• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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‘It is very much our aim, and still is, to grow the Radisson brand globally as quickly as possible’

‘It is very much our aim, and still is, to grow the Radisson brand globally as quickly as possible’

Having successfully led Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa as regional director, Bert Fol was recently appointed by Radisson Hotel Group as the new regional director for Africa, focusing on English-speaking Africa.

Fol, a hospitality veteran with over 30 years experience across some of the largest global hotel chains, was in Lagos recently and he unveiled to Obinna Emelike in this interview his strategy for the new role, Radisson expansion plans in Nigeria and Africa, focus on Africa, relationship with owners and investors, hotel industry dynamics, amid other related issues.


What does your new role as regional director for Africa, focusing on English-speaking Africa, entails?

First, I am delighted to return to Nigeria. I was responsible for Nigeria in an earlier life as the regional director for Northern Africa in 2017, which was basically from Nigeria across Kenya to the north. It was a short adventure before I moved on to the Middle East; the Arabian Peninsula along with East Africa.

So, I have maintained throughout a vast majority of my Radisson career, thankfully, a connection with Africa.

Now I have taken over really all of non French-speaking Africa. So, it covers from Nigeria to South Africa and most of the countries surrounding South and East Africa.

So, it is a great pleasure to be back in Nigeria and back in Lagos and to see really that the business is coming back strongly in Nigeria and that our hotels, through difficult times over the last two years, have managed to perform so well. Thanks to the excellent partners that we have in Nigeria and to our dedicated and passionate teams in the hotels. I want to thank our owners and teams for managing to get through the pandemic in such a positive start.

What are your expectations in the new role?

I am not going to do things differently because we did extremely well before. So, I am going to consolidate on the success we have, which has been very considerable, and learn, as I said, as a fresh pair of fresh eyes coming in, to share best practices in other areas. One of the very important things in our industry is to have a balance across what you want to achieve and that means we are looking after our guests to the best of our ability, looking after our employees to the best of our ability and we are looking after our owners with the best financial returns we can do. The balancing across these three, without going too far or one way is my focus.

What innovations are you bringing to the table with your new position?

I don’t want to blow my trumpet too much, but I think that anyone coming into a new role brings a fresh pair of new eyes and that is extremely important.

I have been lucky in my career to work in many countries and that has given me exposures. Also, working with different hotel brands has given me exposure to see how things are done differently. One of the fundamental things I can do in my role is to share best practice. If something works well in one country, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work well in another, but there may be a good reason to try it. So, sharing my experience of work in other countries is what I will be doing and sharing best practice not just from my experience but from the region that I am managing. No matter what company you are working for or how many countries you are looking across, some will perform well in some particular aspects of the management of the hotel and others will excel in different aspects, and trying to understand why that is and sharing it among other hotels to level everyone up, will be part of my role.

Do you foresee challenges in the new role?

I have a lot more cautious optimism than concern about challenges. In a number of countries, inflation is a challenge for us, the increase in cost is a challenge and in order to maintain profitability and deliver the returns that our owners expect, that is something we need to manage. But that is not different to working in many other countries or many other situations. The great thing about the hotel industry is that you have a number of different challenges and that is why it is enjoyable.

What are the major highlights of Radisson Hotel Group in Africa?

Africa is a tremendous focus for us within the company and that is not a surprise for anyone who knows the history of Radisson in Africa.

We now have 100 hotels in Africa, either in operation or in the pipeline. These are confirmed signed deals. It is our ambition and aim to increase that to 150 hotels both in operation and in the pipeline by 2025.

More specifically looking at Nigeria, this is a tremendous focus country, one of our four focus countries in Africa and that is not surprising given that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa.

Read also: ‘Beyond being the fastest growing hotel brand in Africa, we aim to be the global market leader’

It is our aim in Nigeria to more than double our portfolio and presence in the country by 2025 and I am extremely confident that we will do that. We already have in the pipeline of four new hotels that we plan to open within the next three years and we are constantly looking for new partners and hotels that we will be able to manage going forward in the future.

How many years did it take Radisson to get its 100 hotels in Africa?

We have been operating in Africa for about 14 years, so it is around that 14 years. But what we have seen in recent years is that the growth, if not exponential, has been accelerated.

So, we are seeing a much faster expansion within Africa in the last five or six years. If it is 100 hotels now, it will be 150 by 2025, and 200 by 2030 across Africa.

But the growth will be dependent on many factors. One thing we saw during the pandemic was a real slow down in the development of hotels within Africa and even more so within Europe. A lot of the growth depends on market conditions. But I think investment is now very much back at the forefront of people’s minds, and projects are coming back a lot more quickly. We are a management company, we are not building hotels. So, in order to get that growth, we rely very much on partners and investors building hotels and agreeing for us to manage them.

In your opinion, what factors do you think are responsible for the fast growth in Africa?

I think it is a reflection of two things.

Firstly, it is the growth in hotel development in Africa, and the other is the fact that we have prioritise our management portfolio in Africa and Radisson, in general, has been the fastest growing hotel company, even if you look at Europe, now Radisson is the largest upper upper scale brand within Europe.

So, it is very much our aim and still is to grow the Radisson brand globally as quickly as possible.

What is responsible for the growth in the Nigerian market in the last four to five years?

We manage hotels, we don’t build hotels and we don’t own hotels. So, we rely on investors in any market to build hotels they want international operators to manage. The really nice thing for Radisson is seeing how many owners have confidence in our management abilities, particularly in Africa because we have been fortunate enough, all through our own, diverse or probably a combination of the two to secure more contracts in recent years. But that all stems from the fact that our owners and investors first have to decide to build hotels and they want an international operator to manage the hotels for them. You probably know why investors are building hotels and looking for international operators to manage them, but for us, it is good news.

Why are African investors choosing Radisson more than other managers for their hotels?

In my own opinion on why investors will choose Radisson and it is not just Radisson Blu, it is the diverse offerings.

We have six very distinct brands that cover all the key market segments and that is our strength. So, if an investor is looking to Radisson, then they can choose from the portfolio of brands to suit their hotel, which they can do with other hotels as well. But we have a proven track record, a flexibility in working with investors that makes us attractive and a proven track record of delivering results across the key performance indicators; whether it is profitability of the hotel, which is driven by efficiency, securing above market share in our market, or to get satisfaction underpin with our ‘Yes I Can’ philosophy. These are what make Radisson different.

What lessons did Radisson Hotel Group learn from the pandemic?

Yes, we learnt a lot of lessons from Covid-19, which also reinforced some of our philosophies within the company. One of the lessons learnt is that you have to be able to adapt very quickly. Our approach when the pandemic started was, firstly to ensure the safety and security of our guests. We did that through partnering with a global firm called SGS, and communicating very clearly the measures that we were taking to ensure the safety of our guests and our employees.

But in answer to your question, I think it is our flexibility. Two years ago, nobody envisaged that the pandemic was coming and when it started a lot of people thought it would finish in three months, six months or latest by the end of the year, but that wasn’t the case.

So, it was about putting together a pragmatic set of measures very quickly as in how we are going to deal with it both in managing the financial results of the hotels and dealing with our guests, who are the most important aspect of our business. We were after what the concerns and requirements of our guests would be and making sure that they were duly communicated.

So, it is not rocket science, but basic common sense to understand what the issues of the day are, and have a very clear plan to communicate that clearly.

Which of your brands do you think is the most preferred in Nigeria?

We are focusing on all the six of our brands within Africa. We have three brands present in Nigeria, but if you look at the whole of Africa, we have every brand present and we are going to continue to develop, implement and introduce more brands within Nigeria including Radisson Collection.

How does star rating impact guests’ choice of hotel?

I don’t know how important star rating is in Nigeria. I think they have less importance in other countries I have worked in. It is less important for many guests and for many international brands. Travellers will rely on the brand and not question the star rating. We have Radisson Collection, which is our entry level luxury brand, we have Radisson Blu, which is our upper upper scale brand, Radisson is our upscale brand, and so on. I don’t think for most travellers that star rating is the most important thing because it varies from country to country.

If you stay in a five-star hotel in London and you are given more than a 22 square metre room, you are extremely lucky or you are in a very expensive five-star. Again, the range within this star rating is tremendous and that is why most international travellers and guests will rely much more on the brands than star rating.