By Chinwendu Obienyi
Wumi Jubril is the Chief Executive Officer, Seattle Residences and Spa, one of the leading Luxury Hospitality brands in West Africa. Having acquired over 10 years of hospitality experience within the industry she sees great opportunities that Nigerian investors can explore to improve the contributions of tourism to the nation’s GDP
She recently spoke to Daily Sun on how best Nigeria can boost the growth of its tourism sector to ensure its contribution to GDP is improved. Managing a strong team of hospitality professionals who help to curate some of the most memorable wellness escapes in Nigeria, Wumi speaks on the challenges of the business as well as its future prospects.
About SRS Collection
SRS collection originated from the name Seattle Residences and Spa. We started 3 years ago and what we were trying to create was wellness escapes because being in Lagos can be exhausting sometimes due to hectic days at work and then traffic amongst others. Sometimes we want to try and have a weekend getaway and then there are not many places to go to.
Most times when people go to hotels, it is actually business, probably a meeting or conference and so we wanted a place where you could come in and have everything you could possibly be searching for. We have intercontinental menus for people who would come in from far and want to patronise us or even Nigerian meals. We have a spa that works for 24 hours and so everything is right there. We realized that during COVID-19 times, we were doing great when some hotels were not doing that great and running at 100 per cent. We also set up a place at Ikoyi (Clayhall by SRS) about a year and half ago and then we have a third property and so Seattle Residences is the flagship.
Boosting tourism sector
The property already sells itself and every time our clients come here; they get so comfortable. This is down to the impressive packages (Christmas packages) that we have rolled out for our customers and that are selling as December is fully booked and the rates are affordable. That is good value for money. We are very interested in good deals that work and, in most cases, they are attractive to the customers.
At the beginning, it was exhausting, and I think that it is because people see hospitality as a job as opposed to a career. There is so much more to serving a meal. I have met so many people especially as regards staff retention. Most times when we interview people, they always want to work as front desk officers and looking at their track record based on where they have worked before, they are not even suited to the role or roles. There is even more to this profession and sometimes we have to speak to the places that they have worked, and we find out that most of them do not know what they aspire even after joining you. Right now, I am very comfortable with the team we have on ground, especially my food and beverage team because they have been there from the beginning. They are doing it because they love doing it and they want to do it.
Staying afloat amidst competition
It has not been easy, but I still feel we have a different product from what our competitors out there are offering. There are not that many luxury properties and aside from the fact that we are giving our customers accommodation, we have events that we organise. We have wine tastings, food tastings and other events that generate revenue for us. We even make these events in such a way that we attract sponsorships and brands who want to work with us.
Low level of tourism contribution to Nigeria’s GDP
When I look at some hotels, there are so many things attached to their growth and development. Education is key and I do not know when that problem will be solved but I think that most of the people that I know that are doing well in hospitality, most of them did not study here in Nigeria unfortunately and there are few ones who are genuinely passionate about what they do. So, I think that there must be schools to properly train the students to do more and I think that the hotels that have been built as opposed to see it as a revenue generating source, it has to be so much more and so I think the passion has to be there. We should be able to have something like a National Tourism month or day dedicated to tourism. They are looking to go on holidays and Nigeria should be on their minds because Nigeria has so much to offer but we have not grabbed that opportunity yet. If the government focuses on utilising that, we could generate so much revenue for the country.
Deliberate intentions to create more tourist sites
I do not think there is a deliberate effort to drive these things here in Nigeria, but I still feel there are still ways to go around these issues. There is the traffic factor to consider and so Nigeria especially Lagos needs to consider cruises. I spoke to someone weeks back and I was shocked when he said he does not know any resorts in Lagos especially because he has access to these things. We have not tapped into the cruise factor; I know that there have been efforts in the past, but we can still do more. There are helicopters but I know it costs a lot of money but if the government decides to sponsor it, I think we can do a lot. These guys are the ones bringing in FX and so I do think, this is another way to generate revenue for the country.
Boosting the sector via private-public partnership
There is a tourism board in Addis Ababa, and they are looking at tapping into that. For instance, it would have to be the likes of companies in the sector and there is a CSR to it where they would just do it to contribute to the community but there are tourism companies that can collaborate. The cruise companies have to be involved as there are a lot of things that there are companies coming together to contribute to the growth of tourism here in Nigeria, but they are not getting much interest and I think it is probably the marketing aspect of it that they are struggling with because it is very expensive here in Nigeria.
Interest in Tourism
It started 12 years ago, and it was because I realized that I love to look after people. I come from a family of doctors. My parents and brothers are doctors and of course there was an opportunity to get into the oil and gas sector, I just found that boring personally. I did my NYSC with Sheraton Hotel, Lagos. I worked with Sheraton, Gambia as well and worked with Four Points by Sheraton in Lagos and then did a little bit of travel with an oil and gas firm temporarily but this is what I am passionate about, and I think I enjoy the customer service about this business and ensuring that they are comfortable and happy.
Advice to aspiring tourist entrepreneurs
Collaboration is key to these things. I have gotten to where I am because of collaboration and I feel people do not open up a lot of times and sometimes I think that there are a lot of pushbacks but when you open up within the right network, then you have people who are interested in investing in your line of business. Another thing is that if you do not like people, then do not bother venturing into this line of business.
Business target and goals
I think in about 5-10 years, I am hopeful that we would have probably about three or four more properties around maybe not limited to Nigeria, but we will work hard towards that. For now, we are comfortable about our three properties, and we are growing and so maybe next year, we will look forward to acquiring a property. We are working very hard at improving our services and we employ some of the best trained staff from not limited to Lagos and Nigeria alone as we are open-minded. We try to be very African, and we also work on our compliance and in doing that, we want to ensure that we align to the standards of our regulators. Part of why we have managed our services effectively is because we are not in a hurry to hire for the sake of hiring because we need to make sure that people are good enough for the brand and in what we are trying to achieve.
Listing on the nation’s bourse
Yes, we will look at it eventually but for now we want to focus on building the brand very well and I will rather stay strong before we start exploring the market maybe in the near future.