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Brian Efa: Commitment to success is my driving force

By Maria Diamond
10 December 2022   |   4:05 am
Brian Efa is the founder of Celsius Hotels, a thriving indigenous hospitality brand in Nigeria. Known for convening the first-ever international hotel conference in Nigeria

Brian Efa

Brian Efa is the founder of Celsius Hotels, a thriving indigenous hospitality brand in Nigeria. Known for convening the first-ever international hotel conference in Nigeria, Efa, who restored Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort after the exit of Le Meridien, took over Victoria Crown Plaza Victoria Island Lagos from the Swiss Hotel brand early this year. In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, he spoke on his passion for the hospitality sector, his hotel brand, and how Nigeria can take advantage of huge potentials in the sector.

You’ve been very visible in the hospitality sector of the country, managing some of the big brands. What really is the secret of your rise in the industry?
There are three guiding principles that drive success in my career; commitment, commitment and commitment. Commitment to success is my driving force. I believe once you have a responsibility, you should see to it that this responsibility is given the required attention to achieve the expected results. This is the reason I always produce results wherever I find myself in any hotel.

Furthermore, I am in the industry out of passion, very serious passion. That is why you will see that beyond managing hotels, I also contribute to the development of this industry through research papers, speaking at conferences and in other ways.

Why are you interested in developing an indigenous hotel brand?
Celsius Hotels Brand is one of my biggest success stories. When we started Celsius Hotel in 2020, our vision was to create an indigenous hotel brand that will compete favorably with the international brands. Also, we wanted to provide an alternative that will help investors/owners make better return on investment, reduce the need for purchase of forex to pay management fees, among others. Our vision is paying off.

Today, we have two hotels under development one in Abuja and the other one in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. We are also in discussion with a couple of 4-star hotel developers in Victoria Island Lagos. When our hotels open in the first quarter of 2023, we will be adding 135rooms to the inventory of hotels in Nigeria. The progress we have made is very encouraging and we are very grateful to Nigerian investors that have kept faith with us.

On the back end, we have developed well-tailored SOPs and other standards to make us compete and stand out from the crowd. We have also signed agreements with various technology companies/providers that will support our brand.

What has been the response so far, how’s the brand doing?
Right now, we are working on the backend to support our owners during the development stage. We are helping in critical designs, procurement and installation of critical infrastructure. On the soft side, we are developing and improving on our brand standards, policies and procedures, SOPs, technology requirements, training manual, among others. We are also discussing with technology providers, our technical support systems, central reservation system, booking channels and loyalty programmes.

Once we open our first hotel in March 2023, we will give the international brands a run for their money, as we will be providing a very credible alternative in a more cost effective way.

All together, how many hotels do you intend to bring under Celsius management?
As I mentioned earlier, we are in talks with two different hotel investors in Lagos State. We are in talks for a 150- room hotel development project in Victoria Island, Lagos, which is expected to commence construction in the second quarter of 2023. We are hopeful that by 2028, we will have five hotels under our management.

Considering your role in restoring Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort after the exit of Le Meridien, do you think Akwa Ibom State is ready for investment in hotel business?
Obviously, Akwa Ibom State had since been open for hotel business. The influx of visitors since 2015 into the state has been overwhelming. This is a fall back to the industrialisation agenda of the present administration in the state and the relative peaceful nature of the state.

Most of the time, during the weekend, there’s scarcity of hotel rooms in the state capital despite the fact that more and more hotel rooms join the inventory of rooms every year. In 2022 alone, more than 250 rooms join the inventory of hotels in Uyo, including the recently opened Four Point by Sheraton Hotel Ikot Ekpene.

You have done well for your state, Akwa Ibom, but do you feel those efforts are being recognised by the government?
There are lots of individuals like myself who have contributed immensely to the development of tourism in the state. The promotion of tourism and hospitality in AKwa Ibom State is largely private sector driven. Unfortunately, very little has been done to recognise these individuals in the state. So, there is a consensus amongst us that we have all not been adequately recognised for our effort in the development of the sector.

What we did at Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort during my time as the Acting General Manager was done out of passion for the industry and love for the state. Till date, no one has been able to beat what the management under my watch did in terms of remittances to the government. Ordinarily, having made the highest monthly remittances to the State Government in the history of the hotel, one would think that the owners (state government) would retain and encourage that management to sustain the progress so far record as it would have been in a privately owned property. But in government, things work a lot more differently.

As we all have been advocating, even at the national level, governments at all levels have to look for core professionals to run the sector so as to bring the necessary development.

With the huge tourist traffic into the state, do you think there are enough standard hotels in Akwa Ibom?
Unfortunately, no! There are not enough hotel rooms in the state to contend with the ever-increasing demand most of the time. Also, the quality of hotel rooms joining the inventory every year is still substantially below quality. This is because there is absence of quality control in the sector even at the national level.

What I advocate is the establishment of a well documented grading standard for hotels and restaurants in the state and these standards should be enforceable. Also, all hotels must be licensed before they open for business, ensuring that minimum standards have been met. Regular monitoring for compliance is also important.

If you were in charge of tourism in the state, what would you have done to improve tourism development and earnings?
Tourism is a big business; some countries have tourism as their main stay. There’s so much that can be done to improve tourism earnings in the state. Tourism has the potential to contribute substantially to the IGR of the state.

If I were in charge of tourism in Akwa Ibom State, I would introduce two additional festivals to the existing Christmas Festival and they would all be private sector driven with support from the state government. Akwa Ibom is rich in culture, so we will introduce a cultural festival. We are so rich in food, so we can introduce a food festival in the state.

Also, there are many rich tourism sites scattered all over the state; we will improve on them and make them more accessible to tourists. We will support and encourage private sector initiatives in the development of these locations in the state. In return, the government will earn revenue through levies from visitors, taxes from companies, among others. Ultimately, if I am in charge of tourism in the state, I can generate N3billion (three billion naira) annually as government income from tourism and hospitality related activities.

What do you think should be the focus of the incoming government for tourism in terms of policy and enabling environment?
My expectation is that the next government in Akwa Ibom State will see tourism more like a business than a social welfare programme. Usually, we gauge the seriousness of any government in developing the sector through the appointments made in the sector. Therefore, I expect that the next government will appoint core professionals/practitioners into tourism related positions in the state; this is a good way to start. These professionals will in turn formulate the right policies for the advancement of the industry.

Do you think the emergence of Ibom Air has positively impacted tourist traffic to Akwa Ibom?
Ibom Air is a major contributor to the increasing number of tourists to the state. While I was at Ibom Hotel, we could see the impact directly and our numbers could tell that we were making progress in the state. Easy accessibility to any location is one factor that determines the number of persons that visit that location. Ibom Air has made this possible.

However, as I had mentioned previously, there are still not enough hotel rooms in the state to cope with the influx of visitors or to host professional conferences.