CEM OPPINION, HOSPITALITY | Kofi Amoah is the CEO and Senior Managing Partner of Akwaaba Innovations Ltd, a brand under which he has consulted widely for the Nigerian tourism/hospitality industry.
He has over 20 years of experience in hotel management during which he has been involved in tactical, operational and strategic hotel operations.
He started his career as Associate Manager at Freedom Hotel, Ho, Ghana – a 79-bedroom hotel in 1996. He was Manager Milano Hotel, Kumasi, Ghana in 2000. His drive and tenacity brought him to Nigeria where he became the General Manager of Royal Marble Hotels and Casino, Benin City from 2007 to 2009.
Kofi, is a graduate of hotel, catering & Institutional Management from HO Polytechnic, Ghana. He also has B.Sc. in Business Management from Graduate School of Management (Cambridge Affiliated). He has attended a number of Trainings and Courses both home and abroad.
In this interview, Kofi’s knowledge of the Nigerian tourism and hospitality industries emanated profusely with a deep tone of passion for the industry and enthusiasm to make impact. EXCEPTS
HOW WILL YOU CLASSIFY THE NIGERIAN TOURISM INDUSTRY COMPERED TO GLOBALL STANDARD?
Without being economical about the facts on ground, I wouldn’t say we have tourism in Nigeria, yes, we have places that can be explored as tourism sites. There are so many factors that have rendered those sites inactive. The first is insecurity, for instance, roads leading to Ikogosi in Ekiti State and Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State are so scary. With this level of insecurity, who want to risk his life in the name of being a tourist?
Ikogosi is a warm spring resort. On invitation, I went there for a possible bid to take over the management of the place. After checking the parameters, nothing is attractive about the place. There is even no local exploration, local people and the State Government have not fully utilized the place enough to be able to attract outsiders; Nigerians and foreigners.
There is a resort of about 80 rooms there which obviously, is built for a certain class of people. That is one of the major defects in the place. If students that would probably have to travel for 5-6 hours need to visit the place, where will they stay? There should be a provision for a dormitory to accommodate at least 4 persons per room at an affordable rate.
THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN MORE HIT BY THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, IS THAT TRUE WITH NIGERIA AND WHAT DO YOU THINK NIGERIA SHOULD DO IN CASE OF ANOTHER PANDEMIC?
Is there any data from the government that spells out that the most hit is hospitality or aviation or other industry? It is data collection that can speak on either the revenue lost, salaries decline or other parameters.
I know that some hotels like Hilton had to lay-off staff, that’s an evidence for me. Up till now there is no statistical evidence to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian hospitality industry.
In reality, COVID came as a shock, no one anticipated it. Even the super powers suffered it greatly.
As to what we can do? We only need to learn from the experience of COVID and build on it. I would not say that Nigeria has the capacity to put all in place to tackle an epidemic of that nature.
HOW CAN THE NIGERIAN HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY BE GRADED?
Mariot is the number one global brand in hospitality. So if you can have that brand in Nigeria, then the country has come a long way as far as the industry is concerned.
FOREIGN OWNED VS LOCALLY OWNED HOTELS; WHICH ARE MORE EFFICIENTLY MANAGED AND WHICH OF THEM ARE MORE?
It is a mindset; it is a mix and I use myself as a case study. I was brought into the country in 2007 to come help manage a hotel. This is because hotel owners don’t trust Nigerians and are seen as without passion for the job. They are seen to have personal interest ahead of the growth of the hotel. This is true, I have managed a facility where top management are all connected with suppliers into the hotel.
I have come across a manager that once said that if you stay in a hotel for 2 years, you are not a good manager. For them, they have target, once they hit it, they move.
For that, some local hotels want to attach themselves to foreign brand for better management even though the foreign owned hotels still use local hands to manage their outfits; they can’t import every staff from outside the country.
By and large, locally owned hotels are more than foreign owned hotels. Even the ones seen as foreign owned are not wholly owned by them, it’s usually on franchise arrangements.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE FACING THE HOSPITALITY AS AN INDUSTRY?
Insecurity is the major. Others are high operational cost, lack of training manifesting in poor customer service. These are basically the major ones.
Some customers will not consider using your hotel if he is not assured of presence of armed police men or even army personnel. Hotels that don’t have required capacity conference centers are not patronized by event planners because moving from hotel to event venues is seen as a serious security risk.
Cost of energy is the main reason for the high cost of operation in hotel management coupled with poor infrastructure. Hotels run mostly on diesel fuelled generators which can be on for hours and days in the absence of grid power. This constitutes huge cost for hotel owners.
No enough manpower to drive the operations in hotels. In Ghana where I come from. At a point we had more vocational institutes than other institutions. There, young men and women are being trained either in catering, front desk, housekeeping and others, so that you have people that have developed the skills before they come into the industry. There they have opportunity to experiment what they learn while in the vocational Institute through industrial attachment.
That’s just the same way we have polytechnics in Nigeria today. In the case of Nigeria, there is less attention on monitoring to ensure that the students apply what they are learning while in school.
One other thing is motivation. I could have passion for the job, but something must drive the passion, which is my pay at the end of 30 days. If I am being paid 30,000, which is the minimum wage in Nigeria today, how do we make sure that the amount matches up with the kind of service I am expected to render.
Even some of the foreign hotels that come into the country these days just come and exploit our local hands and don’t even pay well.
Unfortunately, too, management of most hotels don’t want to invest their resources in building the Manpower to manage their facilities. When you send a proposal to a hotel for staff training, the hotel owner would ask you, is it not just customer service?
No, manpower training is not just about customer service; It’s about your maintenance culture, the kind of food you serve (continental dishes local dishes, sweets, desserts, starter and so many of them) and how you serve them. There are some hotels where breakfast lunch and dinner is buffet, in such a hotel, you need well trained man power to give the kind of services that match with what you are giving out.
In hotels invoicing, there is something that is called service charge, that is meant to motivate staff. A staff can be earning only 30,000 naira, but his package from service charge can be as much as two hundred thousand Naira. With this, he will know that if he works well and his services is been appreciated, he will earn more than his basic salary. In that case the staff is motivated to work better. Hilton does it, Mariot, Sheraton and a few others do it. Local brands don’t pay attention to such things at all, instead they want to have everything to themselves.
While there is low motivation on one side, unfortunately for us today, information technology has come to distract the passion personnel are supposed to put in their work. Sometimes you see people who were supposed to attend to their work engaged with their phones. All they’re doing are somethings not related to the job.
DO YOU THINK GOVERNMENT DEALINGS ARE ACTUALLY SUPPORTING THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY?
As a matter of fact, government is actually killing the industry in policies and direct patronage. A typical example is gateway Hotel, Ogun State. That hotel died because of improper management. It was a case where politicians go into the hotel, lodge, used services and refuse to pay even though it is a state-owned hotel. The hotel was later concessioned to Park Inn Hotel to revived it.
That kind of practice cannot sustain the industry and that is what is affecting it. The government is supposed to set up agencies to regulate and monitor the hotel industry. For instance, there are supposed to be grades and standards established to enable the industry to run properly. There is a standard for front desk, for any hotel, there are standard sizes of room and bathrooms.
There are different things that are supposed to be put in place. Now these standards were supposed to be set and passed on to prospective hoteliers. But currently in Nigeria, if those standards exist, they are not followed, probably because those in charge are easily compromised or those standards are never taken seriously.
IN SPITE OF ALL THESE CHALLENGES, HOTELS STILL SPRING UP EVERY NOW AND THEN. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT THAT?
Well, I call it a misguided priority. As much as they are springing up, they are also dying off. I always tell my clients that crowd does not translate to profit. Some people go into hotel business because they see other people do it, some of them are not even making profit.
Most people that come into the hotel business are less informed about standards and procedures. That’s why you see some designs that within 2-3 years have become outdated. Those are the kind of people that contract a plumber with a room and parlour experience to handle a 20-room hotel. The hotel owner will surely run into problem.
I have always advised those that still want to come into the industry to seek professional advice. For example, I will not advise somebody to build 50-room hotel and be running at 20% occupancy. I would prefer that I build a 20-room hotel and have 70% occupancy. That is what will drive the next level of expansion.