• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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At Transcorp Hilton, we are driven by excellence, enterprise and the desire to satisfy our clients – Olusola

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Dupe Olusola, managing director of Transcorp Hilton Abuja, in this interview with JOHN OSADOLOR, CYNTHIA EGBOBOH, and SANDRA OGEDENGBE, spoke on the role played by the tourism and hospitality industry in the nation’s building; the contribution of Transcorp to the nation’s economy; her management style and strategy, and why Transcorp Hotels is a go-to place in the industry. Excerpts:

With the current economic weather in Nigeria, what would you say is the role of tourism and hospitality sector in driving economic growth?

From the hospitality perspective, sitting here, our focus is just to do our part, and ensure that we continue to contribute to what is required to develop our country’s economic growth. This means that we must continue to speak, continue to challenge ourselves daily, to do our part and be committed to doing well for our country.

What is Transcorp doing to promote economic development in Nigeria?

I think that the first thing is that we are employing people regularly. You know, when business is good, we employ more people. We’re constantly employing people; we’ve seen the hardship in the country. So, we’re also very mindful that we are employers of labour, but also that we reward this labour. So, we also re-evaluate and look at the salaries that people are paid. And that is important so that we can support people, and reduce the hardship they are going through. Through that, they also can have a better life, as they come to the office to serve people that come to the hotel.

Read also: Transcorp Group grows profit to N30.2bn

We’re also very focused on what we call our localisation strategy. Before now, you will see that a lot of amenities and things at the hotel, even food, were imported. Before now, we import guests amenities, some food stuffs, and meat. We don’t do that again. So, as much as possible, we look for where we can get local supplies from different farmers and different vendors. We have also put some processes in place that encourage them to bring in their products to us. We encourage smallholder farmers to make sure that once they produce to a certain degree, we act as off-takers.

As you may be aware, we are a quoted company. So, we are listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and anything that we do, as long as we make profits, it also means that we’re able to return dividends to all our stakeholders. So, in a way, we are also contributing to the growth of Nigeria as well. We’re a Nigerian-owned company and because we are a Nigerian-owned company, we believe in making sure that we’re impacting the lives of Nigerians, and continuing to change and deliver on economic development.

Read also: Transcorp Hotels’ finance income jumps nine-fold in one year

Transcorp Hilton is also part of a wider group. The Transcorp Group is a diversified conglomerate that invested in not just hospitality, but also in power, energy, and oil and gas. Across the board, we ensure that our motto of ensuring excellence, execution, and enterprise is important. What we want to do is continue to change and impact lives, and that is the fundamental of our existence.

Furthermore, we believe also in giving back to the communities that we have invested in. We do that in Abuja, we do that in Ughelli, we do that in Afan in River State, where we’re also located. We recently acquired AEDC, which is an electricity distribution company (DisCo). We are distribution of last mile to homes. In every area where we invest, we ensure that we’re looking at how we deliver on excellence and changing the narratives of Nigeria. We will continue to ensure that we deliver economic growth for Nigeria as a whole. So, starting from employment and then giving back, we have remained committed to ensuring that we are doing all we can to lift lives.

Transcorp Hotels ended 2023 as the best-performing stock on the NGX. The Company also ended the year with several awards. How has Transcorp Hotels Plc been able to maintain its leadership in the industry?

Honestly, I think what sets us apart is our mindset, and it’s a mindset of excellence. It’s the mindset of execution and what we call enterprise which is ownership mentality. At the foundation of all that we do, is having an out-of-the-box thinking approach. We push ourselves constantly, you know, we never just say, we’re the best, so let’s just continue. You know, yesterday I sent a message to my team. And I said, ‘who is having an event in XYZ Suites? Go and find out why they are not coming to us.’ So, we want to take feedback. If someone comes here, one individual, one guest that comes and complains about something, we take that feedback seriously, it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying in a standard room, or a presidential suite, every guest matters to us. So, we’re so critical about the experience that we give. You know, for us now and knowing what is happening in the economy, how difficult money is, it means that everybody that chooses to come and stay with us, or chooses to spend money with us, we must deliver excellent value for every kobo that you’re spending with us. So, if my security gives you a bad experience it is important to me to take feedback, and make sure that we do better. So, I’m the leader, and I’m the representative of the organization. But it doesn’t just come from me alone. Every single person in this organisation has the same mentality and mindset. So, this year, we started with our strategy session and in that strategy session, we’re saying what are the important priorities for us this year? My staff have written all the things that we must achieve. So, we will meet regularly to see how we are doing. How did we do last month?

So, our mindset is just what the differentiator is and then everything else is now built on top of that. For us at Transcorp Hotels, we’re not sitting down to say oh we’ve achieved, we did a 1,600percent increase on our share price, we should just go to sleep, our revenue last year was XY billion naira we should just go to sleep, and our profit was X.Y billion naira, so we should just go to sleep. No. It’s about how we are going to stretch ourselves to do more, and grow and expand. So, this year, one of our key focuses, in addition to our existing business, we want to do more and do better.

We’re building our Event Centre, it’s a 5000-capacity events center. When you look at Africa, and you see across the different African countries, people are taking business to Ghana, to Rwanda, to Kenya, why not Nigeria? We are the giants of Africa. Yes, the government is doing a lot which goes back to infrastructure, addressing insecurity and all of these things. If in our areas, we play our role, then, eventually, when they mentioned Kenya and Rwanda, they will also mention Nigeria. So, that is what we are trying to do. Our Event Centre is key, we would, by the grace of God, take off soon. The dates have extended beyond what we had hoped for, we had hoped that in May, this year, we would have started having events there. So, you know, this year, we will be launching our Event Centre in the second quarter. Ikoyi Transcorp Hotels, in Lagos is also a key priority as well. It has 315 rooms. And it’s something that we’re working on.

But our plan is just to continue to ensure that we can grow and expand within this hotel in Abuja. With the Event Centre space, and the hospitality sector in Lagos, we just want to expand and grow. We’ve done well here and we know that we can do a lot more across Nigeria. We also want to grow across Africa. We have invested in our asset-light strategy called Aural by Transcorp, which means that for people like yourself, that own homes, whether in the city, in the village or anywhere, you can call me and say we have this family home, or this flat, I want to list it on your platform. Meaning that when people are coming in, and they want to go to Anambra or they want to go to Enugu, they can just go online and check to find the property. My budget is this one, and immediately be able to pay and the owners of the property make money. So, it’s really about just continuing to develop this industry. The industry is here to stay. You know, if you look at economies across the world, their mainstay is tourism. If you go to places like Greece, once the weather is not good, they shut down. Once the weather is good again, they do everything, to bring tourists in, to bring in money to the economy. And everything they do, they build around that. They will invest in farming because you must feed guests. They will buy boats because you want to go out and see what they have in their country. Nigeria is blessed. We’re blessed with natural resources. We don’t even have natural disasters. So, it’s time for our leaders and for all of us to wake up and believe in our country. We must walk the talk.

So, let’s bring it down to you, how has it been like leading in this Group?

It’s been exciting. You know, it’s been really exciting. I became CEO at the onset of the COVID pandemic. In March, 2020, can you imagine leading the hospitality business at that time? So, it’s been, really, really exciting, exciting because I’ve had to use the opportunity to learn, you know, a leader, someone who leads in the middle of a crisis becomes more strengthened.

But not just because it is the middle of a crisis, but it’s surrounding yourself with people who believe in the vision, and believe in where you need to get to, and then all come together and say, what do we do? I was interviewing someone recently, that became a CEO, same time as me of a hospitality business in Papua New Guinea. And he said they shut down. So I said, if you look back now, what would you have done differently? This is what we did, we’re asking ourselves questions every day, what can we do differently, people are not going to come and stay because we had space, we had over 600 rooms, and people were not coming to stay in the rooms. At one point, I think we had 5percent occupancy, meaning we had less than 10-20 people staying at this hotel. And we had to run the boiler, run the chillers, run everything, buy diesel, and do all of those things. So, we have to constantly, daily, think outside –of- the- box. So, for me, that’s why I say it was exciting, because I learned more about my leadership capability, and about the importance of having the right team in place and that it’s important to surround yourself with people who are even more intelligent than you. This is because they’re the ones that will give ideas and say, let’s do this, let’s try this, and let’s do this. You also need executors, people who believe in the vision, and will just run and implement. So, for me, it is four years, this March and It’s been exciting. I have grown, I have learned to adapt, and I have learned that nothing is impossible. I have learned that we can do anything. And there are pockets of us, across Nigeria in different sectors in the private sector. And it just takes the right leadership, the right mindset, and the right belief, to know that we can do it. So, on one hand, it’s scary. But on the other hand, it is also about, you have to wake up and be thankful. And just know that today is a gift. What are you going to do with that gift of today? Oh, looking for opportunities, identifying opportunities, translating those opportunities, you know, to something for you as an individual, to something for you as a family member, for your business. You know, so I’m excited about 2024. And I’m hopeful.

You’re a serial award winner; how does it make you feel and how do you respond to that?

I think, on one hand, it feels great. On the other hand, I think it’s important that it doesn’t get to one’s head. This is because if you do the job, not for the award, and you keep doing it. I think that’s the most important thing. It’s about the focus to just keep doing it and not to get carried away and distracted by the awards. You know, for me, the most important thing is that I have good health, I have people around me, I have people that believe in me. I have people that challenge me, I have people that tell me the truth daily. They can choose to be somewhere else, but they believe in the vision that we want to achieve. And every day, if we continue to do that, we’re confident that the awards will keep coming. I don’t think any of us talked about what award we want to get this year. So, it’s a byproduct of what we do and I think that’s the key.

Aside from the Event Centre, is there any other thing you are doing to keep your clients happy?

There is the Event Centre in Transcorp Hotels, Abuja, the Transcorp Hotel in Lagos and the Aura by Transcorp Hotels, through which, we want to make sure that we’re keeping people happy by giving them options. Not everybody can afford to come and stay at Transcorp Hotels, Abuja. So, we decided to give our guests best-in-class options. But even within this hotel, it’s about just doing more. We brought in pastry corner, we just wanted to do more so people can come in here, be able to go in and buy sausages, meat pies, etc. We’re investing in our food as well as children activities. We’ve introduced ice cream by the poolside. Ramadan is here. We want people to come to the hotel and enjoy different experiences. It was also one of the things that COVID taught us. With the devaluation of the Naira, people cannot just jump on the plane and say they want to go to London or Dubai like before. So, how do you deliver domestic tourism in this market, because no matter what, you want to relax, you want leisure, you want your mental health to be good, which means that you want to be able to have a retreat, go to the spa, and enjoy more of life so that you have that balance.

So, we’re going to continue to invest in our space, invest in leisure, invest in great food, invest in activities that can make you relax. We are going to continue to do more generally, within the hospitality space. We’re looking for opportunities constantly. And when we find good opportunities, we’ll invest in them.

The year is already on the speed lane. So, what’s the opportunity that you’ve seen already and you hope to take advantage of?

We’re going to celebrate Easter. Ramadan is here already and we are going to everybody that will have to break their fast. We want them to think about coming here. They have to come here to break their fast during this Ramadan. They also need to eat good food during Sallah celebrations.

We are going to celebrate Easter. So, we are going to as much as possible celebrate everything possible to celebrate. We’re going to celebrate because I think as Nigerians, we need it. So, every opportunity we are going to use it to celebrate and we’re also looking for opportunities to invest in. We are opening our lounge downstairs McMullen Lounge. It’s one of the things we are bringing into the new market. It is a place you go to and relax and enjoy. It creates even more opportunities in terms of employment. We’re revamping our Zuma Restaurant, which is a fine dining restaurant.

But we’re also going to look at what else we can bring across the hotel. We are also looking to encourage businesses, businesses that would provide their services to us, whether it is products or service, we will look to partner with them to see how we can help them to grow their business. My team will constantly look at how we can partner with these people who are doing wedding events to come and look at the Event Centre, and how we can promote their events.

What is your relationship with regulatory authorities; do you think some things can be done better? And how are you coping with the prices of diesel and others?

Like I said, we are a listed organisation, and we have different stakeholders, and regulators are a key part of that. We have a very good relationship with all of our regulators and stakeholders. For us as an organisation, corporate governance is at the top of everything that we do. So, for that reason we ensure that we do not compromise on anything that is required from us. We make sure that our taxes are paid, education tax, corporate tax, everything. We worked very well with the government, we do our returns when due and we also prioritise communication in our results announcement even to the exchange. We send communication, and press releases for everything that goes on so we engaged very actively with all of our critical stakeholders including regulators. This government’s focus is heavily on revenue generation so tax is going to be key. So, we ensure that we engage properly and that we’re not found wanting in any area.

The second question is on the rising cost of diesel. It is a big thing. This year we went into the year saying, we want to drive revenue but extremely important is that we want to be cost efficient. Cost efficiency because you can have all the guests and drive all the revenue, but if all the costs drain you, then your bottom line will be red and your return to your investors and stakeholders will just be eaten away. So, we’re very proactive and innovative in our approach. For instance, with power or energy, what we do is we ensure that we put in different initiatives. Last year we did a conversion where we introduced a dual burner, rather than just rely so heavily on diesel alone, we did a mixture of gas and diesel so that we can at least manage ourselves. Also on water, we’re proactive. You know, there’s water that we get from the water board, and there’s water that we say ok let’s drill our boreholes. So, for things like watering our landscape, let’s make sure that we can get that water from the borehole. We have to be very innovative in making sure that we keep our costs down, and managing our energy efficiency is so important. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to, with the mindset that we have, keep our costs down and manage the cost as much as possible which is why we are very focused on this localisation.