interviewBy Solomon Nda-Isaiah
Group Managing Director, Nanet Suites Ltd, Ini Akpabio, is also the National President, Hospitality and Tourism Management Association of Nigeria. In this interview with SOLOMON NDA-ISAIAH, he speaks on the challenges facing the hospitality and tourism sectors, and calls for professionals to administer them to ensure efficient management. He also speaks his firm's attractive services to customers.
Some hoteliers have been complaining that the cost of tariff in Abuja hotels are so high; why is this so?
Let's talk about Abuja but it is also relevant to other states. Tourism products are expensive generally and particularly in Abuja because of so many factors.The tourism industry does not exist in isolation; it depends on other sectors of the economy. Nigeria is an import-driven society because a lot of items that we use in the hospitality business are imported and they are expensive. If you have a hotel that has a lift or elevator, that is an imported item with imported parts.
It also runs on electricity; thus, by the time you factor in electricity cost, the cost of getting and maintaining a generator that can make the lift work, buy diesel and some other factors, you will see that it is very expensive. If power in Nigeria was constant, all hotels, even with the other tariffs that we have to pay as hoteliers, will be able to make some good profits. The epileptic nature of power in Nigeria is such that it will wreck your equipment, reduce their life span, disrupt your business when you least expect it.
That is why cost of tariff in a city like Abuja when you go to hotels is very high. I happen to be a main player in the Abuja hotel business and I would like to say that Abuja hotels have been getting discount for some time now; it is now that they advertise tariffs that people get to pay. In the hotel tariffs, four days of the week are paid for while the remaining three days are not paid for because the town is deserted; when you average it, the tariff is lower.
Another factor is that, over the years, there is more influx of hotels in this city; so it has reduced the tariff rates as well. Even the five star hotels are doing are doing a lot o ill. So I want to correct the impression that the hotel tariffs in Abuja are high. If you look at the type of hotels we have and the services people enjoy, you can see that the tariffs are even lower.
The tariffs have been coming down, but when you say that the tariffs are high, it is because there are so many factors that are beyond our control, such as infrastructural facilities that make it impossible for us to further reduce the tariff.
The Abuja carnival is done every year, but is not as celebrated as the Calabar Carnival; why is this so?
We are sad that government has decided to play games with an event as important at the Abuja Carnival. I say this because if you look at the Calabar Carnival, it is driven mostly by the government, and since the seat of government in Nigeria is located in Abuja, it should have been able to drive the Abuja Carnival to better that of Calabar Carnival. When the concept of Abuja was conceived it was done on a wrong premise.
If we want to reposition the Abuja Carnival, the first thing to do is to take if from the government. It is just to limit their involvement and then bring in credible, private sector partners. When that is done, we will see the type of carnival that we desire. The carnival is suffering the same limitations that affect most of our governmental projects. Last year, I was a part of the carnival committee. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism got the money for the carnival just a week of the carnival. Secondlythe budget the ministry proposed was slashed to about 25 per cent of what they proposed.
So, on that kind of foundation, it is impossible to deliver the proper type of carnival. So, a carnival needs proper and timely funding. It needs a whole year's preparation; all of these factors have been absent in the Abuja carnival. The government which is the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has not also done well in the sense that they would have structured the carnival in way that makes it possible for private sector sponsors to come in.
As it is that has not been possible. Once you bring in good sponsors, things will go well because there is a lot to be gained from the carnival. An example is the Calabar Carnival: when I was there last year, the children's train was sponsored by Dangote Goods.
They did that because it was a marketing strategy for them. They valued it because of what they would gain from it, so they sponsored it. It is not the same with the Abuja Carnival. If we could restructure the carnival to bring in private sector and sponsors then we can have a befitting carnival.
What measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of tourists and guests in the face of the present security challenges?
Starting from April 2011, the security situation in the country was heightened. From that period, we have suffered from security breaches. We in the hotel industry were severely affected such that we have lost as much as 50 per cent of our income and that has made us reposition ourselves in security matters. In the first place, we no longer have many people patronising us as before, so we need people to first come before we can speak on what security measures to put in place.
For example, at our hotel in Kaduna State, once there is any rumour of any crisis, there will be cancellations of weddings, meetings and events that were supposed to hold in the hotel. So, we cannot even tell that it will still be safe in the hotel. Most hotels have installed CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television) cameras. Another thing we use are body scanners; you can find such in some of the Abuja hotels. So this is what we put in place to make our guests feel safe.
Most hotels scan the cars that come into their premises; some have two gates for double checking and so on. We have sent our staff on training and we have integrated our customers to be security alert. In addition to that, we also work with security agents and they have been very helpful. So these are some of the things we put in place to ensure the safety of everyone. In the past, Nigerians were too liberal, but now things are different.
How do you think the tourism industry in Nigeria has impacted positively on the society and what is the relationship between Nollywood and Nanet Suites?
I would say that the answer is yes and no: yes, because in Nigeria the fastest growing sector is the hospitality sector; in every town there is a proliferation of hotels, eateries, night clubs all over the country. We sometimes forget that they are part of the tourism industry. In Abuja, because there are so many hotels, more people are employed and then the prices for hotel rooms are crashing, it is the same thing in Calabar and other parts of Nigeria. In that capacity, the hotel industry is playing a prominent role. On the other hand, tourism is a bit different from hospitality.
Tourism involves other people from other countries coming into our country. In Nigerian people do not come here for tourism; thhey come mainly for business; we can call that business tourism. So, we still have a whole lot to do to bring people into our country for tourism itself. We have so many factors limiting tourism here; one is we do have the proper persons in government offices that can drive tourism. We have had so many ministers that have absolutely no background, no knowledge of tourism, forced on the tourism ministry.
Many of these people manning the tourism parastatals at the federal and state levels do not have any idea of tourism. I know positions that are manned by medical personel, journalists and others who are not trained in the tourism sector. So until we take this sector seriously and allow professionals to handle the tourism industry, we will continue to have problems. Tourism means a lot if things, but in a simple form, it means managing your city, state or country in a way that people will like to come and spend money there.
How can you have tourists when you do not have roads, airports with lights or clean environment? You cannot talk about tourism when the power supply is epileptic; you cannot talk tourism when you do not have any developed tourist site, be it man-made or natural. Tourism involves a lot of things. For example, in Calabar, they keep the streets clean; they make their roundabouts beautiful; they created the Tinapa Resort; they come up with events like the Calabar Carnival to attract people. These are things we must do. Private sector and the government must work together in partnership. Even if a private organisation wants to create such tourist sites, they still need good roads provided by the governments.
So this is why government must come into tourism. As regards Nollywood and Nanet relationship it has been going on for a while. We have hosted so many Nollywood actors and actresses; we even have a lounge dedicated to them. People like Zack Orji, Patience Ozokwor, RMD, Kate Henshaw and many more have been here. What we decided to do was to align with the movie sector.
The movie sector has been a good ambassador of Nigeria in the world map. In the past, it used to be the football industry but unfortunately the football industry has failed us in recent times. So the movie industry has taken that position. When we host the actors and actresses in a two-day event, they interact with people, so people get to know them more in real time. In our Nollywood Lounge is like a tourist destination because different expatriates come in to know more about the Nollywood industry. It has become like a Nollywood museum for tourists.
We don't just have their pictures, we have their biographies so you an know more about them. We have done a lot for the actors and actresses as well; we have certain discounts for those in the movie industry. So I believe it is a partnership that works well.
Tell us what this promo is all about; is it just like what the telecom companies are doing?
I would say that Nanet Hotels Limited is the largest indigenous hotel in the country; as such we have the responsibility to pioneer certain events. For you to run a promo where you give out cars, plasma TV, generators and other items, you either have a very big hotel or you need to run a lot of hotels because it is expensive.
We are using this promo to tell our customers 'thank you' and tell them that we want them to continue with us. We will be giving out brand new cars, generators, plasma TV and other items. When our customers check into the hotel, we give them a raffle draw; this raffle draw will hold every four months for the next two years.
You can also go to our eateries, night clubs and restaurants affiliated with us and get a raffle ticket as well.This promo helps us to be at par with other players in this industry, just as the GSM operators have been giving out prizes to their customers. We hope that other hotel groups will do same for their customers.
There has been some talk that the quality of services in the hotels has been going down; what can you say about this?
The services are going down but other sectors in the country are as also going down: educational standard is falling, the roads are getting worse, power sector is pitiful. So to address the issue, we have to start at the foundation. We have been asking our government to put in more so that our institutions can turn out graduates that are professional in the tourism sector. We have polytechnic and universities that bring out half-baked graduates.
A lot of infrastructural facilities are not available to teach them properly. In Akwa Ibom State, we are looking at bringing up a world-class hospitality training centre, not only in Nigeria but in the west African sub-region. So we need more government investments in this sector. On our part, we train our staff so they can deliver as professionals. Nanet Suites also has books on improving yourself in the hospitality business; so these are things we hope will contribute to improving this sector.
Another factor is that there are certain agencies involved in tourism that should be manned by professionals, like the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). It is the job of NTDC to give guidelines on how hotels should practise so that those that are not trained in the hospitality business will not come in to mess things up, but the NTDC is not doing its job.
Many of those who invest in the hotels are from other professions but they should not be allowed to run the hotels. These are some of the problems that have contributed in lowering the quality of services in the hotels. When professionals come into government parastatals to manage the hospitality and tourism sector, then things can improve.