‘We need intervention fund with single digit interest rate from government to sustain hospitality industry recovery’
Despite a spate of changes in its management in recent times, Ibom Hotel & Golf Resort still stands out as a choice destination for leisure seekers, business travelers, premium sports enthusiasts and MICE. In this interview, Brian Efa, general manager of the aptly best resort in the South South zone, speaks to Obinna Emelike on improvements on service delivery, facilities, impact of the pandemic among other issues.
Congratulations once again on your new appointment. How has it been since you took over the management of the resort in terms of patronage, facility upgrade, menu and service?
Incidentally, I became general manager on February 12, 2020, and shortly, the lockdown started. So, it has been like that and the hotel has been closed with only skeletal services. However, prior to February, I worked as the director of finance since 2018. The hotel saw a boast in patronage around half year 2018 when guest confidence was restored and has been on a steady increase till the lockdown period. Hotel average room rate (ARR), revenue per available room (REVPAR) and gross operating profit (GOP) were on steady increase before the lockdown.
There has also been some improvement on the physical infrastructure. The cooling system was improved with the purchase of four new chiller plants, a new 1500KVA generator was installed, and there were improvements on the landscaping, among other critical areas of the hotel’s operation.
Bearing in mind that the resort was once managed by Le Meridien, how have you been able to maintain and improve on standards?
When Marriott, which managed the hotel under the Le Meridien brand left, they did not leave with the staff. Only two people left. Some of these staff have been with the hotel for over one decade. So, they still understand what quality services are. As management, it was our strategy to adopt some good standards operated by the former management, as well as, improving on a lot. We have brought in a lot of improvements in service standard since Marriott left.
What are the innovations you brought since you took over the management of the resort?
The advent of Covid-19 has brought about various changes in the way we deliver our services, not just for Ibom Hotel but also for the entire industry. Consequently, we deployed the use of technology to communicate guest complains and request to various departments and this can be tracked by management.
Of course, golf is your major offering, how is it doing, are there innovations and new appeals?
For the golf course at Ibom Hotel, we are unarguably the best in West Africa, no wonder we won the Best Sports Hotel in West Africa. We have also lined up tournaments all-round the year although these were truncated by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Has the emergence of Ibom Air impacted on patronage in any way?
Sure! Ibom Air is a major boast for hotel business in Akwa Ibom State. Since emergence of the airline, our occupancy rate increased by 18.5 percent month-on-month.
How are you managing staff to ensure constant quality delivery?
At Ibom Hotel, we operate a full department for training with a training manager. The training manager accesses the training needs and organizes necessary trainings to fill the gaps.
Therefore, we are constantly ensuring that we keep our quality afloat, so we continue to maintain our service standards.
What are your official and personal targets for the resort?
Our desire is to make Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort a destination not just a hotel. We are planning to upgrade our facilities to include a standard training pitch for football clubs. This will provide a camping ground for national and international camping for football clubs. We are also looking at a children playground with complete set of items to provide adequate facilities for family outing and vacation.
How has the covid-19 impacted the resort and the Nigerian hospitality industry at large?
This is common knowledge. The industry has been greatly affected. Remember that if there are no travels, hotel cannot make business. Since April this year, local and international travel has been restricted and people locked in their homes for close to three months. The hotel business went down completely with zero revenue posted. At the moment, and with the economy gradually opening, we cannot boast of 10 percent occupancy.
Do you think the second half of 2020 will be better for the industry than the first half and why?
Not too sure because there are still fears. We are a conference hotel, and technology took the centerstage during the lockdown, and so people are not travelling that much for business meeting and conferences again. Also, people do not trust that the hotels are safe. As well, hotels have to spend a lot more to put in place safety measures in order to guarantee and assure the guest of their safety. In summary, it is not going to be a bumper season for the hotel business.
Do you see recovery soon and what measures should governments and hoteliers put in place to boost the industry recovery?
Recovery will not be that soon. At the moment, people are afraid to travel outside their homes. Only essential trips are taken. To sustain the industry, we will need intervention funding from government with single digit interest rate and two years moratorium.
Why should guests visit the resort now and what incentives are you offering them?
As international airspace is closed, Ibom Hotel offers alternative. We have the ambience, space, expertise and quality. We have improved on the hygiene of the facility and observed all WHO/NCDC protocol for Covid-19.