Carlson Rezidor Group, in partnership with Avalon Intercontinental, recently opened a second Radisson Blu Hotel in Ikeja after the takeover of Renaissance Hotel. Jonathan Eze spoke with Carlson’s regional director, William Mcintyre, who says the ultimate goal is to help grow the Nigerian economy through the hospitality sector. Excerpts:

My name is William Mcintyre and I am the Regional Director, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group for Africa specifically English speaking Anglophone Africa. I have been in the hospitality industry for almost 25 years. I started my career in construction engineering, project management and from the engineering side of things to the human resource and through that, I became involved in operations where I spent some time on the other side of the fence in asset management and then came back into operations.

I have worked on several projects over a period of time and I always felt that my approach to business and that of Rezidor are very much aligned, so when the opportunity to join came up, I was very keen to take it. I joined the company late last year and am enjoying it

How did the story of converting Renaissance Hotel to Radisson Blue Start?
We were approached by the owners and they were looking for a change. We are very flexible in our approach to the deals that we do and we felt that the location was perfectly suited to our style of hospitality and business, so we were very excited to accept the challenge that the owners have given us. The management is very forward thinking and they have established themselves as the leading hotel owners in the city.

They have got good product and we are very proud to be associated with them and with this particular hotel because it gives us an entry presence in Lagos and we also understand the importance of Lagos to Nigeria and the larger hospitality industry, Ikeja being the economic centre of the state, so it was the perfect deal for us to be honest, now we have two Radisson Blues in the city, one on the island and the other in the state’s capital. You know that they say in hospitality industry that the three most important things are location, location and location. It was a good deal for us and we are very excited.

What is your take on hospitality business in Nigeria?
I think to speak about hospitality in Nigeria, you will have to speak about the Nigerian economy, which is also the largest economy on the continent, but not just its economy, but it has experienced difficulties recently with the oil prices, we see in commodity based economies that we are involved in, Nigeria based on oil and South Africa for example is based on its mining commodities. Africa is primarily an industrial continent and we feel it is the right time to come here so that we can get involved in the turning around process of the economy and it has been all very exciting.

Are you optimistic that this business you are starting here today will lead to something great for your business?
Yes, definitely. If you listened to the speeches that were made, there is a common trend in what the people are speaking about. They recognise the people that bring investment, they speak about profitability and they speak about doing business and bringing business. It is unusual to find such a common trend runs through even when you speak to people individually, it is congratulations on bringing the businesses, we would like to become involved and when people think like that and we hear it in what people say, you get the feeling that even though the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is growing slowly, we can all find a way to fix it and not sit back and complain.

There is such an entrepreneurial approach to the conversations and the impression I was left with was that okay sometimes are tough and we say let us make it happen because the tag line of Radisson Blue is yes I can. We refer that to the service ethic and the experience we give our guest, but if you are in our country where yes I can is inherent in the way they want to do business, you can go on, but really I am very impressed by the attitude of the approach of the people

What are your unique selling propositions?
We talk about stylish, sophisticated hotels, we talk about iconic, so these are the words we can use to describe the way we operate in Radisson Blue and because this is a take-over, we were very lucky to find a hotel that fits all of those adjectives we like to use to describe Radisson Blue, but our business is very competitive and our business is experiential, we sell our experience, so we have within our training, service and ethos, we have yes I can, every moment matters. Our staff members are trained to anticipate guest’s needs.

Many hotels will claim to offer something different, but with the three prominent brands we have on the continent, you will experience a different interaction with the staff, we encourage them to anticipate the guest’s needs, we encourage them to engage, we do not wait to be called to serve our guest. It is an interactive type of service where we engage with people, we bring that type of service as a pleasure, the hotels are clean, they are well maintained and are opened for business, so when you come into our Radisson, you will receive a different type of service and a different level of service. It is a big claim to make, but I will like you to come and experience what we are saying here

Operationally, it is expected that a hotel like Radisson Blue would showcase something very different in terms of expertise?
We have a wide and deep experience across African countries, we have 44 hotels opened and another 45 under development on the continent at the moment, we have expanded very quickly, so from an operational point of view, we understand the environment within which we operate, so you take the local industry and blend it with international service ethics. We have experienced operators that have operated in West Africa and in Africa. The General Manager is very experienced in Africa, but all of that is necessary but the only way that it works is if the local community and the local people blend the localisation of the service idea to life and what has been our experience since I have been here is that the staff are important, they make eye contact, they engage…so I am very excited that because there seems to be an affirmative reaction with the Nigerian people and business strategies that we have.

Do you have plans for staff development and training?
We are bringing in a master trainer and we will start with the core training because every moment matters. We are working on a new food and beverage concept for the hotel, but we will discuss with the owner and hopefully get the go ahead. We have development programmes, we have mentorship programmes, we have technical specific programmes and because we are expanding in such a rapid rate, Radisson Blue is the fastest growing brand in the continent today, so we need to identify the high performance and rapidly bring them through the ranks, because we need people that understands hospitality and primarily, we need people that understands us, who understands the brand and the service ethic, we must build and grow with the people that come to us and because of our expansion rate and the opportunities that the people have, it is probably more rapid than normal, we have business schools and in the first half of this year we have a business school in Cape town and a business school in Dubai, so we split the area and the people are coming from Rwanda, South Africa, but we sent these people back and we built training capacity with them and back it up with regional specialisation.

Did you encounter any challenge during the take-over?
Business comes with the challenges, but we had a very amicable take over with the previous managers of the company, but it is not the first take over we have done, we expect problems and we are ready to deal with them, it is part and parcel of this kind of business and not if you build one where you pre-open and open, you will have problems on your own, with this take-over we had some, but nothing that we cannot overcome.

About your facility, any blueprint for sustainable improvement?
It is funny that you used the word blueprint because, we have a project called blueprint. For two weeks, we will evolve the hotel through consultation with the owner, we believe that we can enhance the food and beverage experience , we have a programme called exceptional meetings where we will bring a core framework into the conferencing division and the rooms are well designed and well apportioned, but we would like to improve on some of the amenities which again improve on the experience and move towards a bit more structured housekeeping and cleaning, so there are some few ways where we would expand and improve our operations, some of our guest will understand the experience, because it will be guest facing, but there will be a lot of work and infrastructure to get a much better foundation for better service to come.

What are your takes on the issue of forex instability?
At the moment we are in 30 different countries in Africa and that is 30 different currencies and 30 different control administrators, governmental rules and regulations, so we need to be aware and adapt, but we also appreciate the effort to also stabilise the foreign exchange. We have lots of support through the owner and some of the cost control that manages the people we have that are Nigerians, this is not something we can run from, we have to learn to adapt and to operate, but like everybody else we want to be more stable and supportive.

Tell me about the diversity of the Nigerian people, what interest you about them?
They are colourful, they are tall, somebody explained it to me today, the 36 States, 36 Governors so that means 36 different voices, so Nigeria has got such a diverse nation, but Nigerians are still easy to spot, they are outspoken, they are industrious, for me, these are all traits that makes you successful, you become the number one economy on the continent, you do not stop, it is positive, but it is probably complicated, but it is positive

What message do you have for your customers?
Come and experience us, we have grown, we will grow more, you will see us pop across the country more and more. We are open for business and we guarantee a level of service that will either contribute positively to your leisure time or help you build your business.