Travel & Tourism

DEWALD KRUGER: We ‘re enjoying guests support on our new journey

Background

When The Envoy Hotel Abuja under the management of Mantis Collection, an international hotel brand, hit the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja market in 2018, it was an instant success as the boutique hotel not only captured the market but also won both local, national and world accolades on a consist level, one of which was the World Travel Award for between 2019 and 2020 as Nigeria’s Leading City Hotel. However, last year, the hotel management reverted to a new management outfit, Silk Road Hospitality, an independent property and management chain. The pioneer General Manager of the hotel, Dewald Kruger, a South African hotelier, with vast knowledge and experience of the Nigerian market, elected to cast his lots with the new group and was retained as the general manager of the hotel. Having piloted the affairs of the hotel in the last couple of months, he spoke on the transition from Mantis Collection to Silk Road Hospitality; the new offerings of the hotel, it present and future as well as the fortune of hospitality business in Abuja and Nigeria.

How would you say the hotel had fared under Mantis Collection?

The set up by Mantis was done well, with some delays experience after the economic slowdown and naira losing a lot of value. The project was delayed, but all boutique implementation, security features and technological requirements were installed. Opening procedures were effective, and recruitment and training done well. Operationally, we did as well as a new hotel could, facing challenges of a new kid on the block will have. We were steadfast on quality and luxury service delivery. COVID – 19 came into our lives and we all were devastated by the effects; mentally, emotionally and economically.

What informed the change from Mantis to Silk Road Hospitality?

With the effects of COVID – 19 playing out in our lives, a reset button was pushed, with all processes, procedures and practices coming under the spot light. The input and effect of international brands were questioned, marketing effect and operational efficiencies were questioned. The scarcity of foreign exchange made offshore payments on fees and services challenging. The owners identified some in-house talents, and formed a regional operational company, merging all skills and experience gained from The Envoy Hotel opening history. The Envoy Hotel is now operated by a fully African operating company, namely Silk Road Hospitality, that thinks global, but acts local, not forsaking any international standard or operational procedures. Silk Road Hospitality is now offering these services to other hotels, property developers and hotel groups.

How difficult was the transition from Mantis to Silk Road Hospitality?

Under the cover of COVID – 19, we were able to readjust ourselves, did our market research, took stock of what we had, refocused ourselves and entered the market. The market responded well, the economy was slowly opening up, we were always going to open up aggressively, and we hit the road running. Our guests returned, were happy with being part of a small but momentous moment in history, and are supporting us on our new journey along the Silk Road. We were sad though to have lost former colleagues and friends at Mantis, which still is an outstanding company to work for. We still carry on with their boutique angle to things, good structure and procedures, and love for nature and conservation. It was easy to move from a solid base, with a dedicated owner, management team and staff although difficult under the poor economic conditions; lack of stable trading and insecure environments.

What is the brand promise and vision of Silk Road Hospitality?

Our brand promises a journey on the route to luxury and relaxation. We promise while staying at our properties, you will enjoy personalised services, in a boutique environment while enjoying world class products and services. For developers, we promise future- proven design and fitting, with in-the-moment technological experiences and controls, all-round sales and marketing support, and reliable financial reporting and performance. We have a futuristic but realistic look at business opportunities, use proven business principles, backed up with practical local management and leadership advice. We are proud ‘hospitalians,’ with sophistication and professionalism in our actions, on our faces and in our blood. We strive to be an employer of choice. We spend substantial amounts on training, staff welfare and incentives. Our guest offering is true and honest, and our guests appreciate this. Focus on you staff, and they will focus on the guests.

What is your vision for the year?

Our vision at the Envoy Hotel is to deliver superior goods and services to our valued guests, at a profitable and sustainable rate, for the benefit of the owners, staff and suppliers. We set ourselves out as a proud member the hospitality family in Abuja and Nigeria. We set ourselves out to deliver consistent services and products, at reasonable prices. The hospitality and travel industries are still recovering from the COVID – 19 pandemic with restrictions on travel, in-person meetings and conferencing, and social distancing requirements. We all are suffering from COVID – 19 fatigue and are looking forward to unfettered, natural environments and services. Please remember that behind the masks, our staff wear the widest and most beautiful smiles.

What should guests look forward to with the change?

We have plans afoot to develop and relocate a new gymnasium facility at the Zanzi- Bar Pool area. This will free up space for a much needed boardroom in the hotel. This will be a life style area, to make more use of our peaceful outdoor area. We added a conference centre in Tsukunda House, five minutes’ drive away from the hotel, to hosts meetings and functions of all styles. Our hall there can accommodate groups from 20 to 300 guests. It is equipped with most modern AV equipment.

How well would you say your team has adapted to the new brand and its ethics?

It was a positive change, with most encouraged that they are now part of a world standard Nigerian company. It gives them belief in the future, and drives them to think outside the box, see opportunities, and create solutions. This is hugely motivational.

As a person what informed your decision to stay with Silk Road Hospitality?

The challenges encourages and forces one to become creative, look for new solutions to old problems, synergise with colleagues and come up with a new approach. Thanks to engaging and supportive owners, we are on a new journey, and excited to see what view is over at our next horizon. The work ethics here is positive, staff respect their superiors, owners and property. The environment is challenging, but conditions still fair to stay and give your best to Nigeria. I experience a sense of appreciation, and that my contributions are respected, and appreciated.

How confident are you of growing the business to meet up with the expectation of the hotel’s owners?

My colleagues and I are confident that we can grow this market. I think we have a unique offering; bringing luxury and relaxation to the market. We don’t want to flood the market. Diamonds are not found everywhere. We want to offer what was found on the Silk Road of old; safety in travelling, comfort while resting, good food, and lively interaction. There is still a boutique feel about it

How would you describe the present state of hospitality business in Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja?

We have a variety of international and regional brands planting the field. All have its place and purpose. We feel that post-COVID – 19, more existing, and new developers will look inwards for solutions. We specifically acquired valuable skill and experience in developing standout hotels in Nigeria. We know the terrain, what is possible, and what is economical and what is realistic. We don’t want to waste our time, and developers’ time, on unrealistic ventures. We have a good pipeline, operate from a low cost base, and are very close to the owner, pre – and post-operations. The sector is alive and well, with many new developments coming to the market. We see this on all levels, sizes and styles. Many developers still see the hospitality sector as an easy and quick market to get your returns. Once the operation gets going, flaws are exposed, poor design becomes apparent, maintenance neglected, and at times owner involvement ruins the day. We prefer to keep to a professional and sophisticated standard and true hospitality our aim. As Warren Buffet likes to say; “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

Would you say business has recovered to the level it was pre – COVID -19 or still reeling heavily under it?

The Nigerian economy was on a downward trajectory before the COVID – 19 pandemic struck. We have move out of a state of recession recently. Our property just came to the market, so in terms of our achievements and statistics, we are writing the book as we go on. We have smashed all previous revenue records the past three months. Our hard work in previous years is paying off. We are thankful for a well-designed and constructed hotel. Things are coming together well. We need a year of normal trading to know what is normal. But then, we will enter a post COVID – 19 era, and then that will be a new phase. So we take it as it comes, work hard, stick to our principles, and move on.

What is your message to investors in hospitality and to hoteliers in general?

The best I can say is plan well, and be realistic. The devaluation of the currency will frighten you. Things will cost twice as much and take twice as long. Have a plan. Call us, we can help you. For any developer or investor, we have plan fit for your purpose. We have a proven track record for Nigeria.

 

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