Alieu Secka was one time chairman of the Gambia Hotel Association (GHA) and the Proprietor and General Manager, Golden Beach Hotel , also in the Gambia. A Chartered Accountant but with vast experience in the hospitality industry. In this interview, he talked about the joy of setting up an hotel and how the economic crisis in Europe weakened clients budgets. Here is an excerpts.
On how he entered the hotel industry
After studying in London between 1984-90, I returned home to Banjul and worked with KPMG Chartered Accountants for one year, when I was offered a job of Chief Accountant at Senegambia Beach Hotel, Gambia’s largest hotel. I rose to become Financial Controller & Company Secretary, Financial Director and Deputy MD before starting my own Golden Beach Hotel.
On his professional qualification
I studied Corporate Administration and Business & Finance in London and a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries (FCIS), Fellow of Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), and Hospitality General Management in Cornell University Professional Development Program, NY.
On how long he has worked for Golden beach hotel
I opened Golden Beach Hotel in 2006, and have enjoyed to see it grow to a successful hotel.
On what hopes and aspirations he has for Golden beach hotel
As we work with clients from all over the world, our mission is to have as many happy returning clients. We are always therefore encouraged when we welcome so many back, and determined to strive even harder to win many more.
On weather he has much say in the direction of the hotel
As the Proprietor and GM, I run the hotel together with a small team of experienced managers. Recently I am less involved with the day to day management, which I leave to the team and I concentrate on contracting, marketing and corporate relations.
On If running the Golden beach hotel has given him any new challenges
Indeed starting a new hotel was an exciting challenge, although was equally taxing. I had to lead and complete the construction, purchase equipment, fixtures & fittings, hire staff, contract with tour operators, prepare websites and get the operations started with the welcome of the first guests among other things
After 7 years operations, some of the challenges have changed but keeping high occupancy and costs low are now the biggest in the face of increased costs. The economic crisis in Europe since 2009, have further weakened the clients budgets.
On what has Golden beach hotel brought to the hospitality industry in Gambia
Golden Beach Hotel has brought very personalized services in an atmosphere of informality. Very quickly all our guests are familiar and at ease to speak with staff as well as relaxed in family type setting. Today, our Occupancy is very high with averages of 80-95% in the peak season.
On his highlights working in this hotel
Peaceful wide gardens on a quiet beach.
If he has much time during your day to connect with guests
Several times during the day, I walk around the hotel property when I speak to guests in all the areas. First thing I do when I arrive in the mornings, is to go to the restaurant and check the services and chat with guests, then all the way to the beach, stopping at the swimming pool and at guest balconies.
I repeat the walk around lunch time, as well as before I leave in the evening around 6pm. When I return at night, I do another round. Apart from speaking with guests, I also speak with staff and get to check on their work.
On his view on technology overtaking luxury hospitality , with many hotels aiming for a competitive edge by introducing all the latest technological features
Technology has now become a very big part of our daily living, with almost all guests requiring Wifi, so we provide this free service in the hotel lobby. At almost any time, you will find guests on their mobile telephones, Ipads or androids. Satellite TV and sports channels are also common features.
On what plans on the table in terms of selling The Gambia as a tourist destination
As earlier indicated, as a major stakeholder we work hand in glove with the Gambia Tourism Board whose mandate is to market Destination Gambia.
A Tourism Marketing Committee (TMC) was put in place by the Ministry of Tourism to reinforce traditional source markets and look at the possibility of engaging new ones including the sub region – Nigeria in particular, as well as Italy, Russia, east Europe. We fully supports all the activities in promoting the Gambia by actively participating directly as well as materials presented. all the activities that I have touched on above, Gambia Hotel Association will be on board.
On where he relaxes if not in the hotel
For the last 21 years, I work almost every day when I am in Banjul unless I am away overseas. However I try to keep Sunday personal, and only visit the hotel briefly to see if there are any particular issues that require urgent attention and to quickly ensure that all staff are doing their work.
I would spend the day usually with my son, visiting my parents and going shopping with him then the afternoon at home with the rest of my family. Often we will go out for dinner at a local restaurant or my wife and daughter would make some special seafood dinner which is my favourite.
On his message to the hospitality industry about Gambia
Firstly, The Gambia has been known for its hospitality, gentleness, pleasant hotels from the top to budget ones and quiet beaches.
We have nice fashions, sumptuous Gambian cuisines, colourful and safe markets. Many thousands of Europeans flock to The Gambia with several flights daily from top tour operators that return many times to visit and enjoy these.