Per Stafsen is a consummate hotel manager who has lived in Port Harcourt for years and now even a Chief. In this interview with Ugheh Darlington and Mary Okpata, he bares his mind on the hospitality sector that is struggling for survival. Excerpts:
As the Chief of hospitality in Rivers State, what is the level of hospitality in the state now?
To be honest, the level is not so high. We have few hotels that have high level, but there are few that have high level of hospitality in the areas of infrastructure, friendliness, good food which I think they need to be worked on.
What is the level of activities by oil companies who are the major patrons of this business?
It is true the business is down; it is probably the lowest since the oil prices fell in the market. It is not like this two or three year ago. The oil companies are scaling down, they don’t use the hotels anymore because money is not there, and it’s affecting everything even fast food.
The country is facing hardship because it does not have any agriculture, we don’t have high income from oil as we used to be.
What was the level of man power in the hospitality in the state?
The level of man-power in River State has not been bad, but at the same time the worker you get into your facility is not really properly trained. The hotel schools don’t have well trained teachers; when you get somebody from catering school you still have to teach the person the basics.
The levels of education that can sustain all the hotels are not there, that’s why the good hotels are losing their place every time.
The frequent movements of skilled workers from the top hotels to the middle sized hotels; does it bring about professionalism of the sector?
My answer will be yes and no.
No in what sense?
When your employees move to a better place you have to train new ones, you have to do new things, especially the training aspect; that is money and it’s also your standard, because when you replace a good employee with a less good one, your standard automatically comes down and on the other side, if there is a movement from a good hotel to a mid-sized one, that employee will help bring up the hotel.
What is the relationship of the franchisee and the franchisor; and what benefit is in the hospitality industry in the Nigeria?
The benefits if compared with the management and the franchise; when you choose franchise, you yourself still decide for having a hotel. It’s true, a lot of hotels are looking for franchise to have a name, but because they still want to control the business.
It’s also true that a lot of businesses are not keeping the standard to have a franchise, but there’s a very strict rule and regulation from the company now.
Unfortunately, a lot of hotels do not keep up to the standards which affect the franchise company.
For instance, Best Western is a franchise throughout the world which is now in Lagos, Port-Harcourt, and Warri. Best Western no longer looks at the money, but the standard of the hotels, if they don’t keep to their standard they will remove their name.
Another benefit is that, if you have franchise, it is less costly because you don’t pay management fee, you don’t pay advertising fee, maintenance fee among others.
What should a hotel owner look for before you approach a franchise system or go for a management contract?
If I would go for something, I would go for management because you’ll get much better support from the company unlike franchise; it’s always a limited support. You’ll not have anybody on ground to help you because their offices are usually in Europe, America, Middle East of which you can in most cases communicate either online, skype from where they can advise you on what to do, but with the management you’ll have those experts on ground, it’s more costly but in the long time there are more benefits out of it than if it’s franchise.
What would you say about the hotel built in Lagos, which we thought was a direct foreign investment, not knowing that the business is Nigeria business?
It’s not only in Nigeria, it’s everywhere in the world. The companies if they own property, if you say a port-folio like “Hilton” they don’t have any lotto of the whole port-folio world –wide they just have few selected property they own on their own.
Full management is a better option.
What is the secret behind your success?
I don’t think there’s any secret, just be who you are and also be at your best at all time.
Now that the economy is going down and things are becoming high especially the exchange rate, we know that people have reduced their travelling out but now travel within the country, what benefit will it be on the hospitality, if at all it could, when people are not put off by the kidnapping and the bad roads.
It is not impacting anything as you said yourself because of the bad roads, kidnapping and even bad services. You could see it in Port-Harcourt, all the hotels are down; there’re so many factors, unemployment and inflation are increasing so it does not impact anything.
What should be the strategy by the hoteliers and the hotel owners or generally tourism, since it is becoming too expensive to travel abroad?
The only thing I know is that if you have good property, you have good food and employee, keep it. Even if it costs you money, keep it because one day sooner or later this recession will be over, people will start to get money.
People will now start to go back to the hotels. If in the bad times you still keep your standards, customers or guests will come back to you, but if your standards are going down these people will not come back when they have the money. They will go to hotels that keep to standards.
What should be the approach generally to tourism in Nigeria while we wait for oil to bounce back, because in other countries there’re social activities that drive traffic? Now that a city like Port-Harcourt that use to burn with oil cookers, and all that is failing, what’s the hope?
I don’t think generally there’s anything wrong with Port-Harcourt entertainment. There’s a lot still happening. They are still trying, they don’t give up. It’s just for everybody to be optimistic that sooner or later, it would be better.
I know you’ve been doing a lot, what other trick do you have coming?
I don’t know yet but something will come.
What is the ratio of men and women that work in the hospitality industry?
Nigeria has more men employed than women in the hospitality. Marketing is also female maybe 90%, housekeeping; males the rest is like 50-50