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Hospitality, travel businesses essential for tourism development – Jubril

Hospitality, travel businesses essential for tourism development – Jubril

Wumi Jubril, is the CEO of SRS Collection among which is the Seattle Residences and Spa, Clayhall by SRS situated in Ikoyi, and Pier Harbour by SRS in VI all targeted at creating a unique travel and wellness escape in Lagos for customers. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on the SRS Collection and how the government can create an enabling environment that can promote tourism, which would support the Hospitality and Travel sector.

What is the SRS Collection about?

SRS Collection originated from the name Seattle Residences and Spa. We started three years ago and what we were trying to create were Luxury and Wellness Escapes within the hustle and bustle of Lagos. You go to work by maybe 8am to 5pm and before you get home it is already 10pm. So really, if you think about it, work hours are between the hours of 6am and possibly 10pm because of traffic. But sometimes you want to have a weekend where you can just go and relax, and we realised that there weren’t many places. Most times when people go to hotels, it is mostly due to a business trip, probably a meeting or a conference. We wanted a case whereby even if you did come for business, you could still take advantage of the leisure aspect of it within the same space. In hospitality, we call this Bleisure. You could come in and have everything you could be searching for within the same space. You go to your suite, and it is nice and cosy. If you want to order a meal in your suite, you just call, and it comes in from the Good Life restaurant just downstairs. We ensure that our menus are accommodating for all our guests irrespective of where they have come from. Our meals vary from Asian, countries that people would most likely be interested in like the Asian food, Brazilian, African, all continental meals. If you want to go to a gym or a spa, they are right there and open 24 hours. We realised during the Covid-19 lockdown that these services were in high demand, and it just worked for us. Even at that time, when hotels were not doing well, we were running at 100 percent. So, Seattle Residences and Spa, our Flagship and the originator of the name SRS Collection started three years ago, and Clayhall by SRS situated in Ikoyi, started about a year and half ago and now we have Pier Harbour by SRS which is our third property.

You are providing these services at a time when Lagos State is trying to promote travel and tourism to the international market. How do you think your products and services can boost tourism and travel in the Nigeria market?

Our business model already sells itself to our target audience. What we wanted to create was a product that our clients would fall in love with. Every single time our clients come here; they don’t want to leave. They get so comfortable. In cases where the guest does not wish to go to the restaurant, we offer them the option of having our in-house Chef come in to curate something in suite. We introduce all-inclusive packages. December is already being fully booked as we speak. And it is good value for money. We are charging $1000 a night for three rooms. If you have three friends coming to stay, we do a package for three people or different families. This is slightly above $300 per person and at some premium hotels; it is about $400 per night for a room that doesn’t give you a kitchen. We are very interested in good deals that work. We tell our clients that we have a deal, and they should let us know if it is something that is attractive to them and in most cases, they are attractive. So, we are always willing to work with what the going rate is in the market based on the season.

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What challenges have you experienced in the business since you started three years ago?

At the beginning, the challenge was staff retention. It was exhausting and this is because people see hospitality as a job as opposed to a career. When we are ready to hire, we see the willingness of people to work most times in the front office and you look at places that they have worked and based on their experiences, you take them. But there is more to it now. Because of the time we have spent and the mistakes we have made, the interview goes beyond just asking questions. We carry out due diligence in this regard. Right now, I am very comfortable with the staff we have on-ground, especially my food and beverage team because they have been there from the beginning. We made our mistakes, we got to know each other and now they are doing this because they want to. Those that did not have the passion at the initial stage are now interested because of the way we treat them.

How have you managed to stay afloat amid competition and economic downturn?

It hasn’t been easy, but I still feel we have a very different product from what most other hotels have. Our product is very niche compared to what we have out there. There are so many places we can fit in. Some clients come in and see this as a luxury space and that’s what they see. Apart from the fact that we offer accommodation, in very nice sophisticated spaces, we offer lifestyle and wellness services which we take pride in. Our events which we host once a month for our clients are delicately curated and well thought through. We are also very deliberate and handpick our guests, most of who have been loyal and have patronised our services solely because of the experiences they have had at our events.

When you look at the contributors to Nigeria’s GDP, you realise that the contributions of hospitality, travel and tourism are low. What can be the challenge and what can the federal government do to grow this sector?

There are so many things to address. Most of the people I know that are doing well in hospitality unfortunately did not study in Nigeria. And I do believe that should not even be the case especially because of how we are as a people. We break barriers when we have the opportunity. Unfortunately, so many resources which have not been provided for have affected us greatly. The security situation is a major one which has worsened over the years; the education system which aside from the fact those standards have simply dropped, the security situation has left most parents in a situation of hopelessness. How many students in Nigeria today study because of the passion? Not many. They only do it to make ends meet and it really should be so much more than that.

Looking at the services you offer, you need tourism locations in Lagos to drive these services. Do we have these tourist attractions?

There are no deliberate efforts made by the government to drive tourism but there are ways we can make the difference in this regard. We can look into cruises that would take you to locations like Ilashe in Lagos. This is something that has not really been harnessed. I know that there have been efforts in the past, but we can still do more. There are also helicopters and I know it costs a lot but if there are ways the government can make these affordable through partnerships, then I think we can do a lot. A helicopter can take about four or five people and I feel some people can pay to get this convenience.

How do you think public-private partnerships can help boost hospitality, travel and tourism in Nigeria?

There are also the tourism companies themselves that can collaborate. The cruise companies would have to be involved as well. There are some tourism companies that are coming together and are trying to boost tourism in Nigeria. I think it’s the marketing they are struggling with because marketing is quite expensive in Nigeria.

Why your interest in the hospitality industry?

My interest in hospitality started 15 years ago and it was because I realised that I love to look after people. I come from a family of doctors and maybe that is where this came from. I knew that I couldn’t work in a hospital. There was also an opportunity to get into oil and gas but I found it boring. So, at first, I thought Spa Management, found that to be restrictive but then realised that Hotel management would be a more impactful way of quelling my hunger. So as soon as I had an opportunity to serve at the Sheraton Lagos hotel 12 years ago, I grabbed it. The more years I have spent in hospitality, the more I have loved it.

What is your advice to people who want to venture into this kind of business but do not have the funds?

Collaboration is always key. We have gotten to where we are today mostly because we were open to collaborations. I feel people do not open up enough and make potentially productive relationships complicated. Sometimes there are push backs but when you open up within the right network, you would be shocked at how far your willingness to open up could take you. There are individuals out there searching for SMEs to invest in. The first thing is, be open to ideas so your product, when pitched is sound enough for anyone to consider investing into.