Before the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease, Africa’s hospitality industry was adjudged the most promising by W Hospitality. However, like many other sectors, the pandemic dealt a deadly blow on the industry, getting it on its knees. In this interview with JOHN CHUKWU, the founder of Noxiae Nigeria, Daniel Godwin, says Nigerian hotels need to improve on hygiene and security, while Africans should make travel requirements easier within the continent to grow their hospitality industry.
How would you describe Noxiae Nigeria, which you founded?
Noxiae Nigeria is Nigeria’s first hotel and hospitality reviews platform. We visit and vet the services of Nigerian hotels, including their security, hygiene routine measures, level of comfort and matching their prices for values by giving our reviewed perception of each hotel visited.
We developed a first of its kind hotel rating system in Nigeria that matches with its current economic climate, standard of living and the necessary expected hospitality services Nigerians deserve. We intend that this star ratings guide locals and tourists in making the right hotel choices.
How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the hospitality industry?
This pandemic has come unexpectedly and slowed down the growth rate of Nigeria’s hospitality industry. It led to the temporary shutdown of operations in hotels and, in turn, many jobs are cut, as employers are unable to pay wages. I can verify for certain that prior to this pandemic, there was a slight dip in hotel bookings, as hotels complained of drop in numbers of patronage and the locals, from our research, complaining of hotel room prices just being slightly too high. Of course, we understand the indirect costs, such as power, borne by Nigerian hotels and other hospitality businesses to maintain the required standard, yet a balance was just something we needed before this pandemic came – a balance to sustain our hospitality patronage and be a ladder for further improvement. This pandemic, however, has sadly worsened our current situation because locals are not only bothered about price matching value but also hygienic routines to ensure health safety across all hotels.
We are in a state whereby Nigerian hotels have to assure and prove to the people that their environments are safe and that there are adequate measures placed by the government to check and balance their hygiene routines from time to time post-COVID-19.
A recent study by W. Hospitality Group found that at the wake of 2020, Africa was going to have the world’s most promising hospitality business. However, according to the study, the pandemic made the industry in the continent to crash. How much do you agree with the study?
I very much agree with the study from W. Hospitality, but not totally. I agree that African hospitality was on the rise prior to the pandemic, but not the world’s most promising; rather, it was capable of being the world’s most promising if some certain factors were rectified.
We know for certain that tourism drives the hospitality business, so the more people travel into Africa, the more prospects for our hospitality. But nobody speaks about addressing how difficult it is to travel within Africa and how the flight prices are almost on par with travelling to destinations outside the continent. This issue will forever be a hindrance to African hospitality and this is what I think will contribute negatively to our growth. The more Africans are encouraged to move within Africa, the higher prospects for our hospitality.
The pandemic made the industry in the continent to crash, and with the fear factor worldwide of a second wave and people not wanting to be trapped in other countries, I fear for a tough time. But I am also optimistic that things will turn around positively towards the end of the year due to the measures put in place so far to ensure health safety.
Around the world, hotels have begun to re-open. Do you think hotels in Nigeria should re-open so soon?
Yes, I think so, if all adequate measures are put in place by the hotels.
What do you suggest for re-opening of hotels in Nigeria?
I suggest proper education of hygiene routines to all hotel employees to counter a second wave of the pandemic and a business interruption insurance policy.
Your company is reportedly making efforts to visit hotels after COVID-19, to observe their new hygienic routines and point locals and tourists to the safe ones. Do you think this is a fair practice? Why don’t you help guide the ones that are not getting it right?
We are open to assisting every hotel. There are neither lines nor criteria. However, such a hotel has to be transparent and willing to be re-vetted. We would visit, observe and give our feedback to such hotels for further improvement.
Recently, especially during this lockdown, reports of rape have become almost a daily occurrence. How can Nigerian hotels be made accountable and not be a centre for rape?
We encourage hotels to improve on their security to tackle rape and protect Nigerian women. I am very particular and passionate about this case, which is why a hotel without closed circuit television cameras has a low rating from us. Anyone who lodges must provide a verified means of identification, such as driver’s licence, international passport etc. If such a rape allegation should occur, the hotel must be able to work with the police in identifying the suspect quickly. Women must be protected at all costs. I also wish hotels have the ‘Rape Attempt Warnings’ in their premises.
Also, there are more reports of people being killed inside hotel rooms by the same person(s) lodging with them. How would you assess security in Nigerian hotels?
I understand that hotel revenue is a numbers’ game, but their ethics should not be lost as well. This goes down as well with my security improvement point and diligence of proper vetting through identification documents in hotels. Every visitor to the hotel who wishes to lodge must provide such documents, and due diligence of proper investigation must be taken at check-in and check-out.
How can hotels provide better protection for women?
Tighten security and work with the police, take record of people accused of rape and murder and be able to identify them when they come for a room lodge. Hotels must be extra vigilant in vetting cases of a male and female getting a room together. Extra checks and priority must be given to such rooms at check-in and check-out.
The hospitality industry in Nigeria, especially the hotels, appears unstructured in managing their personnel. Staff turn-over remains the highest and most hotels don’t have retirement plan for workers. Why do you think the hotel industry has remained unstructured for too long?
First, one major reason we started vetting hotels was to ensure the safety of Nigerians in hotels. We found out how buildings not qualified to be hospitable were registered as hotels and we were sure many registered hotels were not qualified to be registered. Some hotels provide these benefits you have mentioned and some do not. However, it boils down to the current efficiency of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation and what criteria they consider in registering hotels. I honestly think it’s a poor job done by them so far. Hospitality employees are not protected and there are no laws put in place to protect them at all.
How can the industry begin to change and improve in this direction?
NTDC must ensure that all international and local hotels must have some sort of retirement benefit structure for its Nigerian workers and adhere to it.