Dewald Kruger is the General Manager, L’eola Hotel, managed by the South Africa-based Mantis Group.
The group recently signed a strategic partnership with one of the fastest growing hotel and travel operators worldwide, Accor Hotels.
In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, he shares his experience garnered over the past 30 years working in various departments in different hotels in South Africa and Nigeria.
The graduate of the famous Wits Hotel School, who has been in Nigeria for over four years managing hotels, concluded that Nigeria needs functional hotel school.
Here is an excerpt.
On how long he has been in the hotel industry
I have been in the industry for more than 30 years. I got involved in the industry because of my love for it. It is very satisfying to satisfy guests, attending to their stay and see to their relaxation.
It is always good to hear that the meal was good.
On wheter he started from the lower level
I did waiting job when I was younger before I decided to go to the Wits Hotel School in Johannesburg . The school is now part of the University of Jo’burg.
On the training at the school
I wish I could go back now, those days were very good days of our lives. You make friends and for me, it was an opportunity to learn new subjects as I did not take any of the hospitality subjects in school , so I was introduced to house-keeping, cooking, restaurant service and F& B.
On getting into the industry
I had always loved to be in personnel management, so I started studying personnel management while I was a consultant at an employment agency. Then you got to meet a lot of hoteliers because you carry out recruitment for them.
I just felt I needed to get into the industry and I went via restaurant into hotel and that is where the bug bites you.
On the journey so far
It has been satisfactory but frustration comes in when you cannot satisfy your guests, or your staff does not perform, or you have technical breakdown, especially here in Nigeria where you have infrastructure challenges. These are challenges that are not easy to solve.
On the difference in managing hotels in Nigeria and South Africa
One that really stands out is that South Africa does leisure tourism very well. It has natural beauty, so lots of travellers go there to see them. So we got lodgers in natural settings , we got high rise five-star luxury hotels . We get fresh produce, our meats, our fish, vegetables are fantastic.
We got skills, we really have many hotel schools. These three things make it very easy in South Africa, but the pleasure in Nigeria is the staff, they are hard working, honest and want to please.
There might be a little bit of push from behind because jobs are not easy to get, so they try to keep their jobs, which many people abuse by not treating them well, they don’t pay them well.
I think we have good remuneration for our staff at L’eloa, because if they are not happy, they are going to take it out on our guests and so you need to keep happy staff and we are happy to do it because we get that reward back.
I see my staff performing every day and from the guests’ comments on our reception, restaurant, rooms, house-keeping, it has been encouraging.
On skills development in Nigeria
I don’t think there is functional hotel school in Nigeria, we got some secondary schools offer one year course , but in the managerial skill , I don’t think they do good jobs.
Obviously, you need some interactions with international experience that you can bring back here, but we don’t see enough, so training is scarce.
Nigerians are good travellers, they love exotic destinations and they see what is served on the tables in Dubai, Hong-Kong, London, Paris and they want to see same here. They are demanding value for their money.
I think, hotel industry is human- based industry. You can’t mechanise bed-making or servicing meals or even checking in.
We do have applications that you can check in with, go to your room without seeing a person, but you can’t go to a vending machine and order your drink or food. So the human elements will always be there in hotel industry.
I think technology helps us to save time and to be more accurate.
On how to describe the hotel
Our hotel is not a resort or leisure hotel , it is not a spa hotel. We offer guests a personalised hospitality solution.
It is a calm hotel, with good enough space that offers dreamy spaces to relax and unwind.
We got three selling points, it is convenient, we are very well located, close to the airport. Second one is our services , which are our products we offer here, our amenities are supreme, and our food excellent.
The bed you sleep on and the food you eat are up to standard. Thirdly, we have the state-of-the-art technology to ensure reservations and check-out are hassle-free, and our in-room entertainment experience is world class.
We offer a complete experience, with sparkling new décor, improved and increased guest facilities, stand-out 4-way rim flow pool, and leisure areas.
On the hotel’s food
We offer cuisine to inspire and please the demanding food critique. We got one restaurant, we have full arrays of local dishes and we have good continental angle to it.
We have a good chef from South Africa who has been around for a long time. She has worked on many luxury ships. She has worked in Abuja and Lagos as well as Calabar.