Southern Sun, Ikoyi
A chat with the general manager of the Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, was an opportunity for the South African brand to showcase how far it has come managing its first West African property and plans for the future. The parley also brought to
the fore a telling statistic, Demola Ojo writes
Mark Loxley came into Nigeria five years ago as the South African hospitality brand, Southern Sun, set up shop in preparation for the eventual opening of the rebranded Ikoyi Hotel on June 1, 2009.
As a South African-trained Briton who has managed hotels in Zambia, Seychelles, Jamaica and more, it won't be far off the mark suggesting his experience in Africa and the Caribbean was instrumental to the Southern Sun, Ikoyi, hitting the ground running.
As general manager of the 195-room facility, his initial observations of the Nigerian market helped in shaping a strategy that has so far helped in keeping the hotel consistent in creating value for customers.
One strategy was the insistence on providing guests with Nigerian cuisine. “From a culinary perspective we made sure we were able to provide authentic Nigerian food because as I was told, it wasn't typical of many of the existing hotel brands,” Loxley said.
This was just one of a few tactics employed to make the hotel “user friendly.” Another was organising and supporting sporting events including a corporate golf day at the Ikoyi Club and the Lagos yachting competition helped in furthering the brand's visibility while also being socially responsible. There are plans to make the golf tournament bigger this year.
On his impressions of Nigerian market, he said, “Nigerians have a good work ethic and the Nigerian market is a very aspirational one. There's no lack of understanding when it comes to quality of service because Nigerian businesspeople know what the quality of a four or five star hotel internationally is meant to be because they travel extensively.”
Priciest Hotel Destination
Being a travelling people, many Nigerians would have realised that hotel room rates in Lagos are way above what obtains in most other cities. However, it is not surprising that rates in Nigeria are on average the most expensive, given the country's lack of basic infrastructure.
“One thing I keep reiterating and reminding our staff is that there's a lot more expectations when people come into Lagos because the room rates in Lagos, are some of, if not the most expensive in the world; even more expensive than Moscow, especially as there have been corrections throughout the world because of the global economic crisis.”
He believes this thrusts on him and his team a greater sense of responsibility. “If you come in and get a room in a 4-star facility for $300 to $320 a night, you are going to be more sensitized to the quality of facilities and service, because you know if you go to Dubai, you can get a 5-Star hotel for a lot less, say, $260. So there's a lot more pressure on the hotels as costumers are a lot more demanding,” he explained.
While cities like Moscow, Oslo, Muscat and Doha regularly show up in indexes as destinations with the highest average room rates (3-star rating and above), depending on the source, the $300 mark is seldom breached.
According to hotelmanagement.net, the average Moscow hotel rate as at January this year was 7,684 rubles ($242.49) per night. The Business Travel News' foreign corporate travel index put the 2011 average at $311 and explained that it is typical for cities with oil and gas connections to command high rates.
Apart from Nigeria falling into the category of an oil and gas destination, demand and supply is another reason for high room rates in Lagos which lags behind in the number of world-class hotels for a city its size. However the twin factors that spike prices mostly are Nigeria's poor security perception and especially, lack of basic infrastructure.
Staying Ahead of the Game
New entrants into the hospitality market are always looking for ways to beat the competition. At Southern Sun, Ikoyi, Loxley uses a few approaches to staying ahead of the game.
“Most business hotels typically run from Monday to Thursday, as people check out on Fridays to go back home,” he explained, adding, “So we keep the weekend activity strong by offering a weekend rate of N45,000, inclusive of taxes, breakfast, complimentary internet, complimentary parking and more.”
According to him, he had noticed that many hotels in Nigeria charge room rated exclusive of some services he feels guests should get for free. “You need to be careful how you view hotel rates. You could get a room for $300 that charges you for everything else including the bottle of water in your room, while another goes for $320 but with a lot of added benefits. Obviously, the second one is better value.”
Continuous training of staff is also of paramount importance. “Training is a part of everybody's job description here and we're particular about etiquette and attention to detail. For example, I noticed when I first came in that it was a tradition at some hotels to be met in the morning with the greeting, 'How was your night?' While this is in good faith, there's no reason to ask a guest in the morning how their night was. It could be deemed intrusive,” Loxley believes.
Attention to detail has surely helped in securing a lot of corporate and government clients. Airlines too, as Southern Sun Ikoyi is the preferred hotel for South African Airways, Kenya Airways and Qatar Airways.
Having a British background and a healthy relationship with the British High Commission has also helped in attracting guests, many of whom are high profile. The hotel hosted British Prime Minister, David Cameron and his delegation during a visit to Nigeria last year.
However, Loxley is the first to admit benefitting from the historical nature of the property itself. “It is has helped in no small measure that in the mindset of a lot of Nigerians it is still the Ikoyi Hotel.”