‘We are bringing five-star experience to Nigeria’
Last Saturday, The Providence by Mantis, a five-star hotel located in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, formally opened its door to customers. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the General Manager of the hotel, Vernon Page, spoke on the hospitality industry in Nigeria, and their target to become the leading business hotel in the country.
What’s your experience in the hospitality industry and how much do you know about the Nigeria market?
I’ve been in the hotel industry for 30 years; I started in South Africa, I’m South African. However, I’ve traveled around the world; I’ve been to Eastern Europe, I’ve been in Russia for a couple of years. I’ve worked in the Middle East and of course Africa.
I was brought in to do the opening of The Providence By Mantis; I’ve been around for three months now. However, this is not my first time in Nigeria; I’ve been in and out of Nigeria since 2010. I’ve worked in the hospitality work in Lagos and I was also involved in a consultancy company here; we worked in Lagos, Abuja, Calabar, Ibadan and Ilorin. So, I’ve ben around for some time.
You just had official opening of The Providence By Mantis, what exactly are you bringing to the table?
We are bringing a five-star experience both from the property and what the property is being developed as. The finishing works, the furniture and all the fittings is five-star; it’s really a great standard. More than that, we’ve been training our staff for two months on giving exceptional service. We trained them on service levels, serving, room cleaning, health and safety, fire fighting and skills development.
How important is training and skills development to your organisation?
Skills development is a major thing for Mantis; we want to develop our people and give them the skills necessary to provide guests a five-star experience that is exceptional. It’s vital because, if the skills are not there and the people are not trained, you can’t give the guest an experience. This is part of five-star service; it’s not about having a bed. There are many hotels here that have decent beds, hot water, restaurant with good food, but to get a five-star experience, it’s not about ticking boxes; it’s about giving the guest an exceptional and above expiation service and training is vital to that. For us, training is an ongoing process, so, we are committed to training and developing our staff members.
Your facility is located in GRA, Ikeja, is that deliberate?
Sure, it was strategic to have our hotel in Ikeja; Ikeja had shortage of hotels seven years ago. In those days, we used to have Sheraton as the only branded hotel before the likes of Protea and others came. However, there weren’t five-star hotels in Ikeja. So, it was strategic for us to be in GRA with the proximity to airport and businesses around here. Yes, GRA hasn’t got the traffic problems you have traveling to the Island like we know. For sure, people would love to be on the Island to do some businesses, but they want to be where it will be easy for them to fly in or fly out of the city.
What segment of the market are you targeting?
The target market is business; there’s very little tourism in Nigeria. So, we are targeting the business people, the corporates, as well as conferencing. We have a big conference hall that can take about 300 people; we also have a boardroom. But we are targeting the corporates, who are coming in and out of the country. We are also looking at the government businesses; it’s also part of our interest.
You described your hotel as five-star, what are the facilities available for customers?
We’ve got 79 bedrooms with the mix of standard rooms (37) and Executive Rooms/Deluxe (28). We also have various suites ranging from junior suite to executive suite. In this facility, we also have two diplomatic suites with three penthouses. So, we’ve got a variety of room types for the corporates who want to come here.
Hotel business in Nigeria is fraught with some challenges, especially power supply. How do you plan to surmount this?
Well, there are challenges, but a lot of them are not unique to Nigeria. Yes, power is one problem, but you know there’s a challenge ahead of you; you must find away to mitigate it. So, just take it that you would be running on generator for a lot of your time. The challenges are definitely taken into account, but the opportunity is much bigger than the challenges; it’s about taking advantage of that opportunity. Obviously in the last couple of years, recession hit the hotel industry, but we’ve seen now that the hotel industry is picking up again. People are coming back; we have more people traveling in and out of the country. But it’s not only the international travelers that are coming; we have Nigerians traveling within the country. There are lots of inter-regional travels happening right now; people from within Africa visiting Nigeria. So, there are lots of markets that you can actually locate and take advantage of.
Mantis is a known hotel brand globally, are you going to be offering the same standard here at The Providence?
Mantis have got strict standards of what we do; each hotel is defined by the location and the owner, but the standards we all maintain. To maintain you property, you need to maintain it at a standard and we are committed to keeping the standards. What you are seeing today would still be same in years to come.
It seems Mantis is now showing interest in Nigeria?
Mantis has been interested in Nigeria for many years; they originally had a contract with George Hotel in Okoyi. Now, we’ve got three hotels; the fourth one has been signed and it will open end of next year. So, there’s a market for hotel here and Mantis has always been interest in not just Nigeria but in Africa as a whole. In Africa at the moment, we have 562 rooms, but we also want to move a lot more forward with Mantis. Mantis is now a brand of Accor Hotels, which acquired 50 per cent of Mantis a year ago. So, we are looking at expansion and we’ve been interested in Nigeria for many years.
What’s your take on the hospitality industry in Nigeria compared to other countries?
I don’t think there’s much difference between all of them; Nigeria is the same as any other hotel you can work in. Nigeria has huge opportunity because of the number of businesses that come into the country. So, there’s a lot of business coming in; there’s huge opportunity. There’s nothing unique about hotel spacing in Nigeria compare to other parts of the world; it’s all about looking for that opportunity. That’s why location for the hotel is vital as well. For many years I was in Nigeria, we didn’t have a lot of hotel close to the airport, but today you have a lot of hotels coming up here.
We’ve seen situations where foreign hotel brands concentrate more on continental dishes, how much of local cuisine do you have in your menu?
Obviously, a lot of people coming here are from overseas, so, we give them continental food. But we have at least 40 per cent of our buffet as Nigeria food. On a daily basis, we have a number of Nigerians looking for where to eat, so, we have the chef prepare Nigerian food in every meal. On our a la carte menu, we’ve got Nigeria food and we also have it in our room service menu. When you are in Nigeria, you need to taste the food; it’s part of the experience of coming to Nigeria. So far, we’ve had very good comments from guests regarding our food.
What’s your staff strength right now, and what percentage of it is locally sourced?
We currently have 74 staff members that we employed and it’s only two experts; the executive chef and myself. So, all our heads of departments are Nigerians coming from the industry and all the staff as well. So, at the moment, we have 74 staff on ground, which we intend to increase, as we get busier. But these are all people that we sourced locally and trained locally.
Having a two-month training for your staff comes with a cost. Why did you decide to do so?
To just bring them in and not trained is pretty short sighted. I know it’s two months salary, but that money is invested into what our guests are going to get when they come here. You need that training; we invested in the salary, we invested in the cost of training, their feeding… it might be a short-term cost, but it’s a long-term benefit.
How affordable is the hotel?
Well, first we think it’s affordable, but obviously there’s a cost to what we are providing. You are getting a five-star property, you are getting a five star service; there’s a cost to that. Then, we need to be able to charge to be able to maintain the property. However, we have corporate discounts, government discounts and discounts for online travel agents; we do some planning around that.
Was it deliberate that you don’t have high walls?
I know many security people will tell you what we’ve done is not right, but we are not a prison. This is hotel, a hospitality industry; we need to be open and accessible to the public. However, we’ve spent money on safety and security to ensure the environment we’ve got is safe and secure without building those ‘prison walls.’
Where do you see The Providence By Mantis in years to come?
We want to be the best hotel in Lagos and the best business hotel in Nigeria. But what we want to do is to set a standard of a five star hotel within Nigeria.