By ‘Dotun Akintomide
With a dismissal 4.8% contribution to National Gross Domestic Product (Jumia Travels 2017), local and foreign experts advertently believed that the hospitality industry lags behind other sectors of the Nigerian economy amid several untapped potentials, notwithstanding the diversification effort of the incumbent administration to scale up activities.
But for the Group Managing Director, Fusion Group, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Edun, a strategic player in the sector, the failure to leverage on tourism as an important catalyst that could spur on the hospitality business in the nation to new highs provides the narratives as to the reason why the sector has failed to live up to its true yearnings in spite of sundry potentials available across Nigeria.
The challenges, according to the Fusion Group founder stem from government’s inconsistent policies, directions and framework over the decades, not leaving out Nigerians’ attitude towards standards and customer’s service relationship.
“I would say that the major challenge to the hospitality industry would actually be standards. We just had a Venue Summit for hospitality sector and that also dominated the discussion. We need to understand that Nigeria is now in the global space, there’s nothing like Nigerian culture or Nigerian attitude, so we need to raise our standards, especially on things concerning customers’ service, our presentation, our rules, policies and procedures. There’s so much work to be done.
“Generally, we can say yes, we would rate just below average in terms of hospitality, that’s the way I see it, but I know there are lots of potentials for Nigeria to do well in that space,” she exclusively told The New Diplomat on the sidelines of the 2017 Venues’ Summit held in Lagos.
After successive years of oil boom which saw Nigeria earned billions of petrodollars as export revenues peaked, the shocking crash in the prices of black gold globally, having failed to diversify revenue base, plunged the nation’s monolithic economy to the most devastating recession in 29 years.
To prevent a re-occurrence of such low points, Edun cautioned that it is important for Nigeria to consider alternatives in the hospitality sector “that could be easily leverage upon to raise revenues and begin to increase the GDP.
“We have a lot of tourism sites which are potential revenue earners, but again the industry doesn’t have practitioners, it doesn’t have products, it doesn’t even have a policy direction, it’s just hanging there and I would say it could have been due to the fact that before now, tourism was never a focus, but now oil revenue has dwindled, it has become an eye opener for the nation to say, what are the other things we have that could be easily leverage upon to raise revenues and begin to increase the GDP. I honestly think tourism is a big part of it. Tourism is actually important because, it’s going to help us employ more youths and people.”
Relating the wide skill gap existing in the sector to the obvious lack of adequate hospitality institutions where workers in the sector can master the basic hospitality management practices, she noted that, “even now there are no good hospitality schools as it were, though there are a few of them here and there, they can’t even train up to 100 persons per time. All over the world there are hospitality schools. Even skills supplied to hospitality sector are totally below the required capacity. They don’t have the understanding, the training, they don’t have anything.
“Many things we do see abroad, for instance, in a country like Bahamas, tourism accounts for 80% of their revenue and the father, mother and children in a home probably work in the tourism sector. From somebody being a tour guide to another being a bus driver to somebody being a lift operator, there’s something for everyone to do and here we are not doing that. We hope government will see that this opportunity is here and will start to provide a framework. You see, once the private sector can see a template, we are ready to key into it, we know what to do and how to do it. we are waiting for a proper framework to say it’s safe to go in here. Then, get funding for it and people can begin to do business, I have done a lot of research on this and tourism is something I’m really interested in and I’m hoping very soon we can have a policy direction.”
Edun who owns a virtual hall inside Ikeja GRA, Lagos, sitting atop her facility management company, after rising to the echelons in her banking career observed that the lack of proper organizational structure and goal which characterized many Nigerian businesses explained the reason why operators in the sector have not been able to get enough support coming from government and financial institutions.
“For most of the indigenous hotels and event venues we have, they’re largely unstructured and you see them being centered around one man which makes it a big risk lending to that kind of facility, as against a setting that has this sort of proper structure. Banks will be falling on themselves to lend to that kind of setting, even if they don’t need the money, they’re going to offer it to them. Banks will be gambling by lending to an unstructured setting,” she said.
Stressing on the importance of answering the right questions before going into business, she added that “if as a banker, I sense that you’re not even sure of what you’re going to do, I’m not going to give you people’s money to go and gamble with. So you must be sure of what you’re going to do with it. If I was a small company, I would have gone to structure a way with perhaps an international company, a oil company and some other companies to ask who are the people that will take the rooms I will building in this hotel, at least for a period of two years. if I go to a bank with that kind of structure they are going to give me the money because they can see that the cash flow is actually solid, so the money is going to come. Nobody is going to give me other people’s money to play around with.”
Having set a personal goal for herself to quit banking at age fourty, she said the transition in her career to facility management in 2014, has been an exhilarating experience despite daring a new challenge that comes with new passion. “I’m enjoying what I do and again passion is infectious, so when you’re passionate about what you do, everybody wants to feel it and they want to tap into what you do, and that’s what I have enjoyed.”
As an entrepreneur whose business portfolio covers hospitality, commercial real estate and consulting, brokering several deals with local and international partners, she owes her success to years of tutelage in the banking industry. “I would say a lot of training l had in my previous background helped me in setting up my own business and I’m managing it today. And I think there are lots of potentials and opportunities in project and hospitality management, there are lots of opportunities in Nigeria.”
Offering her thoughts on Nigeria’s exit from economic recession after recording the first positive GDP growth since early 2016, she said with cautious optimism that a timeline of recovery must be exhausted for all market players across the economic ladder to feel its impact before government can roll out the drums. “I will want to stay positive and say yes it’s statistically true, but it can only be real, the moment when you and I can feel it on the streets.”
However, she said with the official pronouncement by the government “we’re almost certain that truly we’re out of the woods and it’s all about what we do going forward.”