By Dickson Okafor
Miss Ifebuche Ann Ezika, an Enugu State-born graduate of Marketing from Yaba College of Technology, said she chose to become a hotelier because that is what she knows how to do best. The hospitality consultant and head of New Castle Hotel, Abuja, whose enviable track record of successes has placed her among best hotel managers in the country, in this interview, highlights her selling points.
Ezika attended Mcglamour Hospitality Academy, starting her career as a front desk officer. Hard work and perseverance has seen her to her present position of a general manager. She recalls why she chose hospitality, instead of marketing, and why New Castle Hotel is becoming an important player in the hospitality sector in Nigeria in spite of the economic downturn. She also dwells on some challenges in the industry, including multiple taxation and epileptic power supply, among other issues.
How long has New Castle Hotel been in existence?
New Castle Hotel came into operation a decade ago. It was actually started in Owerri by an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist, Chief James Okwudili. It was his own way of giving back to the society, being a key player in the tourism and hospitality industry. You may ask, how has he been impacting society through this industry? New Castle Hotel charges less than other hotels anywhere in the country, not minding its strategic position, while our standard remains high. We site our hotels in the highbrow areas in cities across the country and we offer best service in terms of food and human relations, with international best practices, hence the reason New Castle is always fully booked. Our target is to maximise profit and render to our customers ultimate satisfaction in service delivery. Since 2005, New Castle Hotel has contributed immensely to the growth of the nation’s GDP. High patronage since inception has encouraged us to open New Castle Hotel in Abuja and Lagos and we look forward to further expansion.
How has the economic downturn affected the hospitality industry?
The industry is adversely affected because people must eat first before seeking leisure. You would agree with me that things are difficult, so the hospitality industry has recorded low patronage. It has affected us in terms of occupancy, and when you don’t have enough occupancy you won’t be profitably run a hotel under severe economic conditions such as ours. Even to pay salaries may be difficult.
What is your selling point?
Good customer relationship, even when it is not suitable for me. I try as much as I can to put a smile on the face of my customers. I would say that passion is my driving force.
What are other challenges you face?
Multiple taxation, which most outfits cannot pay, is one of the major challenges we face. Another limiting factor is the epileptic power supply in the country. Sometimes, we run generators 24 hours, and you know the cost of diesel.
Tourism and hospitality are major revenue earners for most countries, what do you think can be done for the industry in Nigeria to be more viable, now that government is trying to diversify the economy?
Reduction in tax and bills charged by government would encourage more people to invest in tourism. We are given outrageous bills and taxes, hence the for non-performance in the industry.
Nigeria has been described as a nation whose citizens don’t pay tax and you are saying that operators in the industry are over-taxed, how do you reconcile this?
The reason for low tax payment in Nigeria is because of lack of database. Without proper database, you won’t know those who are taxable and tax evaders. So, the burden rests on a few individuals and organisations that are noticeable or doing legitimate business in the country. In other countries, their citizens pay tax because they have a database and they can be reached. I want you to note that nobody likes to pay tax but the system will compel you to pay your tax, since it is through taxation that developmental projects can be carried out. For instance, in Abuja, as recorded by Hotel Owners Forum, Abuja, we have about 34 different bills to pay and, if we show you the amount of money we pay, you would marvel. For instance Abuja Municipal Area Council charges us on environmental, health, tenement rate, liquor and other bills just in one local council area. We also have several federal government ministries that come up with bills. Apart from that, we have high electricity bill to pay even though in most cases we did not consume the electricity we pay for. The funny thing is that most of these bills fall under an umbrella. In other countries businessmen and women are not frustrated, our government frustrates investors here. So, if they compress the rate and bills, we will be able to pay salaries and keep a few people in jobs.
z What is the employment strength of the industry even in recession?
Your guess is as good as mine, low. If you can’t pay bills, power and maintain generators, how can you employ more people? Let me use my company as an example: we used to have administration, marketing and general manager, housekeeping and income auditors’ offices with at least nine persons in each department, but now most of these offices are no longer functioning in most hotels because they had to cut cost in order to meet key financial responsibilities. Here, I handle administration, marketing and general manager roles at the same time, just because of low patronage and multiple tax. Apart from low occupancy, most of the guests come begging, asking us to lower our rate further or they do not need to use air-conditioner. That is how bad the situation is in the industry.
Many believe the reason for low patronage in the industry is that there is no more ‘free money,’ what is your take?
It could be, to some extent, but I won’t totally agree with you because there are many Nigerians who do legitimate business. Remember that Nigeria was adjudged number 10 emerging economy in the world and also the World Bank said Nigeria was a business-friendly environment. So, because of the high rate of business transactions, hospitality business is supposed to thrive in the country. Nigeria remains an investment haven in Africa and the world is looking up to us, which is the main reason government must encourage us to provide quality and affordable service to tourists coming to the country.
How do you handle men, especially male staff?
My relationship with men is cordial as, I come across a lot of men on a daily basis. I have maintained a cordial relationship with those I meet. In terms of dealing with male staff, they have no option than to comply with rules and regulations guiding the organisation. Sometimes, some of them that came from a background where is forbidden for a woman to be in charge try to exhibit such tendencies, but they are always called to order. So, it’s been awesome working with my team.