Ogere’s long best kept hospitality secret
There are two reasons for a driver to slow down at Ogere town. For one, it’s a major stop over point along Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Second, it is the home of the TCC Resort and Conference Centre, an escapist’s hub. Established in 1985 as an Insurance Training Centre, it became one of the most sought-after training and conference destinations outside Lagos. The longest running corporate occupants of TCC, Chevron Nigeria arrived at the park-like facility in 2004 and remained there till 2015. It was a turning point in the history of TCC as it became necessary to maintain the facility that had to be tastefully managed for Chevron. A half-Olympic size swimming pool, cinema room and workshop for oil workers were constructed whilst Chevron was occupying TCC.
It became obvious that the entire facility may become a monumental wasteland when Chevron left, as a result of the colossal fall in global oil prices. An intervention was needed and so MP Hotels waded in after the company’s Managing Director, Bruce Prins was approached in March 2017 to manage the TCC facility. He and his team subsequently groomed it into a resort status.
A recent visit to TCC Resort was a gratifying eye-opener, as the serenity of the long-standing home of hospitality has not been compromised over the years. From the well-mannered staff to the nice assortment of drinks, any visitor would desire a prolonged stay, which is subject to personal circumstances.
After a two-part tour of the facility that housed 18 blocks with no fewer than 200 rooms, the MD of MP Hotels, Bruce Prins, spoke over lunch on the condition of TCC resort before his company took over its management in August 2017.
“When MP hotels arrived here, this place was already beautiful and all we did was to add some greenish touches to the environment,’’ he began. “At the moment, we are only ensuring that every room has the right air conditioner and television in place. The vision behind setting up TCC was as a result of the owner needing a venue to train people for insurance and to also create jobs for the community, it was creating economic investment for the town; he was investing in his community. Initially, it was for insurance but was later converted to a training centre for organisations.’’
Meanwhile, MP Hotels manages a few other hotels in Nigeria. They are Travel House Budget Hotels Lekki and Ibadan, TCC Ogere Resort and Conference Centre; Epe Resort, as well as, Jubilee Chalet, Epe.
For Prins, bringing the spotlight on TCC was necessary as it contributes largely to the economic value of the community.
“About 70 families depend on this place for livelihood, including mine. The owners could have just closed it and waited for the next ‘Chevron’ to take over the place but it’s always better to have a running concept. This place is an economical resort at a high standard, located in a rural area outside of Lagos, along the express,” he noted.
Asides corporate organisations who accommodate their expatriate workers at the resort, there are few individuals who visit the place for leisure. In his assessment of the Nigerian leisure culture, Prins had a very witty take on Nigerians’ attitude to the idea of escaping from city life for leisure, having lived in Nigeria for six years.
“It is true that most Nigerians don’t give themselves time for leisure, but I would say that Nigerians are productive people. They don’t like sitting around doing nothing. They don’t see the value of spending money and not doing anything. If I may use an example, in South Africa in the 50s, due to apartheid and people not wanting to invest in Africa, South Africans themselves started their own domestic hotels, and that is why today, it is very difficult for any foreign investor to come to South Africa to start a chain of hotels. Most of those big hotels in South Africa were all realised from domestic tourism. South Africans go to the hotels, but getting them to go there in the beginning was difficult, because not many South Africans had money like Nigerians,’’ Prins said.
The man whose roots are in South Africa relocated to Nigeria in 2012. Prins also noticed that five-star hotels were more popular in Nigeria than the mid-scale or economy budget hotels. But the narrative is changing as some rich Nigerians who used to travel abroad for leisure are looking for holiday destinations within the country. But more work still has to be done to draw a larger population into the culture of leisure.
“The secret to attracting Nigerians is entertainment; Nigerians like to have fun. I don’t like racial profiling because there are always exceptions. When I was growing up, for us, we would mount our caravans, relax; sit next to the pool and swim, and that was our holiday. But you see, my father is like Nigerians, he likes entertainment.
“This resort is very good for corporate retreats. It is also an ideal wedding venue, with a church. But groups and companies are our target. Although sometimes on guests request, we provide DJs and other forms of entertainment,’’ he said.
Whilst entertainment might attract potential customers, the relationship is sustained on standard and quality and other simple things that many business owners take for granted. Prins who is an author of several books including one on customer service knows this best.
“There is too much competition in the country, and Nigerians are skeptical people, they don’t believe things easily, they would rather want to see things for themselves. How to sell this place is to maintain it, don’t change the rule or cheat customers, stay consistent. We have rates and we don’t show preference in terms of discount. Treat the staff with respect and they deliver their best. Our selling point will be the escape from the city. And it is in a good environment,’’ he said.
It was needless to ask about the safety of the hotel as every block is guarded by a central electronic security door and only guests with access keys can make entry into a block or a room. Each room is built with fire alarm system. The main gate is also electronically controlled and equipped with burglary alarm system. Asides the security, the resort is usually scored high on cleanliness, order and most likely affordability. It may be ideal for a small destination wedding, what with the church, the parking lot and the 300 and 500-capacity halls and perhaps honeymoon without distractions.
Prins is quite convinced that the service rendered at TCC is competitive and need not be guided by the habit of substituting grading with rating.
“There is a difference between grading and rating. Grading is where you name it one star, two-star or more. Rating is an impression. When I hear that it is a 3-star hotel, I always ask if that is an opinion of a fact. There is no grading in this country. Lagos State did it at a time and some hotels were graded five-star. But your experience there might be three, four or seven. Grading is based on facilities and services. A so-called five star can still be a budget hotel.
“Porter service is a five-star service. I look at the cost and the services offered and the value it gives to the customer. Not how can I squeeze you for money. That’s not the right way. If you look at our Epe Resort for example, it is five years old now and it is known as being consistent; keeping to its standards and its promise to the guest.”
Prins also remarked that some hotel owners are in the habit of doing surface cosmetics to hide their inadequacies. Instead of following the trend, he had thoughtfully selected suitable managers who can maintain the set standards.
Each of the facilities in TCC Ogere Resort is named after families that own this place or long-standing occupants some of whom had largely influenced the nature of service rendered at the resort. A case in point is the chef who was trained in South Africa in order to cater for expatriates from South Africa and beyond. For this reason, Prins is known not just as one who develops and manages property but also believes people are an employer’s most cherished asset.
There is no going back for Prins at the moment. His decision to stay in Nigeria was not borne out of selfish reason as he was making good money in South Africa. But his arrival in Nigeria changed everything.
“When I came here six years ago, I wanted to spend two months. But in four days, I said I’m going to stay. People asked why. Nigerians are the worst about Nigeria. “Why do you want to stay here?” They asked and I told them that they don’t understand.
“I just love the character and the people. I have worked in countries where the majority has a sense of entitlement. It drives me crazy. You give them a raise of 20 to 30 per cent and they complain. But here, give Nigerians a raise and they say, “Thank God, my prayers are answered.” It is so opposite to my past experience where the more one gives, the less they work. Coupled with their unwillingness to contribute or learn it was very frustrating for someone like me. They just want to do what they believe. But here in Nigeria, information is power,’’ he said.
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