Mr Richard Robaix is the General manager of the Farmington Hotel, a new luxury hotel located on the banks of the Farmington River, less than 100 metres from Roberts International Airport near Monrovia, Liberia.
The graduate of the famous Hotel School of Glion France started his professional, career in Benin Sheraton Hotel, Republic of Benin in 1982 and since then, he has worked at Novotel Cayenne, French Guyana; Kairaba Beach Hotel, Gambia; Eko Hotel (Le Meridian), Ibis Hotel, Lagos; Novotel Accra, Ghana; Sofitel Cairo Maadi, Egypt among other hotels before berthing at Farmington Hotel.
In this interview, he talks about the hospitality industry, the tourism industry in Liberia and concluding that there are opportunities for Nigerian investors in Liberia.
On how he entered the hotel industry
When I was a young man, I was always helping friends to organise parties and so on. When I got my French Baccalaureate, I decided to join a Swiss Hotel School. Then I started to travel as per the contracts I was getting.
I have wide experience travelling around as I worked for international branded hotels. I worked in Europe, Africa, Middle East and South America as well as on Cruise ships in Far East, Caribbean, Northern Europe and Middle East. I travelled a lot.
On his professional qualification for the post
I graduated from the Hotel School and from there I started my career as a Food and Beverage Controller. Step by step, I climbed up and finally in 2013, I was appointed GM for the first time.
I always say that if I have to choose again, I will choose the same job. I love my job, I like it, I am passionate about it.
You meet different people, you meet different customers, you deal with different staff, you need to train the staff. What I love in the sector is that you can use your abilities to train people about different brands. Each brand is different, but I don’t believe in the fact that to smile, you must belong to five stars or two stars. Any star you need to smile, you need to welcome customers.
On whether he had to face challenges in his career to get to where he is today
In life, everyone faces challenges and you have to overcome those by your ability to sustain the pressure, to sustain the hard work and so on.
After I left Nigeria, I was posted for four years to the Republic of Benin. The biggest challenge there was the struggle with the various unions. Another challenge was to get customers as the country was facing some economic issues. With the team, we really worked hard and succeeded to keep the hotels working and performing.
We had as well to face the lack of electricity from the Electric Company. Benin was not accustomed to power shortages by then.
On how long he has worked for Farmington Hotel in Liberia
I have been in Monrovia, Liberia for six months now. I came for the official opening of the hotel. In May ending and beginning of June, the hotel hosted the ECOWAS summit which was held in Liberia for the first time. I joined after that and we kept the hotel open and running.
On his hopes and aspirations for the hotel
The hotel is a 5-star hotel of 164 rooms. The largest hotel in Liberia as the nearest to us has only 100 rooms. We have the largest conference hall in the country with 500 Sq meters and no pillar in the middle.
We are located right across the airport and we are aiming to host the airlines crew as well as hosting the large-scale residential seminars to be hosted in Liberia. With three swimming pools overlooking the Farmington River, we say proudly that we have the only infinity pool in the country.
If he has much say in the direction of the hotel
For sure, with the help of my team which is quite international, we decide on the various actions to be taken to be successful in terms of marketing or entertainments.
If the hotel has given him new challenges in management
For sure, I am a man who loves challenges and the Farmington Hotel is a great challenge for us all. We have located 60km away from Monrovia so the biggest challenge is to drag the customers from Monrovia to this place and to give them the best service they can get with a lot of entertainment.
On the occupancy rate in the hotel and the services on offer
We are running at a rate of 20 per cent for the moment and we are targeting 40 per cent occupancy. We offer all services a 5-star hotel can afford. Pool bar and restaurant, lounge bar, international a la carte restaurant, room service, car rental, ATM, massage, fitness centre among others.
On highlights working in the hotel
Just recently, the inauguration ceremony of the new President, H.E. George Weah attracted many heads of state to the country. We hosted six of them, plus three vice- presidents and some high dignitaries. For four days, the hotel was fully occupied.
If he has time during the day to connect with guests
This is compulsory. Part of the job of a GM of a hotel is to interact with the customers. You get to know their needs and you can immediately satisfy them. I make it a point to talk to all the customers at least once during their stay.
On use of technology in the hospitality industry
We are in the modern age as well in Liberia and we have to adapt to the new technologies. All our rooms are equipped with electronic locks, individual safe in each room, WIFI all over the hotel. Once you log in, no need to log in again for the rest of your stay.
On where he relaxes if not in the hotel in Liberia
Liberia is an interesting country and many things to be seen around the countryside or by the sea. Not far from the hotel, about two hours drive away, we have Kpatawee waterfalls.
You have a lot of private owned resorts by the beach. There is even an ecolodge called Libasa ecolodge in between the river and the sea with large swimming pool. Close to the hotel you have a Monkey Island Center where they take care of chimpanzees which were used in the 90’s for biomedical research and a chimpanzee’s orphanage where regularly, baby chimps are sent as the parents are killed.
His message to the hospitality industry
Come and invest in Liberia as the country lacks hotels. The industry also needs more catering and hospitality schools so that we can have professionals to deal with.