Trevor Ward is an international hospitality consultant and Managing Partner of WÂ Hospitality Group, specialists in advisoryÂ services to the hospitality industry, based in Lagos, in this interview with Jimoh Babatunde, he shares his opinions on the current expansion of hotels in Lagos, international chains managing hotels and the countryâ€™s tourism. Here is an excerpt
On the new hotels coming up in Lagos
There are a lot of activities particularly here in Lagos, by ourÂ calculation there are about 4000 rooms under construction and that means they are on sites, so I am not including any project that has not done any digging.
There are some projects like the Meridian in Ikoyi, the Grand Plaza at MM2 that they appeared to have stopped work, so completions of those projects are not clear as when it will happen, but the fact is that they are a lot of hotels coming into the Lagos market in the nextÂ three to four years.
It is inevitable, particularly,Â I think 2011. There is going to be an impactÂ Â felt in terms of reduced occupancy, because there are a lot of rooms coming up at the same time.
Having said that, demand has been growing,Â last year was a difficult year for all the reason we know, the external and internal problems, but there are always signs that growth will resume.
I have talked about Lagos, because it is the power house, it is where about 40% of the countryâ€™s economy activities take place.
The airlines are increasing their traffic, there are new airlines coming in over time and that generates demand for hotel rooms.
So over time, these hotel rooms will be absorbed by increasing demand. But it is interesting that the majority of those hotel rooms coming in are going to be managed by international hotel chains.
On international chains managing hotels in Nigeria.
For the ownersÂ the initial stage, it is going to have negative impact because the demand power is not going to match the supply power so there will be relatively less business in the hotel as occupancy must go down and that is going to hit profits.
For the customers, it is likely that there will be better deal available for prices may come down and that is not a prediction of what happens in the future, because prices have not come down with suppliers like in Federal Palace prices have remained high.
Over time, I think the industry is going to gain because I think the industry is going to be mature with the professional expertise coming in both in terms of management and marketing.
I think we are to see more training taking place, we are going to see a lot more realism in terms of peopleÂ doingÂ their jobs, by which I mean yesterday waiters becomingÂ Â tomorrowâ€™sÂ Â Food & Beverage managers in another hotel. I think there are going to be round a peg in a round hole.
On the belief that the international chains just come in with all sort of people in the name of expatriates
There may be cases where that has happened and we saw hotel groups come in and out of hotels in Nigeria, Eko hotel is the best example. But generally speaking I think it is a wrong impression that the hotel chains are milking the industry like someone said in Vanguard NewspapersÂ the other time.
The fact is that there are fees to be paid, perhaps the resource and back up these international chains bring should be more than compensate for that.
For a start, you are likely as a guest to be prepared to pay more for a room in an international managed hotel than in a non-branded hotel, because you perceived you think they add greater values to your amenities, so there is greater profit for the owners in greater pricing.
The international chains are bringing internationally marketing that is driving business into that hotel. They are doing the training, they are bringing in the systems and the discipline to the operations making sure they are maintained which unfortunately the un branded hotels are not.
Yes, they are paid more than the local staff, of course.Â They have the experience and the expertise.Â The international chains need them to come in as they know what the chain is all about, what the system is all about and what the product is all about to be able to train the local staff.
On technical knowledge ofÂ the expatriates
An expatriate naturally is not going to have as much knowledge about the Nigerian operating environment.Â They have to learn that.
In terms of hotel operations I am not aware of where an expatriate comes in with major international chain and have not been able to understand hotel operations, I am not aware of any.
On hospitality and tourism in Nigeria
I said many times that the tourism authority should focus more on domestic tourism. Because generally speaking it is too early to be attracting foreign markets except for events like cross river carnival, Abuja carnival; and Argungu as well as conference.
Generally speaking Nigeria is not ready to be raked on tour operators brochure.
The countryÂ hasÂ high domestic tourism if it is well packaged. People can package Calabar, Akwa Ibom and Abuja.
People are not packaging the country effectively.Â It used to be the same in England, people package outside than the domestic. I am so convince that with the population and the growing middle class, thereâ€™s need for domestic market for tourism in Nigeria.
The country image, visas, road networks are among the reasons tour operators are not packaging Nigeria.
The immigration at the airports especially Lagos Airport is terrible.
The issue of the visa is difficult. There are some South Africans who have not been able to get visas to Nigeria from Pretoria because the machines are faulty. The visa is also expensive compared to market we are competing with. In KenyaÂ visa is $25 d here it is 70 Pounds. Kenya issues visa on arrival.Â Here it is not so.