By Emma Amaize
PORT HARCOURT—SOME weeks ago, I travelled from Asaba in Delta State, the Regional Head-quarters of my company, Vanguard newspapers in the Niger Delta region to Rivers State on an official assignment.
Frankly, I really wanted to give myself a rest and so, when my Acting Editor, Mr. Eze Anaba, knowing the importance of my trip approved three days, I told him that I required up to one week to carry out the assignment.
He knew I was fatigued and actually wanted to take some rest. In fact, I had overworked myself for months and the result the week after when I attended an anti-corruption workshop by Justice 4 All, J4A, at Enugu, I developed a neck and muscular spasm, which I am still battling. I must commend my doctor, Dr. Dike Okwelum, who after the x-ray has been following up to ensure that the physiotherapist does his part for me to return to work in the next one week.
My Acting Editor is clearly not unfamiliar with Port Harcourt sseing the way he described the Treasure Base of the Nation, but I decided to explore myself by trying to guage the veracity of public opinion regarding a standard hotel with first-class security to relax my bones. The hotel in question is Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt. Who owns Hotel Presidential? I asked. Some simply did not know the owner and were not bothered about that.
All they were after was the service the hotel rendered, but I later found out it is owned by Rivers and Bayelsa State governments. That really puzzled me: I cannot fathom any business jointly owned by any state government, not to talk of two state governments that are doing well in the country. In fact, many states and federal governments were divesting from business.
However, my guide replied: “No, it is on concession by the two state governments to hotel management experts, including Lebanese and Scottish businessmen, who got Americans and people from other other countries to manage the place and report to the two state governments.”
No wonder, I exclaimed, but it was still a doubting Thomas that drove to Hotel Presidential to find out if really the taste of the pudding is in the eating. From the security post, I noticed some organization and looking at the imposing structure; I started to envision why it is the happening place in Rivers State.
Indeed, it was home to celebrities, but I do not want to intrude on the privacy of the big shots I saw there, especially a popular Port-Harcourt pastor that walked with measured steps for two nights when I saw him returning to relax himself after probably doing the work of his master.
Meeting Mr. Salim Chidiac
However, I did not need a guide to know the place is not for the underprivileged. I sought to meet the man in charge at the alluring holiday home built many years ago.
A self-effacing and good-humoured man, who offered me a bottle of chilled beer, which I politely rejected, told me: “My name is Salim Chidiac. I am the managing director of this place.”
I did not wait for him to land when I asked him why his place was a home to celebrities. He chuckled: “Celebrities, yea, we have a lot of people that come to wind down here, including top officials of companies within and outside Port Harcourt.”
He added: “Well, celebrities we have some like if they are staying in Rivers State, they prefer to come here because of the facilities and the security. We have the most secured place in Rivers State and we have variety of food, entertainment, a night club, two bars. Yeah, that is it.”
Is that just the reason? I asked. The general manager, Joseph Rennie, interjected: “No, there are many reasons, it is not just one reason, I told you about our facilities and also we are renovating, we have new rooms, we have consistent electrical power, air conditioners, hot water system, everything is consistent.
“If you come here, you can stay three days without going out. I tell you that even if you do not go out, you will be okay, and not feel bored. Then, what did I miss? Our rooms are good. We are affordable, we are not expensive. I think that is it.”
Sorry, it’s not for the poor
Apparently guessing the weird look on my face, Chidiac quickly added: “Although, it is sad but the poor do not have the privilege to come to this hotel. Not just this hotel. It is sad, really sad.”
However, he stated: “Well, it is affordable to the middle class, to the business community. We are a business destination, not a tourist destination. Although tourism is not very active in Nigeria and it’s almost for the business community. So, for the business community, we are affordable. The poor, unfortunately, I do not know. I do not know what else to tell you.”
Not one of the best, it’s the best
Pulling his leg, the reporter asserted: I understand that Hotel Presidential is one of the best in Rivers State? Chidiac countered: “No, no, no,it is not one of the best, it is the best and that is why you see everyone coming here, ranging from politicians to business men to executives of oil companies. If you have been here three days, you would see a lot of people here. They all feel safe. Of course, we have police security, we have 24-hour cameras looking everywhere, and we also have our checkpoints.”
What is the competition like with other hotels, looking at cost of the rooms and food? He said: “We can compete due to our price and good security, which I told you. To be honest with you, the most important thing in Rivers State is security and variety.
Okay, we have the security and variety, but we do not rely only on that. We have many outlets, we have many type of foods, places where you can enjoy yourself. It costs money and the economy is not very good, but we do not want to compromise our standard because we know that things will get better later.”
Is he bragging when he says that kidnappers have not breached security in the hotel, the managing director replied: “I can tell you that it has not been breached. I will not reveal all the security we have here, but everybody knows that this is the most secured hotel in Port Harcourt. Oh, I forgot to add that we have a gym, a table tennis court and a big pool, where people can do their sporting activities everyday and that is part of our advantage.
“It is owned by Rivers and Bayelsa states. We have it on concession So, if we lose, we lose. We pay whatever we have to pay for the year, but I suppose we have not had a major complaint and I think this is the only government hotel that is still offering such a level service in Nigeria, not private and still owned by the people of the states. If it is owned by the government, but still owned by the people, it is not owned by me, no one particular person, it belongs to the state, so we create jobs for the people of state. We have over 500 families feeding from this hotel.
“We are continuing our renovation plans. We want to change everything in the hotel to make it bigger and better. Everything brand new, all our air conditioners brand new, pipes are brand new, our rooms are brand new. We are competing and you know, in hotels, you always have to re-renovate and when you finish renovating, you have to start again.
”Although, the economy is really bad now and there is no inflow of business, we have to spend; we are not stopping our expenditure. We have to spend to keep people coming here.
”On a weekly basis, every weekend, we have a band that plays. In the dry season we have a nice barbecue stand around the pool every Saturday. So, weekends are mostly what we have here.
”The club is open every day and we have many bars, we have two bars that people can go to and relax after their hectic day, we cannot make it noisy because people come there to rest after their working day, so that is it.