• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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COVID-19 disrupted business, but made me realise opportunities – Ibadan Hospitality’s CEO

COVID-19 disrupted business, but made me realise opportunities – Ibadan Hospitality’s CEO

NIYI ODEJOBI, a young budding entrepreneur, founder and chief executive officer of Ibadan Hospitality Company (owners of hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, short let apartments and lounges) in the capital city of Ibadan and its environs, in this interview with REMI FEYISIPO, talks about the hospitality industry, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how challenges become a learning point.

What is your assessment of the hospitality business in Nigeria?

The hospitality industry being limited to hotels and restaurants is a common misconception. In fact, this global industry offers university graduates a vast array of job opportunities across the world. While high-end hotels and restaurants provide rewarding career pathways, the reach of hospitality is far broader.

Traditionally grouped within the service sector, at its core, hospitality is really the business of delivering experiences. With growing consumer interest in experiences rather than products, the demand for hospitality professionals is widespread.

The art of providing exceptional guest experiences is needed not just in hotels and restaurants, but in spa management, event management, luxury brand management, nightlife, lifestyle and the wider business sector.

From online travel agencies and digital concierge services to accommodation-sharing platforms, the hospitality industry encompasses an increasingly diverse range of companies and careers.

What has been your experience during and after the COVID-19 pandemic?

That experience should better be forgotten. As an investor, I never had such an experience which put me under immense pressure. I mean pressure of meeting my obligation to customers and staff.

I saw a city with huge potentials in Economic Growth and Development, I saw huge migration of residents from neighbouring states, which I felt will further drive an aggressive opportunity for business owners

Let me even say I battled with pressure of meeting obligation of my workforce and you know we have a fairly large workforce at Ibadan Hospitality Company and as a standard rule to provide the right services to our customers on 24-hour basis.

When the lockdown was imposed nationwide, initially, I was thinking it would not last more than two weeks. I did not have a choice than to also down size, though I was reluctant to arrive at that decision because I do business with human feelings. I know the effect of unemployment on the jobless, so we tarried a bit. But when the stark reality stared me, we had to shed weight.

What many don’t know about the hospitality business is that apart from running a high overhead cost, facilities require adequate and regular maintenance, failure of which would bring system collapse.

Any hotel, whose facilities are not well maintained, cannot be attractive to customers because no one wants to risk his or her life in a dilapidated environment. Given this fact, we ensured that, despite inactivity during that low period, our facilities were given adequate retouch. I am very happy to say that, in terms of maintenance, we rank among the best in the state.

The story was the same in our other businesses like the restaurants. We had to shut down operations and rely on only takeout orders and deliveries. But there were lessons learnt from the pandemic.

To some extent, it was a blessing in disguise. Because activities were limited so I had enough time to take stock and reflect on issues of importance to business, family, friends and country as a whole. Secondly, the pandemic opened my eyes to a lot more opportunities and offered me more ways of doing things differently.

For example, we had to invest heavily on technology as a means of enhancing our hospitality business by offering various services and introducing our online market place and online hub.
On the negative side, however, I had to spend my savings to keep the business going.

What are the challenges facing the hospitality industry especially with the present security situation in the country?

The recent trend in kidnapping and robbery attacks have reduced the profit margin of every sector of the economy with the Hospitality sector being the worse hit.

Since the two phenomena started, the business environment has changed as the number of visitors to our facilities reduced with the fear that they could be kidnapped or come in contact with the deadly virus.

It has not been easy with us operating this business in recent times. As we get guest or lodgers, we must ensure that they are safe and well secured, meaning we have to also invest more in providing adequate security so that our visitors will not be kidnapped or attacked.

The hospitality industry is a reliable employment generating sector in the country and I’ll use this opportunity to give the Oyo State Government kudos and also encourage the Government to continue to give hoteliers the necessary assistance for their survival in the business.

What informed your decision to go into this kind of businesses looking at Ibadan as though a cosmopolitan city but not in the calibre of cities like Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja etc?

To be honest, Ibadan had the most favourable business conditions to me in terms of Cost of Capital, Real Estate, Opex, Population, Human Capital and ROI.

Ibadan is a very conducive place to do business so I saw a lot of opportunities within Ibadan and for me, it was a case of first mover advantage. With these huge opportunities and potentials, after Lagos, Ibadan is the next big city in the south west region.

Most entrepreneurs consider Ibadan as the next big thing after Lagos when it comes to Hospitality, Entertainment, Real Estate, Economic Developments and Lifestyle. It’s not even Abeokuta after Lagos but Ibadan.

I saw an untapped market in Ibadan, I saw a city with huge potentials in Economic Growth and Development, I saw huge migration of residents from neighbouring states, which I felt will further drive an aggressive opportunity for business owners.

I saw a virgin land with untapped opportunities and some of us decided to tap into those opportunities to create wealth.

With the re-construction of the Lagos Ibadan Express Way and the recently introduced Lagos to Ibadan Railway Services, Oyo State has recorded a huge influx of people from neighbouring states. It’s no surprise that hospitality is one of the most resilient and dynamic industries in Nigeria. So the industry continues to be a powerful generator of career opportunities.

One out of every five jobs created in the last three years have been within travel and tourism, and we predict that the industry is expected to support an additional 10 million jobs within the state by 2027.

We have noticed now that people can work in Lagos and live in Ibadan or vice versa. The Lagos-Ibadan express way which is almost at 80 percent completion is a major reason why we see a lot of people and activities happening within Ibadan.

How has the government created enabling environment for investors like you, and for businesses to thrive?

The most important governor to me is Seyi Makinde. Why? Because all my business are in Ibadan where my source of livelihood is and my life is affected every second and every minute by what he does or what he does not do.

Read also: Pandemic outbreak, business interruption top hospitality, leisure, tourism industry risks

The business owners now enjoy that ease of doing business; he has created the perfect enabling environment that we need for our businesses to thrive.

He has demonstrated transparency, efficiency, sincerity and accountability in his Governance in the last 3 years and we trust and hope that he puts himself forward for re-election for another term in office.

The current Governor of Oyo State has set an example for the people serving under him in his Government and the people of the state.

Lives and properties are now secured, business owners can now operate their businesses at night or all through the night, restaurants like Cafe 24 can run a 24 hours service without hitches, some petrol stations, pharmacies and supermarkets now run 24-hours services. Hawkers can sell their goods at night, nightclubs, lounges and bars are also able to make sales all night, and the whole MSME ecosystem is expanding.

What inspired one of your brands, Cafe 24?

I have always been a foodie. I patronized loads of restaurant from Roberts café to Casa Lydia, La Scala, all in Lagos. I was always a regular there; I loved the experience, the culture, the presentation. It was just a matter of time we opened one.

So I’ll say that Cafe 24 is not just a lounge but is a fine dining & contemporary restaurant, bar and social house located in the heart of Bodija in Ibadan. We serve a wide range of freshly made local and continental dishes and a vast menu of world-class drinks to choose from.

We are a cute aesthetically pleasing contemporary restaurant, bar and a social house in the quiet end of Bodija. However, Cafe 24 is in a strictly residential area and also within the premises, is a wine store, a bakery and a unisex salon.

Cafe 24 is quite intimate, cozy and well suited for romantic dates. For about 2 years now, we have been giving our customers the best services in Ibadan. The Cafe is a combination of great quality food, and serene and chic lounge.

What steps have you taken to make sure your brand remains relevant and competitive?

There is a science to this and we are very meticulous about it. The kind of customers we attract, the kind of music playing, the quality of the sound and volume as well, we even change the music depending on the time of day it is. We are still evolving, and we hope to build more brands either under the Cafe 24 brand or as a standalone brand but under the Ibadan Hospitality Company ownership.

Where do you see the Cafe 24 brand in 5 yrs-10 yrs?

I would say more locations as we are currently working on opening more locations in Jericho, Ring Road and on Akala Express. I wish to take this internationally also and in fact we want to make it a franchise brand.