When she was appointed the Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Apex Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute and Personnel Services Regulatory Agency in Nigeria, the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), many were like asking who is Mrs. Chika Balogun?
Having spent about three years in the saddle , Vanguard went after her to ask what has been accomplished in these three years and the challenges. Jimoh Babatunde presents an excerpt from the interview with Mrs. Chika Balogun, who believes in growth through technology driven approach to drive the institute.
On the journey so far Well. I think it is always a privilege to service in whatever capacity, either at the level of our family or national . Any seat is hot and the hottest seat is that of being called a mummy, because the weight of that title is very tough.
If you are blessed to have gone through the route of being a mummy , it makes this type of job less daunting.
It has not been absolutely smooth ride, but if I were to aggregate the time spent here, the value, the work that has been put in, the work from my team, the work from the stakeholders, the support we have gotten from the staff and the stakeholders in general. I will say it has been a very pleasant time that I have spent here.
On the milestone achievements in terms of the institute mandate
Our mandate here is to develop capacity within the hospitality and tourism industry, to train, to make people get better skills, add on skills, life long skills and also to regulate the quality of services and personnel within the hospitality and tourism industry.
When I first came on board , the mandate steered me in the face and reality of what we were doing at the time also stared me in the face. I realised that there was no need complaining and we went to work with a very good team , so it is not my achievements, the milestone achievements are not personal to me. It is a team work, we have all worked collectively to arrive at what ever milestone we talk about now.
One of them is getting approval to be a training centre for the National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF) levels 1 – 6. I think we are actually the first approved for hospitality and tourism by the National Board For Technical Education.
After that ,we were also appointed the Sector Skills Council for the Hospitality and Tourism (HOTOUR) in Nigeria. We don’t run the council by ourselves, we run it with the biggest players in the industry, after the National Occupational Standards level 1-3, because there are up to level 6 in the entire framework, but levels 1-3 were validated by the council, which became the mandatory benchmark for training in Nigeria within the hospitality and tourism industry.
We were also able to host joint convocation ceremony of our past students, so NIHOTOUR Alumni association has been formed. This will further help our graduates tap into the huge resource available within this network.
We have also partnered with the Association for Business Executives. They are one of the biggest hospitality training institute in the world. They are in UK. So, come this September all things being equal, we should start running the ABE diploma as well.
But, some people still want training done the way they understand it, so for that reason NIHOTOUR as a national body will still try to deliver as many different programs as long as they are qualitative training programs in hospitality and tourism industry, hence our partnership with ABE. We are currently undergoing their train the trainers’ programs , so that my staff are able to deliver their quality of training as well.
It is a modular thing , so you keep adding until you get to your BSC in hospitality and tourism management if you so desire.
We are also looking at one or two other opportunities in that regards, we have also been able to do quite a lot of staff training . It is still ongoing for instance, the National Occupational Standards has to start in September.
There might not be that much difference, but even if it is 5% difference from what we usually did, it means that my staff must completely understand the NOS for the hospitality and tourism industry.
So we are having that training going on now and we also have partnership with another group training us on food safety and hygiene.
It is a company licensed out of America. We have signed an MOU with them. This month, I think the first training for the first batch of my staff will come up, possibly in Bayelsa state . Individual will be certified as food and safety officers.
That particular company has an MOU with the ministry of Health, so it is a national thing and we are proud to be part of that movement.
It will also help us when they come to the aspect of health and hygiene training. Now we will have more to offer to our students in that regards.
We have also through the quality delivered by our staff got the award for the best the International Air Transport Association (IATA) training school in Africa 2015 and this is no mean feat as international body IATA cant be influenced. It speaks on the kind of efforts the staff and students put in . So, we are proud of our staff and students.
On tourism training advocacy
Also, we moved out of our comfort zone, I believe tourism is community and private sector driven thing , so the community is not at the federal level, but the state level and tourism assets are owned by states and not the federal and we decided to speak to state governments.
The greatest challenge we found about from security has to do with the quality of service we deliver and yes NIHOTOUR has a lot of work to do in that area, but we need to get the states and the industry to understand the relevance of training .
You could have the best of professors from Harvard sitting down in NIHOTOUR ready to train and nobody comes in because they think it is expensive, or saying why should I pay N10 to train when I am going to learn how to lay a bed, but there is art to laying a bed . It is like parking a car in UK or US, you must pass the test before you are certified.
Same thing for house keeping, we all make our beds , yes, but in terms of someone coming to pay you to sleep on that bed, then there is more to it. But most of us don’t see it that way because money is involved.
NIHOTOUR is trying to bridge the gap to make our partners and stakeholders to realize that yet you have built beautiful property but they will fall apart in five , six or seven years if you don’t maintain the quality of service that you deliver.
A big hotel opened two years ago, but we know what happened, as staff were going in and out. This thing should not happen.
On why it is difficult to set standard in the industry
I think it is a function of understanding , because I am very sure that if everyone clearly understands that the quality of service they deliver directly affects the bottom line of their businesses as tourism and hospitality is service driven industry, they will pay attention to standards.
I am happy that the industry is very supportive of the institute and we are talking , I still believe there are some grey areas, but I have a very strong feelings that in the next year and half , this question will not come up again as we are all beginning to agree that this the problem and the only way to address it is to train.
Your training does not need to be at NIHOTOUR, there are few other training schools , go there and get your staff train. Though, we want you come to us for training, but if everyone wants to come here, we cant accommodate all, so there is no point being selfish about it. There are other training schools.
We regulate these schools as well, so a few of them are good. They might be small, but they will take the capacity they can take. So my plea with the industry will be to train and train.
On the state of the school campuses, particularly Lagos
I am not sure I can answer why it is so. it is possible restriction with allocation would have played a factor. But there is no point even wondering why. I will take responsibility .
So, we have not done well as we should have done , even if I met it so, government is a continuum, so I will still take responsibility that we have not done as well as we should have done , but we have realized that this has adversely affected us, our image and brand.