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.