Benedicta Ogar is a renowned hospitality expert and Lead Consultant at CityBee Hospitality Limited. With extensive experience in various aspects of hospitality, including business services, project management, recruitment, and training, she has built a strong personal brand. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on challenges and prospects in the hospitality sector and how she is contributing in the growth of the sector.
Why did you choose to go into the hospitality business? Was this something you have always longed to do from young age?
Although my passion for the hospitality industry wasn’t a lifelong dream, a visit to the Obudu Cattle Ranch, where my mother worked, had a transformative effect on me and ignited my love for hospitality. The welcoming and caring atmosphere, combined with the staff’s dedication to creating memorable experiences, left a profound impact. It was at that moment I realized the extraordinary potential of hospitality to foster connections with people and create meaningful, positive impacts on their lives.
Prior to this eye-opening experience, I had contemplated pursuing a career in law, a path that even my teachers considered ideal for me. However, the visit to the Obudu Cattle Ranch revealed the alignment of my personal values with the essence of hospitality. I recognized that this industry would allow me to blend my love for connecting with others, attention to detail, and genuine desire to make a difference.
Since then, I have wholeheartedly embraced the hospitality business, immersing myself in knowledge and expertise to contribute to its growth and success. My journey is driven by a genuine passion for creating exceptional experiences for both staff and guests. I am wholeheartedly committed to making a positive impact in this dynamic industry.
I see you have an extensive experience in various aspects of hospitality, including business services, project management, recruitment, and training, have built a strong personal brand. How did you gather this wealth of experience and how has the journey been so far?
My journey in the hospitality industry has been a result of seizing opportunities, pursuing education, and embracing challenges, all of which have contributed to shaping my diverse experience and establishing a strong personal brand.
It all began when an opportunity to study abroad arose, and I decided to pursue my Post-Graduate studies at the Swiss Hotel Management School in Switzerland. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of my journey in hospitality.
To expand my skills and broaden my perspective, I took part in a management training program at the Sequoia Lodge in Disneyland Paris, which was a requirement of the school. The hands-on experience gained during this time was invaluable, providing me with insights into operational management, sales, and customer service within a renowned international hospitality setting.
Continuing my commitment to lifelong learning, I pursued additional courses at The International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas. I obtained certifications from the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute and other reputable certification bodies, enhancing my credibility and proficiency in various aspects of the industry.
Undoubtedly, this journey has come with its share of challenges. The hospitality industry demands resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to navigate complex situations. However, these hurdles have played a crucial role in my personal and professional growth.
Throughout this extensive journey, I have developed a deep appreciation for the dynamic nature of the hospitality industry. The diverse roles I have undertaken, from being an On-Site Hotel Manager to managing the pre-opening of different hospitality projects, recruitment, training, and consulting, have provided me with a holistic understanding of the industry’s intricacies and the importance of a multifaceted skill set.
The experience has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. I have had the privilege of working alongside talented individuals, collaborating on exciting projects, and witnessing the positive impact we can make on guests’ experiences. I am grateful for the experiences that have shaped me into the hospitality professional I am today and eagerly look forward to further contributing to this dynamic industry.
You have certifications from hospitality institutions from across the world. How would you compare hospitality business and the profession in Nigeria to other countries?
Nigeria, a vibrant and diverse country with a rich cultural heritage, presents a unique and promising opportunity for the hospitality industry. However, it is important to acknowledge that the Nigerian hospitality sector may face certain challenges in comparison to more developed markets.
Infrastructure, such as reliable power supply and transportation systems, can sometimes pose hurdles for the industry. Additionally, the availability of skilled professionals and access to advanced technology may vary when compared to countries with well-established hospitality sectors.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian hospitality industry is rapidly evolving and holds tremendous potential for growth. The increasing influx of investments in hotels, resorts, restaurants, and other hospitality establishments serves as evidence of this. Nigerian hospitality professionals have proven themselves to be resilient, adaptable, and resourceful, often finding innovative solutions to overcome obstacles.
Furthermore, the local market in Nigeria presents unique opportunities for hospitality professionals to capitalize on. The country’s flourishing tourism sector, with its diverse attractions, cultural festivals, and business opportunities, offers exciting prospects for growth and development.
As the industry continues to evolve and thrive, it will undoubtedly make significant contributions to Nigeria’s economic growth and enhance the country’s reputation as a premier hospitality destination in Africa.
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What are the challenges of hospitality businesses in Nigeria and how can they be tackled?
The hospitality businesses in Nigeria face several challenges that need to be addressed in order to foster growth and success:
Infrastructure: Inadequate power supply, transportation systems, and limited access to reliable water and internet services pose significant obstacles for hospitality businesses. These issues not only hinder smooth operations but also consume a substantial portion of revenue. To mitigate this, there should be a focus on investing in infrastructure through public-private partnerships and government initiatives.
Skilled Workforce: The scarcity of trained and skilled professionals in the hospitality industry makes it challenging for businesses to maintain high service standards and deliver exceptional guest experiences. Collaboration with educational institutions and vocational training centers can help develop a skilled workforce. Additionally, providing ongoing training and professional development opportunities for existing staff can enhance their skills and competencies.
Security Concerns: Safety and security issues can negatively impact the perception of Nigeria as a desirable hospitality destination and deter tourists. Collaboration with local law enforcement agencies and private security firms can help implement effective security measures, such as surveillance systems, trained security personnel, and comprehensive safety protocols.
Regulatory Environment: Complex regulations, licensing requirements, and bureaucratic processes create barriers for hospitality businesses. Engaging with government agencies and industry associations to streamline regulatory processes, simplify licensing procedures, and ensure transparency can facilitate ease of doing business.
To tackle these challenges, the following strategies can be implemented:
• Investment in infrastructure to improve power supply, transportation networks, and internet connectivity.
• Collaborations with educational institutions and vocational training centers for developing a skilled workforce.
• Collaboration with security agencies to implement effective security measures.
• Advocacy for simplified regulatory processes and transparency.
• Robust marketing and branding efforts to promote the unique offerings of the Nigerian hospitality industry, attracting more visitors and increasing tourism inflow.
Through collaborative efforts, the hospitality industry in Nigeria can overcome these challenges and thrive, contributing to the growth of the sector and the overall economy.
You have a Bachelor’s degree in French. Does your French speaking ability give you an advantage in practicing the profession?
Undoubtedly, my proficiency in French provides me with a significant advantage. Throughout my training in France, it played a crucial role in effectively communicating with French-speaking guests and establishing strong connections with them. Moreover, my language skills allow me to navigate cultural nuances, further enhancing guest experiences.
Additionally, my proficiency in French opens up exciting prospects for expanding my professional opportunities in French-speaking regions. Should I choose to pursue such avenues, my language abilities would serve as a valuable asset, enabling me to connect with local communities, collaborate effectively with colleagues, and understand the unique intricacies of the region.
Could you mention some notable projects you have been involved in and what were your contributions to them?
I have been involved in a number of Hospitality projects here and this includes:
• Metro Apartments: Pre-opening Consultant, promoted to Chief Executive Officer
• Angle Villa: Pre-opening, staffing, training and general management
• The Nook Hotel: Pre-opening management
• ROMA Lounge: Pre-opening Management
• ILE Eros: Staffing and training.
• Kohinoor: Pre-opening management
• Circa Non-Pareil: Staffing
• Monty Suites Lekki: Consulting and procurement.
Nigeria is still a developing country with lot of people still unemployed, do you think hotels and resort businesses are thriving in Nigeria, especially considering the low purchasing power of people?
Despite being a developing country with a significant unemployment rate, hotels and resort businesses in Nigeria are indeed thriving. These establishments cater to a diverse range of customers, including domestic and international visitors. While the purchasing power of some individuals may be relatively low, there is still a considerable market segment that values and seeks out quality hospitality experiences and they are willing to pay for it. Additionally, the growth of tourism in Nigeria presents opportunities for hotels and resorts to attract visitors and contribute to the country’s economic development.
Tourism and hospitality business go together. Nigeria is yet to really grow its tourism destinations. How does this affect patronage for lounges, apartments and hotels?
The limited investment in tourism destinations in Nigeria directly impacts patronage for hospitality businesses. The lack of accessible and attractive tourist sites in the country reduces the number of tourists we attract, resulting in a decreased demand for accommodations, food and beverage, and local travel services. This can lead to lower occupancy rates and potentially affect the overall revenue and profitability of hospitality establishments. However, this situation also presents an opportunity for businesses to focus on attracting local customers and catering to other segments like business travelers or events and conferences. By promoting domestic tourism and enhancing Nigeria’s tourism offerings, we can stimulate patronage for hospitality businesses and drive their success.
Have you considered training people in this field? Any plans to open training institutions to hone people’s skills in hospitality business?
Absolutely! As a dedicated hospitality professional, I have wholeheartedly invested in the progress and development of the Nigerian Hospitality Industry, including the training and professional growth of hospitality staff. In fact, I am currently in the process of establishing a specialized vocational training center that will focus on equipping individuals with the necessary skills and expertise in various aspects of the hospitality business. Our comprehensive programs will cover key areas such as Front Office Operations, Food and Beverage Service Operations, Housekeeping, as well as Management and Leadership. By providing hands-on training and fostering continuous professional development, my aim is to make a significant contribution to the advancement of hospitality professionals and meet the industry’s demand for highly skilled and knowledgeable staff. Together, we can drive the growth and success of the Nigerian hospitality sector.
What is the next big thing for Benedicta Ogar?
The notion of a “Next Big Thing” does not resonate with my personal philosophy. Instead, I firmly believe in embracing every step of my journey with enthusiasm and dedicating myself to continuous growth as both an individual and a professional. Rather than fixating on a specific “next big thing,” my focus remains on consistently learning, improving, and seizing opportunities as they arise. I approach each day with gratitude, dedication, and a firm commitment to personal and professional development, knowing that this mindset will lead me to fulfilling experiences and noteworthy accomplishments along the way.