REMI SAMUEL, PHD Management Science, an associate lecturer, University of Lagos bestrides the Nigerian hospitality industry like a colossus. Formerly general manager, Mainland Hotel Lagos, he told Travel Mate in 2012 that despite remarkable transformation in the alternative accommodation industry, continuous investment is inevitable. Excerpts:
Q: You would probably rank amongst one of the foremost managers that have in the last three decade traverse the recreation and leisure industry. How in your view would you describe the business of hotel management?
A: Thank you for considering me as one of the topmost managers if I am. There are statements of facts that I have been in the hospitality industry for a while now. I’ve been in and out of the industry. I started from the industry and then went into manufacturing and came back again into the industry in the last ten years now. Management is management. There are aspects that are professional like any other industry or organization, we have professional side and we have the general management side. Besides, we have electrical side, we have cooking side, and the house keeping as well. So, you should have flair for details not necessarily being expert in hospitality training. The front-office, for instance, has to do with human relations. So, you need people that are good in PR and are tutored in communication. What’s more, you also have the account department. For example, I have two chartered accountants here, so I would consider the hospitality industry as a meticulous organization. So whoever is the general manager must have good knowledge of technical, food, eyes for details and be able to read figures. Remember, your background really doesn’t matter in these days of managing with competency.
Q: Reminiscing those years at the Arewa Hotels, would you say Nigeria has come of age in the hospitality industry?
A: Definitely yes. Remember there were times in Nigeria when most of the hotels are either state or individually owned – but they were poorly managed. The two major hotel groups then were the Nigeria Hotels and the Arewa Hotels group of those days. Today, we have a lot of international hotels coming into Nigeria. With the coming of international hotels, we now have the Sheraton Holiday-Inn and the likes. Things have never been the same with the exposure of Nigeria to international business environment and the coming of international hotel groups into the country’s hospitality industry. The stake or standard has been raised. Sheraton, for instance came in with a big bang in standard; the standard of construction was taken to a different level and from then, levels changed and new structures began to emerge. Definitely, the hospitality industry in Nigeria is growing and so is the level of professionalism improving too. I left Arewa Hotels in 1989, and I can see what has happened to globalization since 1989 and the hotels and groups that have come into play.
Q: Why are investors suddenly taking a dive into the sector?
A: The hospitality industry is capital intensive. This hotel (Mainland Hotel), for example stated business in 1956. Then, it was only government, individual or multi-nationals that could own such structures and that was the reason why most hotels were government owned. Yes, you could come across few motels and the common beer parlors and the likes that litters everywhere that are individually managed. One thing that I know is that the entrepreneur would go to any sector and invest particularly where they can make money.
Q: What are the chances of Mainland Hotel in view of the upsurge in investments in the hospitality industry and the rapid changing face in the hotel business?
A: Mainland Hotels is the first international hotel in Nigeria and it still remains an international hotel, though owned by Leventis. We are not unaware that there are quite a lot of competitions in the industry. By the time you look at the room average, to the number of travelers in Nigeria, compare to the Nigeria population you will discover that we are not yet there. The only thing is that the economy is poor. But will Mainland Hotel be able to compete favourably in the same sector? We may say no for reasons of locations. However, our facilities compare with one of the best – you may be wrong when you judge from the outside. When you think the hotel is old, you would be amazed at the level of sophistication when you come in. The plan to bring the Lagos Central Business District into this area will surely change our status.
Q: How would you react to topical viewpoints that rates charged for standard accommodation in Nigeria hotels are ostensibly high compared to other parts of Africa and the rest of the world?
A: If you have to spend N60million on diesel in one year excluding the cost of servicing your generator, every machine-hour used, wear and tear and coupled with additional N20m on services and the rate of depreciation, costs definitely would increases. Where a generator is supposed to be on standby, it is made to run persistently thus limiting its life span from say four to two. Notwithstanding, the amount you need to overhaul is equivalent to the cost of procuring another new one. So it is sometimes cost effective to dispose hackneyed one and reinvest in another industrial giant size generator. All these coupled with overhead are mostly responsible for the charges in the Nigeria hospitality industry.
Q: What is the capacity of Mainland hotel and what unique features distinguish the hotel?
A: There are 136 rooms; 256 bed space; we have five functional halls. Our main hall, the Royal Hall can take about 1000 people – between 750 and 500 depending on the seating arrangement. We also have halls that can accommodate 400 people, 500 people depending of specific needs.
Q: What is your advice to prospective investors eyeing the recreation and leisure business?
A: There is money in hospitality business not tourism. Tourism is just evolving. The future depends on quite a lot of factors but for the hospitality, yes, first, have a good location, be ready to invest and reinvest, because that is the failure of most of our people. They know there is money in hotel and once they put the money there, they want to take it back, knowing well that most of the things that keep the hotel are things that wear off. Hotel business is capital intensive and the investment is not once – it is a life time investment – once you can keep the quality going, and you are ready to advertise and of course ready to compete, the sky is the limit.
Q: Can we meet Dr. Remi Samuel?
A: I am a farmer. My lifestyle is simple. I will say I am a modest person between being extroverted and being introverted. My dominant roles are often within myself. This is because I am into a lot of academics and so, I need my time which does not allow me to socialize as maybe required. Shortly after my Youth Service, I joined the Kwara State Polytechnic and was there for six months until I joined Kwara Hotels as administrative/personnel manager (1982-1985) which was then one of the Arewa Hotels group. I was thereafter transferred to Kaduna till 1987 when I was redeployed to the Federal Palace Hotel Lagos, then part of the Arewa Hotels. Between 1989 and 2000, I left for Philip Moris International as personnel Controller; and later joined the Leventis Group as deputy general manager, January 2001. I have Msc in Industrial and Labour Relations and PHD management Science. At the moment I am associate lecturer at the University of Lagos – for that reason, I am often busy teaching and supervising my students’ projects. All these take much of my time. Notwithstanding, my extracurricular activity is academics but I am a hunter too and this is because I come from a hunting family in Ponyan, Kogi State.