Boris Bornman, former General Manager Sheraton Abuja Hotel and Towers is one of the few expat in the hospitality industry that does not shy away from the media and is ever willing to speak and provide information at all times whenever the press calls for update on his hotel operations and issues bordering hospitality and tourism in general in the country.
Apart from being media friendly, it is the only hotel in Nigeria with a public relations manager that relates with the media in a professional ways as well as providing timely media clips at all times.
Recently, Lucky Onoriode George, Publisher and Editor of African Travel Times magazine was with him and as an honest and professional he is, he bares his mind on the delay on the refurbishment of his hotel and the efforts made so far and not just restoring it to its past status among the top hotels in the country, but also meeting the global standard of Starwood group. Excerpts:
What level of the renovation exercise are you now?
To be honest with you, we are at the level of appointing the main contractor that would handle this delicate project and I can con firm that the exercise will commence sometime in July 20015. The renovation will start off with tower three and it would be done up to international standard.
In the interim though, we have embarked on soft renovation that will still keep us in business without necessarily closing down the entire hotel.
How long will the first phase of the renovation exercise take?
By our calculation, it’s going to take about eighteen months because it’s going to be a total renovation that would involve new piping, cable replacement and a complete new room design. Again, the renovation will also cover public areas and as at the time the whole renovation is complete in about four years, we will be having a brand new property.
The swimming pool is wearing a new look, how are your guests responding to the big uplift?
They are extremely very excited about the upgrade. This time around, it is not just our in-house guests alone, but all patrons; especially that are members of our gym with more and more people coming to sign up to become members that we even have to cap membership figure at 600 people.
Now that we are done with the pool and the tennis court areas, we are working on the lockers and the spa/massage section which we hope to introduce things/innovation from the Philippine, Chinese and Moroccan ingenuity to give world class service to guests and other users.
We have always talked about training anytime we meet, how much emphasis did you still place on it?
Like I have always told you, I lay so much emphasis on training and I can confirm to that we our 700 workers, we do 4,000 training hours per month and 35 per cent of the training are done online which include Microsoft, excel and their likes that we mostly work with in the hospitality industry.
Apart from what we do within the Starwood family, we are also affiliated to Harvard that enables our staff to assess materials at no extra cost when studying privately that complement the Sheraton Academy through which our staff can study 24-hours without interruption.
The basic requirement is that interested staff must do an hour of online training a week because that is the only way to bring them or such people to a new level and to exceed their expectations.
Currently we have people that are in training in university abroad and also we have an Italian Chef that is in one of our sister hotels training people in modern culinary and stuff like that. Like in our setting and internationally, there are specific training you must have attended and done before you can qualify for certain position and that is what I call vision.
Those with vision take advantage to study and prepared for the up-climb in their career. Just like the popular saying, people perish for lack of knowledge. By so doing, the individual will realize that his/her destiny is in their own hand, not mine and Nigerians are intelligent people and work very hard.
Sometimes, we have people that do as much as 20 hours of study in one month and for such people that pop up on their own, they will grab any opportunity when the opening comes.
Like what a hotel general manager told me recently in Accra, Ghana that there is general low level of workers turn over, what is the situation with Sheraton Abuja?
To be honest with you, I have very low turn over here too, the higher the turn the better for the right reasons. As for us at Sheraton, we have a pipeline that feeds the system because the more we open a new property; people move forth from the existing facilities.
Last alone, we sent almost 30 staff from here to Dubai and they are all doing very well. Any time I ma in that part of the world, I see them and happy for them. Some want to come home anyway because according to some of them, they missed Nigerian food and their families.
Though they no longer work for Sheraton Abuja, we are always in touch because they remain part of our family here and they are not just there on their own, but carry the Nigerian flag.
That is why that most recruitment companies do not just recruit based on paper qualification or experience alone, but altitude also very vital.
People like almost started at very tender age because there was no money for university. Today with God am where I am because the way you were born does not determine in your future, but yourself.
What can Sheraton or Starwood Group do to help develop career path for young Nigerians through collaboration with institutes or colleges here?
Sure! Something can be done and I am convinced that when we have the chance to do so, we shall do just that. Though it is a two way thing and I think the schools through the relevant faculty and department can be more proactive in reaching out to the sector.
That is why we are always willing to open our door to schools that bring their students here on excursion because there are several career paths in the hospitality sector that ranges from working as an accountant to engineer among others.
How optimistic are you; security-wise, especially now that we just had a near perfect or successful elections?
I am very optimistic because I actually published an article on linkedin.com that I was proud being an African when I read immediately after the elections that the immediate past president called President Muhammadu Buhari to congratulates him on his victory that it was a new dawn for Africa.
With the smooth transaction, Nigeria has earned more respect from the international community and within a short-time; we would see businesses responding positively. I was actually laughing when shortly after the elections seeing international media scouting for negative stories, which regrettable they did not find anywhere, knowing fully the media is most attracted to negative news.
Without doubt, this country has so many resources to be one of the top nations in the world and there is no reason that Nigeria cannot be the Dubai of Africa because you have much more.
You recently supported the 2015 Guards Polo Club International Tournament, what does this mean to Sheraton?
We consider ourselves as part of every society we operates and these days too, every genuine business must seek the best and most efficient ways of integrating with its environment to make it better.
As for Starwood, the parent company of Sheraton and several other brands which includes St. Regis that has a standing relationship with the Federation of International Polo and we decided to support the tournament.
It’s not just easy to convince your team to support some projects, how often do you have broad support from them, especially finance unit?
You are very correct. For us general managers, we are dreamers and sometimes you need the counter-balance ideas to make sure that a better decision prevails. Whatever we do here is done targeting the interest of the business; either in terms of sale/marketing or on good will.
Make no mistakes though, at the end, the decision to run with it still remains with me because of the veto power, after listening to everyone’s position in a democratic manner.
Massage for the way forward for tourism?
Government must support tourism development because as it stands, what is happening is just corporate or business tourism that still a negligible per cent of what the sector can contribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP].
The federal and states government must as a deliberate policy provide tourism infrastructure because till date, almost every Nigerian that call afford it holiday abroad which is not too healthy for the economy.
Without doubt, this country has the population and wealth to sustain a local tourism business if such are properly developed and made attractive.
On international arrival, Nigeria visa process still faces a lot of bureaucracy which must also change, if Nigeria is to emerge as a major destination on the continent.