Dewald Kruger is the General Manager of The Envoy By Mantis Abuja, which recently was named as the best city hotel in Nigeria during the World Travel Awards for Africa and Indian Ocean region; he spoke with DEBORAH OCHENI on the hotel’s facilities and offerings as well as hospitality business in Nigeria
Dewald Kruger is a professional hotelier, with a rich knowledge and vast experience in hospitality business. He was educated at the University of Johannesburg, former Wits Hotel School and Witkoppen Cordon Blue and KWV Wine Courses in South Africa. His work experience spans hotels, restaurants, industrial catering, training and human resources management.
Having spent about five years in Nigeria, what is your experience like?
First, coming from South Africa, is a shock, infrastructure crumbling, you see poverty, pollution and then you still see vibrant hard working people going about their businesses without waiting for the government to give them jobs. There is no good road, they will make one, no adequate power supply but they still try to survive it by getting a generator. If they don’t have food, they will make a plan and that is really something interesting to see in Nigeria.
What makes The Envoy Hotel such an enviable hotel?
It is from the design and quality; the interior, colour and concept should be new and fresh with a touch of simplicity in order for it not to be over decorated. Just plain and simple but very high quality finishing. In the building, I look at good quality craftsmanship especially the tiling is such a visible element of a hotel, you need to make sure that your tiling work is good, your basic construction and design is good as well.
We spent a lot of time and money to get this structure done, we visited Hongkong, London, Paris, and New York to make sure we get the best new element that is available and brought them here for our guest to enjoy. We have a very nice pool area, Zanzibar Pool, the best experience available in Nigeria. We are experiencing good turnout from our guests, our halls are well-booked, and our rooms are popular.
What are some of the challenges running a hotel in Nigeria?
There are always challenges and in Nigeria specifically, we are majorly business oriented hotel, so we host business travellers. If there is any disturbance in the country, it will affect travellers from coming here and that is a problem.
We need internal peace and stability and that is the job of the government. We need consistent power supply and that is a problem but we have generators, however, they are uncomfortable, costly and not environmentally friendly so why will you establish a hotel here when you can do it elsewhere that is cheaper?
How much is The Envoy spending on diesel monthly?
May be about N3 million a month. You can imagine! How then can you make profit with such expenses? If we can have constant power supply it will cut down expenses and that will affect the rate. We use the most effective air conditioner that is environmentally friendly.
The Nigerian power sector should take their job seriously and attend to the problem because it is a big micro economic problem as the more you try to go forward, you go backward.
Which specific areas are you going to focus on in order to lift the fortune of the hotel?
Good structure because from there you can focus on your product, it is easy to focus on your product when your building is sound. Maximum attention should be given to customer service so that you can keep your customers happy by giving them something exciting, especially with meal. Our Nigerian meal is tasty and for the international dishes, we buy fresh food items.
What is your view on the Nigerian hospitality sector?
It’s vibrant and very challenging, but it is too easy to say our standard is substandard because it is Nigeria. It shouldn’t be so, we should be competitive in all levels, at all standards, and at all times.
You don’t have all the fine food my guest wants or even beddings, we can’t have them all here because waivers are not given as it is in India, Middle East, or China, so, it is not fine to say supply the ones you can supply.
In terms of human capital, we have skilled staff of good levels, they are expected to do the right thing the first time and thereafter, they disappointing even rubbing our guests.
Will you say the Nigerian government policy of patronising made in Nigeria goods is negatively affecting hospitality sector?
I think so because hoteliers have to import equipment, products from Middle East and Europe to meet up with international standards and competitors. Aside power, manufacturing sector must come alive to produce for exportation and that is when the big economic wheel will start rolling. Employment will happen, taxes getting paid, and foreign exchange coming in.
Do you foresee The Envoy opening branches in other Nigerian cities?
It’s a high-end brand and we are always looking out for more opportunities all over the country. We have been to different destinations but at the upper end, business hotel will be staying close to bigger business centres. So, I can’t foresee that we will be moving into smaller areas but we might look at places like Port Harcourt, Owerri and Asaba. We will be looking into leisure destinations close to nature, waterfalls, mountains and games reserves.
Why are international hotel brands attracted to the Nigerian market?
If you look at the world system or membership of bigger brands; their members are international travellers. When they want to travel to Nigeria, they look out for their brand and so we are the only Accor hotel in Abuja. International brands are finding their way here because local brand cannot afford the benefits attached but then, it’s a good competition as we are bringing international travel experience to Abuja.
Would you say hotel business is lucrative?
Hotel business is lucrative. Hotel keeping is a good business in the Nigerian environment, there are lots of tourist opportunities but the Nigerian government doesn’t understand that too well. They need to understand the tourist cycle, and it starts at the arrival at the national airports. You can have hotel in ice, trees, caves and even rocks but it must be safe, ecologically friendly and offers authentic experience.
Then you will attract leisure/tourist travellers. For scale, the Notre Dame in Paris attracted 13 million visitors last year and it is 1,000 years – old building. Do we have any statistics for the tourist attractions in Nigeria? Imagine the peripheral spending around this! No wonder the speed at replacing the damage after the recent fire, besides the religious and historic value this building holds.
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