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‘Hospitality industry is picking up with the advent of the vaccines’

The hospitality industry was adversely affected by the outbreak of Covid-19. Taiwo Alli, executive director, corporate affairs, WEMPCO Group, owners of Lagos Oriental Hotel, tells Obinna Emelike in this interview that as more people take the vaccines, the fortune of the hospitality industry is gradually improving.

2020 was a remarkable year. Now that the worst of the pandemic seems over, what is the state of the hospitality industry and room occupancy? here is no doubt that 2020 was a peculiar experience for the global economy particularly because of Covid- 19. For most hotels, room occupancy rates drop drastically like a stone in the ocean. Other aspects of the business also suffered because of the lockdowns that were imposed by governments across the globe.

However, even before the vaccines became broad stream, things had generally started picking up as governments began to open up their economies slowly. Of course, with the approval of the vaccines across many countries, and as uptake continued to increase, things are looking better.

At present, room occupancy is much better for us at Lagos Oriental Hotel. We actually adopted strategies that somewhat insulated us from the worst of the pandemic induced downturn. Since we were able to read the trend early, we recalibrated our service offerings in such a way that our customers had greater value for money. So they have continued to patronize us.

So we did not feel the worst of the downturn. At present some group bookings have started to come in from local and international sources. We are also excited that weekend occupancy is steadily increasing.

What innovation ensured your survival?

The lockdowns that we experienced in 2020 impacted the economy as a whole, there is no question about that. Because the hospitality industry depends on the prosperity of the broader economy, many hotels were adversely impacted. Till date, the industry is still making frantic efforts to recover what was lost and there is no certainty about when there will be full recovery.

Even before Covid-19, we at Lagos Oriental have been particular about innovation, research and the prospect of trying out new things.

In the last one year, we developed a number of promotions and packages simultaneously not only to give our numerous customers variety of choices, but also to meet their changing needs, budgets and taste.

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For instance, we had the “Hello again” promo where we sold rooms for 50 percent off for Classic Standard, Classic Superior and Classic Deluxe room categories. And the most exciting one was the stay 2 nights and get 1 room night free on suites rooms, and then we had stay 3 room nights and get 1 room night free.

As expected the market warmed to these promotions as local and international customers have continued to request and sign up for the promotion. Even organisations have specifically keyed into the opportunity. We also had the special promotion for Valentine’s Day and other promotions.

As the economy continues to open up, there is the likelihood that more hotels will go the Lagos Oriental way and offer more value for services. And with the vaccine uptake increasingly, more corporates, groups and individuals are taking advantage of these services.

A lot of people still don’t understand the Lagos Oriental Hotel brand. Is it independent or branded and how do you rate the hotel? Who is really behind the hotel, in terms of ownership?

We are an independent brand and we have been rated as 5 star. Lagos Oriental Hotel is owned by the WEMPCO Group with 99 percent shareholding. The WEMPCO Group of Companies was founded over fifty (50) years ago by Mr. K. F. Tung, a businessman and entrepreneur.

Lagos Oriental Hotel is a flagship in the Nigerian hospitality business, but it is not a flagship of the WEMPCO Group. It is an investment made by the group in 2008, but not part of our core manufacturing business.

What are the unique selling points of Lagos Oriental Hotel?

There are no two hotels like Lagos Oriental Hotel in Lagos. This is as a result of many factors including our uniquely designed rooms and suites and their impressive sizes.

Our massive grand ballroom with 2 life-sized screens, rising and rotating stage, a crystal chandelier studded ballroom and spacious outdoor terraces are unique.

Beyond the physical infrastructure, the hotel has implemented strategies that deliver world-class customer service. Added to these, our unique location makes us the darling of customers who are either conducting business in Lagos (Victoria Island specifically) or looking to own office spaces in a location from, which they can easily navigate in and out of Victoria Island.

It is a good factor to have a good location as it attracts people from different walks of life. Water is therapeutic, so anybody sitting outside overlooking the lagoon is believed to be “relieved” of stress.

Bearing in mind that health and safety are priorities to guests, what safety measures has the hotel instituted?

Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, we have made it a point of duty to put health first. We adopted measures that ensure that the health and mental wellbeing of our customers is secure.

We operate a gym which promotes physical fitness. We designed the hotel in such a way that it is mentally suiting to visitors who may have traveled long distances. Beyond these we maintain high quality of hygiene in terms of the vicinity and food.

Therefore, when Covid-19 broke out we were ready. We simply installed thermal scanning equipment at all points of entry into the hotel and have continued to observe all the directives of the NCDC. Social distancing, placement of sanitizers all over the hotel and other measures were adopted to secure our clients.

What is your outlook for the hospitality industry in general going forward?

As things stand currently, the indices are looking up. We expect this to be sustained as the number of covid-19 cases and fatalities continue to drop.

However, hotels have to be vigilant and continue to maintain all preventive health measures. Customers have to also play their part as this is a collective fight. We expect a reasonable amount of normalcy to have returned to the hospitality industry in the 3rd- 4th quarter 2022 time frame.

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