Roman Krabel, is the General Manager of Accra City Hotel [formerly Novotel], winner of “4 Star Hotel of the Year 2016” in the Greater Accra Region from the Ghana Tourism Authority, “4 Star Hotel of the Year 2016” in Ghana from the Hotel Association of Ghana and the first and only ISO certified Hotel in Ghana and West Africa. In this interview with Lucky Onoriode George, Editor, African Travel Times in Accra, Ghana, he went down memory lane on how he came into the industry, his journey in Nigeria and his second coming to Ghana.
You must feel passionate about living in West Africa for over 10 years and the last five years in Ghana?
Something must be right! I think there are several things; the dynamic of the hospitality industry here is great. There’s a real passion here for the industry as well, the constant re-inventing of yourself and reinvestment in the property among others.
Ghanaians are unique as well; you’ll see for yourself, they are very friendly, flexible, and great for hospitality industry, you see smiles everywhere and guests can experience all the great Ghanaian food at our restaurant.
I think the multicultural nature as well, all the different people coming to visit Ghana among others. You can go to the North of Ghana for fantastic trekking. You can go to the South for beautiful beaches. And Accra is fantastic, you have everything in Accra and it’s really a hub too.
What made you apply for this job?
I was contacted by one Shareholder for this role, and as I knew of the hotel and its reputation, I was instantly interested. When I came to the hotel for my interview, it was clear that Accra City Hotel [formerly Novotel] has a good philosophy and work culture. As a General Manager, I knew that my beliefs would fit in with the rebranding from the branded Novotel to independent Accra City Hotel, and I could make a positive difference to our guests, staff and overall business interest of the owners.
Are there benefits to being independent?
It’s much tougher. Some of us are big enough to have affiliations with groups or brands.
But for those who cannot, it’s much harder. In many cases, the brand does not pay off because you would be working for them rather than working for yourself.
Depending on the market and location, some products do as well as independents and some do not. It requires hard work.
You have worked for several companies; what is unique about Accra City Hotel?
Accra City Hotel is different as it is a privately owned and run company. Rather than having to deal with all the layers of bureaucracy often needed in International companies, you have a direct relationship with the owners, which makes decision making faster and our work more efficient. Things happen quickly and that gives fabulous opportunities to impact business.
However, you are also left to run your hotel as business; they empower and trust their General Manger which, as hotelier, is what you want.
Do you have exciting plans for the hotel?
Yes, we are planning a major renovation and extension of the property, actually. The hotel is made of two different wings.
The South wing is the original hotel which includes all guestrooms. In the modern wing of the hotel, we have the sloping front with a deluxe restaurant and modern Conference and Banquet rooms.
We will hopefully complete that next year. The hotel is actually 29 years old and was the first 4-star hotel in the late 80s which has developed a lot since.
Now with new hotels coming, it’s important to update and build upon what we have. The location still works very well and the loyal staff have been here quite a long time too. The overall feel is, you can go to hotels that are very trendy but they only cater for certain types of clients. If it’s more neutral like us, you can cater for a larger range of people. That is our goal!
Are there commercial benefits that hoteliers need to be aware of in becoming a sustainable hotel in the Accra region?
Accra being a highly competitive market, the cost of energy, water and waste disposal are comparatively high. In order to be more effective than the competition, hotels need to enhance their efficiency and adopt cost-effective ways to reduce waste.
Thus, operating as an environmentally conscious hotel like ours helps in reducing energy consumption drastically without adversely impacting performance.
There might be cost implications in implementing such initiatives, but the lengthy return on investment usually outweighs the cost involved. Some initiatives like retrofitting light bulbs, energy metering, and training staff to be conscious of energy use cost nothing, but can lead to substantial cost savings.
Being an environmentally conscious hotel definitely adds more brand value and gives a competitive advantage. Guests today are more conscious of the environment, as such there has been a shift in their lifestyle choices, including organic foods and fuel-efficient transportation.
So, I think environmentally friendly hotels that maintain their service levels, will be able to build a sense of loyalty among their guests.
Ultimately, the cost advantages and the positive impact on brand reputation are clear, but the most important reason to adopt green solutions is because it’s the right thing to do.
Irrespective of cost saving, or a principled strategy, it’s a way to recognise the environment, the community and the human capital as valuable assets, and help protect these resources.
The new restaurant menu is coming up soon, are you looking forward to it?
Oh, yes, the food at Accra City Hotel is fantastic! It is freshly prepared on board, changed seasonally and with fresh ingredients. I am very proud that our food is something that our guests come back for! There is such a strong team in the kitchen, our chefs are very inventive and always looking to impress – I feel some real positive vibes in our galleys!
Chef Lucky is creating our new menu and he is so creative, with an imagination that seems to have no limit! He also has a great eye for colour and presentation and I like that! I can’t wait to see his new menu now!
How important is innovation in a chef’s life?
You have to innovate if you want to learn, develop and grow as a chef, as well as make sure that your food remains at the level that you want it to be, technology in the kitchen gives you more possibilities, as well as more safety.
Advice for young chefs?
Work hard and discipline yourselves. Too many young chefs want it all these days and they want it now. They want the Michelin Star, the endorsement deal, the book deal et cetera, but what they don’t realise is how much they’ll have to work for it and how much discipline that requires.
As a chef, all you have is your reputation and you have to build and maintain it, and that comes with years of dedication and sometimes blood, sweat and tears, as they say! Find your path, define your goal and stick to it.
Keep working on it until you get there, and once you get there, keep working some more, but do also make sure you take the time to enjoy yourselves every now and then. And remember one thing: your restaurant is for your guests and nothing else; not for the stars, not for the books. Always remain committed to your guests, and they will remain committed to you.
Why did you decide to work in hospitality?
I have been working since I was 16, and as a teenager the easiest place to get a job was in the bars and restaurants starting with washing up! I do think it’s important to start with the basics. I realised that I enjoyed it and was good at it, and decided to become a certified Chef and certified Restaurant Manager.
What have you always enjoyed about the hospitality industry?
I enjoy the variation the hospitality industry offers. It’s both challenging and rewarding with every day being different. As a General Manager, you have a real opportunity to make difference to both customers and their experience, but also to staff and their work satisfaction.
What is the highest purpose for which you do what you do?
The biggest drivers for me have always been lust for adventure and challenge.
There is no greater way for one to learn than throw oneself into new situations with new cultures, people and tasks. This is why I decided to commence on a career in hospitality business.
In hospitality, you meet new people and face new exciting situations on a daily basis. You can be sure there is always something to learn and adventures to challenge yourself with.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Dealing with people; be it customers or staff; this can be most rewarding. I remember how much my General Managers influenced me and my development as a young employee. I was given this unique opportunity, and I want to give back to my staff, by helping them develop and grow. My staff’s success is indeed my success.
When you dine in a restaurant, what else do you look at besides the menu?
Actually, I look at many things, such as the concept of the restaurant, then design and size, the atmosphere, the type of guests and their behaviour as well as the behaviour and selling skills of the employees. And of course, the food must be good, tasty and presented well. Essentially, I look at the whole package.
Of course, it really depends on the guests’ expectations. At times, you may want to be spoiled by the quality of food and service. On other occasions, the atmosphere and environment is very exciting and the food and service may not be the most important thing.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing on your current job?
When you work in a competitive city such as Accra, you have to pay attention to what is changing around you. We live in such a fast-moving world; the greatest challenge is keeping up with the new trends and adapting to them.
Our business is constantly evolving, for example, the booking industry has changed. Guests have many choices nowadays; we have to keep up with the changes. We have to be present on all sales channels.
The other challenge is that you need to understand what is important to today’s generation. Our industry is often challenged to find good and motivated young people to join us.
You need to know that their philosophy and values in life have changed so much compared to my generation; and adjustments in management styles to be made to accommodate this change.
What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
It’s a difficult question to answer. When guests are happy and they compliment the courtesy of my colleagues; when we achieve our goals and the team receives recognition, it is certainly a time to be proud; and of course, when young people consider me as their mentor. To me, these are the best compliments.
If you must make a choice, would you do the things right or would to the right things?
To me, it is more important to do the right thing at the right time. The most important thing is to have values, and as long as you do the right things based on your values, I think it will be alright.
People always say that we can learn from our mistakes, but why do you think so many people are afraid to make them?
I think no one should be afraid to make a mistake every now and then …as long as you don’t make the same mistake repeatedly. If you are afraid to make mistakes, you will never change anything, and you won’t learn anything.
When you make an honest mistake, it shows that you are trying new things. You learn from it and you should not be punished for trying.
Can you think of a time you made the impossible become possible?
One of the greatest tasks I was given in my career was that I had to cater for 6,500 people. I thought about it for many days and at the time, I did not know how this could be accomplished. To make a long story short, finally I discussed it with colleagues and managed the task as a team and it was a success story for all of us.
What is the single best quality your employees can possess?
The right attitude! They must genuinely please our guests. All the technical skills you can learn in time.
What do your employees expect from you?
I would say the same thing …but not just having the right attitude towards pleasing guests, but also having the right attitude towards the employees to ensure that they are treated fairly and motivated to achieve as a team.
“The best managers are also the best teachers.” Do you agree?
I don’t know if a teacher can be the best manager. I think being a teacher means “teaching”, and being a manager is more about coaching. I believe that a coach and a manager are more the same — they try to bring out the best in their people.
And what is the difference between management and leadership? In what ways are each important?
My personal opinion is that we all manage situations, events, people, but managers tell other people what to do, and leaders guide and lead others to make the right decisions.
So what makes a good leader?
A good a leader is a visionary that inspires, engages challenges, develops and empowers his team to exceed expectations… drive further and grow.
What is the importance of empowerment?
Empowering our associates is a corner stone within Accra City Hotel’s culture. When associates are empowered, they are engaged within the business which directly relates to our financial performance.
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a general manager in the hotel industry someday?
You need solid education and diversified work experience. You need to understand the importance of managing people as well as the technical aspects of the business. Of course, in order to be successful, the most important thing is that you need to focus on your guests.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
My strength is that I know my weaknesses.
At work, what puts a smile on your face?
Receiving compliments from guests such as: “I’m really looking forward to coming back”.
What puts a frown on your face?
Team members not having the right attitude, and not taking care of our guests!
Which Assurance will you give to provide the best quality at Accra City Hotel?
I am extremely pleased that Accra City Hotel has been awarded the certification of ISO 22000:2005 [Food Safety Management System] and ISO 14001:2015 [Environmental Management System], the first Hotel in Ghana that has achieved such a prestigious certification, which will re-energise, propel and invigorate our commitment to always deliver and maintain the highest possible quality and standards to our valued guests.
The certification is a seal of Accra City Hotel’s compliance to strict, internationally-set standards.
Being the first hotel in Ghana and possibly in West Africa to acquire both certifications, is a proud accomplishment for our Accra City Hotel ladies and gentlemen, for consistently upholding uncompromising standards in food safety, assuring our guests with trust when visiting our restaurant, banquets and outside catering.
Obtaining ISO 22000 and HACCP certifications will continue to strengthen the hotel’s credibility and reputation, build customer satisfaction and trust, reduce operating costs and increase operational efficiency.
The ISO 14001 standard specifies a path for continuous improvement and control of Accra City Hotel’s environmental performance. It enables the Hotel to identify and control the environmental impact of its products, processes, and services and also to improve its environmental performance.
Accra City Hotel is dedicated to maintaining quality and a high-level of service to exceed guests’ expectations, including in the area of high-quality food safety and environmental management.
What are the advantages of hotels that have implemented quality managing system ISO?
The certificate of ISO proves that the hotel possessing it respects the entire international and national quality standards, and regularly surveys the quality system that has been incorporated in its business practice.
A correctly implemented and completed quality system brings certain internal and external advantages to the hotel. However, it is necessary to emphasise that the benefit amount is directly proportionate to the success of implementation and commitment of all employees.
I don’t know. I feel fortunate! I live in a fantastic city and I work in a beautiful hotel. I am content.
About Accra City Hotel
The luxury 4-star Accra City Hotel opened to the public for the very first time in September 1988.
Accra City Hotel has 196 fully furnished guests’ rooms of varying sizes with good quality interiors and complimentary mini-bar; it’s located on Barnes Road in the heart of the Ghanaian Capital, in close proximity to the City’s business and entertainment districts.