Odua Investment Company Ltd, the holding company for the joint investments owned by the six states of Western part of the country, recently announced the appointment of Mr. Abimbola Alagbe as the Managing Director/CEO of Western Hotels. The board, owners of the Premier Hotels and Lafia Hotels, Ibadan, Oyo State, charged him to chart a new course of profitability for the hotels.
He spoke with Moshood Adebayo. Excerpts:
How did you receive the news of your appointment?
I know the Herculean task ahead of me. I accepted the offer bearing in mind that it is going to be a lot of work. One of the hotels under my assignment is well known, Premier, the pride of the Oodua. It was commissioned for operation in 1966, which is going to be 53 years on August 10, 2019.
But then little did many know that the Lafia Hotels, also under my purview is the mother hotel to Premier Hotels. It was actually built and commissioned for operation in 1947 by the old Western Region Government. It was the money made from Lafia Hotels that was used to build Premier Hotels.
Let me also shock you. When General Yakubu Gowon visited Ibadan as Head of State in 1971, the only good place in term of hotel accommodation that he could stay, as Commander-in-Chief was Lafia Hotels. The location then was the choicest of Whites in the historic town. For me, having to manage such hotels is more of a challenge than the euphoria of being a CEO of just a hospitality business.
The second challenge is that it is the pride of our forefathers. For example, one of the hotels is nine months or so older than me. It is also a big challenge that some people with high foreign taste built the hotels and preserved them there for some of us who were not born at the time the hotels started operations to come and work there.
It is throwing a challenge that I could also do something to preserve them for some people that will also come, may be some 53 years later. I was also cautious that I have a big task in my hand – a history-making task – and with God on my side I know that I can make a statement with the appointment.
What are your plans for the two hotels?
Let me tell you that while God was preparing this job for me, He has also prepared me for the job. How do I mean by that? I happened to have worked in some hotels as well as led hotels personally.
In the course of my working, not only being a player in the industry, I have also been a regulator and later the head of the licensing authority for the state. That was when I served as MD of Gateway Tourism Development Corporation, the agency of government that regulates hospitality, hotels, tourism and allied businesses in Ogun State.
I was not only a player but a regulator. What does that mean? It means that I know when to issue regulation for a business called hospitality, whether a hall, cinema, eatery, hotel, motel, etc. I also know when to give red card when necessary. I know when a hotel commissioned as 5-star begins to lose the star and I know what to do to gain more stars. What makes a hotel 5-star or 3-star is not the structure alone, but the services.
A hotel should cater for anyone and everyone that is human. You will drop your stars if you are not making provision for People Living With Disabilities (PLWD). Imagine if the PLWD has a progamme in town and you have a hotel with convenient doors that cannot take a wheel chair or a ramp through which they can bring in their wheel chairs, that is a big minus. It simply suggests that you do not cater for those kinds of people. If a hotel makes provision for those people, it will be an added advantage. I know what it takes for a hotel to lose and gain its rank.
I see my appointment as a privilege to reposition those two fantastic hotels, with their locations. In business, when the location is right, there are chances of 50 percent success. When you add the quality of materials used in building the hotels, you will discover that most of their walls were soundproof and remains so up till now even with fireproof materials.
The structure at Lafia and Premier though aged, they are added advantage which could be changed and ensure that quality and internationally acceptable standard, is followed, people who know good services will recognise it when they see it. Our plan is to make sure that when anyone whether in business, tourist, visiting or exigency of duty brings you to our hotels, we want to give you value for your money and ensure that we rank among the best. One thing I want to assure is that within the next few months those hotels in Ibadan will be the hotels to beat in the country.