By Jimoh Babatunde
The coming of more hotel chains into Nigeria will not only raise the bar in terms of standard, but will also push down the cost of hotel rooms in the country.
For the General Manager of Southern Sun Ikoyi hotel, Mr. Mark Loxley, once there is competition in the market, improve infrastructure and well-trained work force, hotels in Nigeria will no longer be over priced.
The Briton who has been in the country for some 18 months noted that Nigeria has potential for tourism development and with vision, and the will to develop the attractions, the country will be a choice destination.
â€œI think beyond domestic tourism I believe there is an opportunity to embrace international tourists into this environment in certain parts of the country most certainly.
â€œWell I think the coastÂ line, I mean the Nigeria coast line is very attractive, lots of development potentials and again I learnt there are also projects that are on the planing stages I understand, but I think from an internal perspective you know as far up as Tinapa and Calabar even Abuja there are some beautiful places.Â I mean if you go out to Asaba, Benin city the Niger River, I think there is some lovely destination, and I think it is going toÂ take people, persons, individuals with vision andÂ a collective willingness to simply get a project lunched and really provide good quality facility.â€
On hotel pricing in Nigeria, he said â€œI think the pricingÂ may well become more realistic as the years move forward and IÂ think itâ€™s up to everybody to work together and ensure that the levels are continually addressed in terms of staff training among others.â€
One of such hotels, which is set to raise the standard of hospitality business in Nigeria today,Â is the Southern Sun Ikoyi hotel which came up from the ruin of former Ikoyi Hotel.
The first phase of the Southern Sun IkoyiÂ which commenced operation some four months agoÂ is a 195_room, nine_storey structure which cost $50 million to construct.
From the 20, 000 square metres of land available, 3,000 square metres have been used in developing the first phase. Betar Consortium Limited, which bought the former Ikoyi Hotel when it was put up byÂ the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) for $14 million,Â has also entered a 10_year management agreement with the Southern Sun Hotel Group from South Africa to oversee its day_to_day activities.
With its Nigerian operation, Southern Sun has gained a successful entry into the West African market. The hotel group which has more than 84 fully owned/managed properties around the world is present in a few African countries including South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia.
Southern Sun Ikoyi is conceived as a four_star deluxe business hotel. The leadership of its management team consisting five expatriates includes its General Manager, Mr. Mark Loxley, a Briton. The remaining 240 employees are some mixed blends of Nigerians from various ethnic groups including the Food and Beverages Manager and Executive Housekeeper who had previously worked in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate.
Speaking with this journalist weekend in Lagos on the hotelâ€™s operation in the last four months, Mark Loxley expressed confidence that with good location, excellent product and premium placed on staff training, the hotel will get its fair share of the Nigerian market within the first six months of its operation.
â€œThis confidence,â€ he said, â€œis anchored on the fact that Nigerians have a specific identity. They are ready to pay for good products and services. This is a vibrant city and we have a few strategies to stimulate the market and draw attention to what we have.â€
He added that the last four months have been good, interesting, â€œespecially the opening of the hotel during a very difficult economic situation, we are very pleased with the response.â€
On the global meltdown and the hospitality industry, Loxley said just like most industries around the world the hospitality industry is no exception, â€œyou know the occupancy rate might be down for hotels that have been established for a long period of time, but for a new hotel our opportunities are yet to benchmark and we are trying to offer decent kind ofÂ Â services people are looking for in a business hotel in terms of security, good clean and hygienic room.â€
On the selling point of the hotel, he said â€œWe have good friendly staff and we spend a lot of time on training and cultivating the right service attitude, we have great offering in terms of our rooms. I think the gym facility which is a complimentary to all the guests is well appreciated.
We have free internet, Wi-Fi throughout the day, free parking as well as free bottled water in the room on a daily basis. I think all of these have created value which people are looking for. The rate is inclusive of break fast.
A visit to the rooms reveled to the rooms revealed exotic interior decoration and top finishing in the toilets, asked to comment on this, the General Manager said â€œ I think in terms of the rooms interiors, the definite choice in terms of fittings, the interiors, the materials, the beds revolved round the market research. A business travelers need good quality rooms, comfortable beds, we have good quality bath rooms, which is well designed, you got option of shower and bath combination or if a guest wants a room with only a shower that is simply available as well. Good quality shower, good quality bedings and the functionality and practicality of the rooms dictated the design.â€
Speaking onÂ how they intendÂ to maintain standard set already, he has this to say â€œ we know that the need to maintain standard is very imperative, I think that is a direct management responsibility, the way and manner we achieve that is a continued management process, likewise on going program for the staff and defiantly in terms of the hotelâ€™s owners and operators relationship which needs to be safeguard, there is need for provision for on going refurbishment, up grading where necessary as the hotel moves forward.Â The standard needs to be maintained, it will be maintained.â€
Mark Loxley said the vision for the property is to definitely continue to enhance good quality services in theirÂ business clientele as they areÂ geared for groups, sporting groups, meetings, and seminars.â€œThe vision is to enhance what we are already doing and to make sure that the product is maintained.