets in the world is inconceivable for anyone to think that the rest of the world alone can find solutions.

Thirdly, the issue that the world is talking about now, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals [SDG’s], cannot be complete without the participation of those four countries.

Finally and fourth, is the issue of global inclusive growth and citizen diplomacy, because there is benefit in belonging to one body.

What was the membership of UN specialised agencies [UNWTO] optional in the first place?

That is why 2017 is a special year, because it has been designated as International Year for Sustainable Tourism Development, and we need to take our case to the United Nations for a debate that how can Permanent Security Council Members be marked absent in a major agency of the UN? I don’t think there have been enough discussions on this too.

What should Africa expect from you, because in most cases, the world doesn’t seem to understand Africa’s challenges properly?

The most important thing is for Africa to have someone in Madrid that the world can understand and Africa can trust. Whoever that is to occupy the UNWTO position should not just be tourism marketing or promotion advocate, but an international statesman that understands tourism value.

How many of your colleagues and past ministers have you reached out to, being one of the longest serving ministers in the world?

Gladly enough, we are a fraternity; once a minister, always one because the job exposes you to the world and people’s cultures.

I am not the longest though, am behind the Azerbaijani tourism minister that has been there for 23 years and the Cuban tourism minister that has stayed for 18 years and I am number three in the world and dean of Africa’s tourism ministers spending my 9th year in office.

From where we are now, I can provide institutional memories from 2008 to now which I think Africa can leverage on as well as the world because of my experience.

Charity they say begins at home, what is the state of the tourism industry in Zimbabwe?

On my deployment in 2008, tourism was contributing about $200 million to the economy, but today, it’s over a $1 billion and we are signing posting for 2016, a 4.1 per cent sectorial growth ahead of mining and manufacturing sectors.

I can also confirm to you that we have also embarked on infrastructural development, especially our airports that are being upgraded.

Victoria Falls International Airport is being upgraded to handle more passengers up to 2 million from half a million yearly. Runways at Harare and Bulawayo Airports are also not left out, as well as our land border posts, there is no magic in tourism because you must receive visitors.

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.