Travel & Tourism

April 21, 2022

Nigeria remains key focus for Radisson Hotel expansion in Africa – Van Der Merwe

Nigeria remains key focus for Radisson Hotel expansion in Africa – Van Der Merwe

Radisson is an upscale hotel brand that offers Scandinavian inspired hospitality, which enables guests to find more harmony in their travel experience.

With natural surroundings and unexpected delights, Radisson inspires the art of being in the moment and is committed to helping guests find the right balance for their stay

Today, it has become a household name in hospitality management in Nigeria with many hotels under the Radisson Hotel Group’s brand.

One of the properties under the group in the country is Radisson Hotel Lagos Ikeja, owned by Avalon Intercontinental Nigeria Limited.

The General Manager of the hotel, Thys Van Der Merwe, in this interview, shares his experience managing the hotel and the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the hospitality industry among other issues.

Here is an excerpt by JIMOH BABATUNDE

On his journey into the hospitality industry

When I was a police officer, I was invited by one of my friends to a property called the Mandela rose place hotel, which was actually opened by former South African President Nelson Mandela.

So he asked me to observe the security, and give my input on the property and security systems among other things, that was how I got into hospitality.

The General Manager offered me the position of a security manager. So I worked myself up in that position, learning from all the different departments, meetings, and revenues later I became an uprising manager. And then I got posted between different properties as uprising manager too, to look at the different properties, how we operate, how we run and then I got employed by Radisson hotel group three years after.

So you came into the hospitality business by chance

A bit of that I guess but I would say the crux of the matter is, I love working with people, it is in many ways my purpose to find myself continuing in the path of service to many people.

That is why I am where I am today, simply because I love working with people, experiencing different cultures and individuals and I am enjoying every moment.

On having formal training or certification in the hospitality sector

Training for the hospitality sector is quite diverse. Whilst I do have formal degrees in Health and Safety also one in Human Resources, I do not like to limit skill sets to possessing a formal degree alone. In this sector, basic skills which include communication and ways to effectively interact with hotel guests are key and often, you do not find all of these skills amongst those with all the formal qualifications alone, so I tend to look out for both.

That said, at Radisson Hotel Group (RHG), our people are our biggest asset. Our hotel group continuously put in significant efforts to implement a robust training programme modelled to motivate, develop and connect our teams with the overall RHG business purpose thus, irrespective of formal or informal certification, we effectively equip you to function in your role adequately.

The essential for us is to ensure every team member communicates, connects and learns and we are seeing the results. Recently in 2021, Radisson Hotel Group ranked fourth in Forbes Best Employer ranking in the Travel & Leisure industry, globally.

On the challenges

There will always be challenges. I mean, every day is a new challenge in any company or business that you have but you must overcome every one of them through optimism and positivity.

For us, we have learned especially in recent times to become more flexible and to make quick but quality decisions as we look ahead to the future.

I must also add that in any role, your success is hugely dependent on the support you have around you, also if that support is consistent.

Our property owner in Nigeria, Avalon Intercontinental Limited, must receive this accolade on this alongside Radisson Hotel Group of course.

The hotel owner, Avalon, is fearless in their approach and looks after us very well. If they haven’t made it welcoming for me on the job then I cannot function adequately in my role.

My team also make the bulk of the work look easy. I truly must say that I have the best team at this hotel. It isn’t just what every GM would say. I really, truly mean it. They are strong individuals who can swiftly adapt, respond and implement guest protocols and measures that keep us moving ahead seamlessly.

On his experience at Radisson Hotel Ikeja

I have been here for three years and the experience has been fabulous. When I came here three years ago, Avalon intercontinental was refurbishing the property as one of the newest properties of the Radisson Group in Nigeria.

As you know, we have different properties so, the owners, Avalon intercontinental Limited made this property functional in its design and upscale in style and comfort, all in line with an international taste.

On his aspirations for Radisson Hotel Ikeja

Our hotel is an upscale brand offering the best services in hospitality, which enables our guests to find harmony in their travel experience, with natural surroundings and unexpected delights. We simply hope to continue to inspire the art of being in the moment.

We are committed to helping our guests find the right balance for their stay, removing the discomforts travelling may bring and enabling them to switch off and relax, whilst expressing our, Yes I Can! service attitude to ensure the satisfaction of every guest.

As I mentioned to you earlier on, we cater for and have a personal attraction for every guest that walks into this hotel.

It is important to us that we sustain the business and give our guests special moments that keep them coming back.

It is a home away from home feeling that we provide for every guest with a very personal touch. Many of our guests are regulars who gladly come back because we are passionate in all we do and forward-thinking in our approach to responding to their every need.

My team is at the core of this hotel’s success and the goal is to continuously equip them with learning opportunities and customized training programs that see them through from induction to leadership roles. We look after our team because if we do, they will take care of our guests. This is very important to us.

On the regularity of staff training

Avalon Intercontinental Nigeria Limited ensure a continuous run of training schedules throughout the year. We have training managers that carry out these programs on monthly basis. Training is always ongoing across all levels and our team must continue to positively absorb all. With Radisson Hotel Group, training is also constant. We have the Radisson Academy which takes care of all development processes for each employee from day one.

On his management style

My management style is an open-door policy. I speak to every staff and tell them that if they have any issues they can always come to the general manager.

Whilst I keep checks and balances in place with HODs and Managers, It is important you have good communication and rapport with your team and also meet guests one-on-one either when checking in or checking out.

On what guests should expect checking into the hotel

Nothing but the finest. Everything is delightful as we will look after you with the utmost warmth and care. If there is anything that you need, let us know and we will do all we can to accommodate or provide it.

On how Covid-19 has changed the way hospitality business is run

Indeed Covid-19 had some adverse effects on the performance and stability of the hospitality industry, but we are glad that the industry is now in recovery and looking ahead with optimism.

For us as a global and leading hotel brand, the lockdown period allowed us to develop more effective strategies for the future.

We have become more flexible as I earlier mentioned and make quick decisions as we look ahead to the future and remind ourselves that the hospitality industry will come back stronger than ever.

We are fortunate that as a hotel group and before the pandemic, we went through a complete diagnostic of the company worldwide in 2017, and we put together a 5year plan with 29 concrete initiatives.

We took on significant investments, new brand architecture, new IT systems, new revenue management systems, and launched our new loyalty program.

Importantly, during the pandemic, we kicked into action, with the launch of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol in May 2020. A program of in-depth cleanliness, disinfection, and prevention procedures, was developed in partnership with SGS.

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, testing, verification and certification company, and has validated the implementation of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol at all Radisson Hotels around the world.

The Safety Protocol is a program of in-depth cleanliness, disinfection, and prevention procedures which includes 20 Steps and an additional 10-Step protocol for Meetings & Events.

Whilst every day may bring a new challenge, the pandemic has highlighted for us, the importance of communication with our guests, team members and partners. Being able to adapt, respond and implement measures swiftly is key for us in moving forward.

The owner of the property, Avalon Intercontinental invested good money to make sure our guests and customers are safe and we also made revenue during the period as we had some guests isolated here.

Throughout the pandemic, we tried to give our guests peace of mind when they choose our hotel for their travel, by prioritizing our messages to include information on the new in-hotel cleaning standards and health and safety protocols (developed in partnership with SGS), along with communicating the latest flexible booking and cancellation policies amongst many other key messages.

On the contribution of Radisson Hotel Lagos Ikeja to its community and the hospitality industry in Nigeria

Radisson Hotel Group believes in a thriving, sustainable, and responsible business that supports our people, communities and the planet with ethical business procedures, sustainability practices, and employability programs to build better futures.

RHG has a strong responsible business heritage and sustainability program in place, which is built around three Pillars: Think People, Think Community and Think Planet, and includes a comprehensive range of initiatives.

Locally, we continue in our acts of generosity by supporting children’s homes through a global partnership initiative currently active.

We are a trusted employer of labour with a staff strength running into a hundred plus. Our doors remain open to hospitality training organisations seeking partnership opportunities for the young ones hoping to learn real-life experiences in growing their career within the sector. With total commitment, we continue to do our bit to add value in every way we can.

On the assessment of the hospitality sector in Nigeria

Hospitality and business forecasts show that Nigeria is expected to remain one of the fastest-growing markets in Africa. For Radisson Hotel Group, Nigeria is a key focus for expansion in our development strategy for Africa.

Nigeria continues to grow in affluence and the hospitality sector is expected to grow alongside it. With the business sector already thriving here, as a hotel, we are experiencing an increase in the demand for leisure travel as more guests seek to experience the local culture.

On how he unwinds

During my three years of staying here in Nigeria, I have met so many lovely people and guests. Some of them have become friends and they invite me to hang out with them and even to their homes at weekends whenever I am off duty. I gladly accept their invitation. I go there to unwind and relax. Often, I eat jollof rice, which is a favourite of mine, but I like it with lime flavoured fish and pepper mix.