Mr. Olalekan Olalemi, Principal Consultant/Chief Executive Officer of Pholax Hospitality, hotel management company, in this interview with SAMSON ECHENIM, describes the hospitality industry as the best layman gauge for measuring recession and submits that the country may not have been out of recession yet.
On assessment of the hotel industry in Nigeria
Right now, if we look at it in the Nigerian context, we can say that we are still growing, because we are not there yet. A number of hotels in the country can claim to be five-star, but I don’t think they are there, in terms of facilities and services rendered.
Yes, a few have something close to five-star facilities, but while using their services as a guest, one quickly finds out that they do not render five-star services yet. A couple of hotels now have expatriates as staff, but this is also one area that has begun to bring a new problem to the industry.
On the effect of the economy on the hospitality industry
It is really impacting negatively on business, the economy keeps going down. The government recently claimed that we are out of recession, but we are really not yet. The simple way to know that we are still not fine yet, is to realise that not many foreigners come around.
In hotel of this standard (Banex), in one month, we would hardly receive a foreign guest.
They are still scared of bringing in new investments to the country. Before now, they were trooping in daily for business or seminars in Lagos, Port Harcourt or religious engagements and other purposes.
Again, we can hardly get 30 to 40 per cent occupancy, compared to between 70 and 90 per cent that we were recording before early 2015. Interestingly, we present a clear layman’s way of assessing an economy, because, we are the ones receiving the foreigners/ investors once they leave the airport after they arrive in the country.
On effects of hoteliers preferring foreign managers and consultants in hotel management
Yes, most Nigerian hotels prefer engaging foreign consultants and managers, such as Protea, Marriott and Hilton, among others. We have good local consultants and managers, but hotel owners are not willing to engage local managers, may be, because they feel that can earn them a big name and a high standard.
We have Nanet as the most popular local brand, but it is not growing as the foreign brands are doing in the country.
Unfortunately, this is leading to billions of naira in capital flight annually and it is very bad for a developing country like ours to lose such huge amount as capital flight to countries that are already developed.
Actually, there’s nothing these foreign brands are doing that we cannot do. Thank God, this is not much a technology-driven industry; it is about rendering of services and being creative. The technology angle of it is the area of facilities. Hospitality is mainly about services.
Now, a number of hotels are engaging foreigners as Guest Service Agents (front desk officers), but that is going too far. You can see now that in some of big hotels, you find Chinese as GSAs, but they cannot even speak English as we do.
What expertise are they bringing in? What does a front desk officer do, other than to receive bookings, receive the guests and check them in; document their details and check them out when they are leaving, using the help of a hotel services software? The percentage of expatriates working in Nigerian hotels is around six per cent, but where the problem is really, is that they are heavily paid.
In most cases, they are overpaid and the weight of their payment is felt by the local staff who must now receive very small salary, because the hotel has paid so much to the expatriates.
On how payment of staff affect standard of a hotel
In every industry, payment of workers is a major determinant of motivation and the more workers are motivated, the more productivity they are likely to yield. In this industry, ownership always wants to maximise profit, which ought to be, but in most cases, this goal is overshot, leading to little salary, with the staff looking for other means to help themselves. This leads to pilferage and other forms of stealing. When staff is paid well, they will be happy and this has the good impact of improving on their happiness and approach to service and to guests.
This is very important in the industry. Hotels owned and managed by one-man and not branded are big offenders here and this lowers their standard of service. Unfortunately, this class of hotels constitutes about 90 per cent of hotels in the country.