“Our main dream is to become the best hotel brand in Nigeria in the West Africa subregion and even beyond.”
Zulu Ibrahim, is the Group General Manager Sun Heavens Hotel and Resorts, Lagos. In its short span of existence, the Sun Heavens hotel brand, which started with a 25-room boutique property in Victoria Island, has expanded into four fully operational hotels in Lagos and Abuja, and still growing at a rate that has kept industry stakeholders speechless.
In this interview, Ibrahim, who has been part of the catalyst, tells the story of a brand that is sure to redefine the hospitality landscape in West Africa, from its humble beginning to its present state and its ambitious destination as a key player in the tourism business.
This branch appears to be new, when did you open to the public?
Right now we have four functional hotels, the first one opened at Adeleke Adedibu Street, Victoria Island, after a year another one was built on Admiralty Road, Lekki Phase 1, and at Abuja, 36 Mamman Nasir Street, Asokoro, the fourth is on Plot 8, Onikoyi, Parkview Housing Estate, Ikoyi. Another is coming up at 151, Ikorodu Road, Onipanu, even bigger than this we have here. The more we expand the more we improve because we learn by how we are expanding. The first was just 25 rooms, 30 rooms, 80 rooms with state-of-the-art hall. In all we have four different types, 200, 100, 50 and boardrooms for 20, 25. This can cater for business and leisure alike. The reason we chose this environment is because it is secure and inside, the estate has its own security group, we also compliment with our armed security too because of the kind of environment we find ourselves, security is key, and then because we have the facility that can challenge any 5-star hotel around us. If you talk
of those ones that are in vogue, like The George Hotel, The Wheatbaker, Southern Sun Ikoyi etc, our competitors, you can see we have a cleaner, serene environment, very secure. People come here not because of the clean environment but because of our services. We have professionals from every where in Nigeria in the hospitality industry employed here, so since our five months in operation, we have not had any issue from our operations and we are going higher daily.
How’s your occupancy rate?
Well, that’s a challenge, because for something that is good, it doesn’t come cheap. The occupancy rate has been growing but not in the geometric rate as we expected, it has been growing conventionally. Today big multinationals are coming to us, so I know very well it will get better in coming months. When we started nobody knew we would last this long. Some critics said hotels that opened in Parkview Estate don’t last, they packed up within one year, but I convinced the hotel’s Board of Directors and made them know that this branch will survive. Apart from proximity to Lafarge, NAPIMSS, am very sure our services are fairly priced. No matter how expensive something is, if it is good, people will look for it, that is one, secondly, we are the most affordable 5-star hotel in Lagos now.
What’s your niche?
For me, am not saying they are not offering what they are supposed to offer but ours is a full-fledged hotel, has a swimming pool, a gym, very big halls, four classes of rooms, all furniture and fittings imported, some from Greece, some Spain, for specification and the kind of business, we want to do, we need to get it right ab initio, we really mean to do hospitality business, our main dream is to become the best hotel brand in Nigeria in the West Africa subregion and even beyond.
How do you plan to fit into the structure of home grown brands?
Sun Heavens is a Nigerian brand, and we are starting from the roots growing to the top. We don’t have any hotel yet of 300 rooms plus like Rockview or Golden Tulip, but we are starting from 25 rooms, by experimenting and at the same time improving on all offerings. We have seen what they are giving as their services but we are improving on it. Right now, as I’m talking, before 1st quarter of 2019, we plan to open in Umuahia. We have two coming soon in Enugu and Abuja, the second property, before the end of this year. We are about opening in Ibadan and Abeokuta, at the end, we will have 12 hotels on board. We are taking it in bits, but going everywhere. We don’t want to know the location, we just want everybody to feel the kind of hospitality they feel when they go abroad. It may not be that big, it may not be 300 rooms, but we are still coming to that. What we want now is to see what we can generate from all the hotels and build a massive one.
Which means your starting small was deliberate?
Yes, that’s what we planned, we just started small so that we would be able to manage and control whatever external forces that would come, which may want to bring us down, because if we start with 300 rooms, we might not be able to handle some unforeseen challenges, which are peculiar to some environments. For example, like the Parkview Estate, it is very secure, but is shielding the hotel from outsiders. The disadvantage is that nobody sees us, it is not free for everybody to come in. We have 80 rooms here so imagine on a daily basis we get 80 rooms filled up. It takes a lot of commitment and work. Basically the hotel is corporate-based hotel but we want to make it a neighbourhood hotel for people who are resident in the area and beyond to access. Now we have reduced rate for anybody that comes within the Estate for the gym, swimming pool and rooms.
Is this across board or specifically for particular guests?
It is across board, any room they want, whether working day or weekend, yes,that is our style although we have weekend rates, anyone from the estate who comes here gets a special treat. In this area we have high net worth clients residing in the estate so if they taste and like our services and bring guests here, we attend to them swiftly.
Publicity and media partners?
We are doing that. If you check the Daily Sun on Thursdays, you will find us there. In the New Telegraph, Wednesdays, you see us there. We are doing more on social media platforms, we have social network manager who does a lot of work through which we push out newsletters, greetings et cetera, to all our contacts. But for the traditional media,we partner with Sun and Telegraph. We also want to have an advert desk for Daily Sun at the front office with one of our staff managing it. Any body that needs advert we give them account details to pay. We have dailies at the reception but from next week, we would have complimentary copies in each room for guests to be informed of happenings.
If you call this place Sun Heavens Parkview Hotel, it means you are limiting our scope. This is Sun Heavens Hotel, Onikoyi, but the location is inside Parkview Estate. We will look at that later.
Our WiFi has a very high strength. What we do is that in other to secure our network, at the check-in- point, guests are given code to access the internet, and they use it unlimited, until they check out. But once the guest steps out of the gate, the WiFi will cease.
We have four room classification, Serene, Deluxe, Executive and Suites (also four types).
Your menu list
We offer both continental and Nigerian cuisines. Yes, we have theme nights and in-house entertainment, now we are blending all these activities. There are some things we do in other hotels that we don’t do here because of the environment. We don’t allow much noise, this place is exclusive, it’s more of residential. Concerning the menu, we don’t joke with it. If you eat prawns here and you go to Abuja, you want to come again. We have professional Chefs who train together, they know what to use, if you scan our menu list you would see the recipe there, so that if you have any allergy, you let us know and we plan what to serve you.