BIODUN OLATUNJI IS REGARDED BY MANY AS A MAN OF STYLE, PANACHE AND TASTE. THIS LAWYER, BUSINESSMAN, AND FOUNDER OF WORLD LILIES GUEST HOUSE, IBADAN, BELIEVES THAT TOURISM CAN BE USED TO TURN AROUND NIGERIA’S ECONOMY IF PROPERLY MANAGED. HE SPEAKS WITH AZUKAOGUJIUBA ON THE FUTURE OF THE NIGERIAN HOSPITALITY BUSINESS AND HIS VISION FOR THE INDUSTRY
You are a lawyer, what informed your decision to go into the hospitality business?
The hospitality business for me has always been a thing of passion. That was why I established World Lilies Guest House. I felt really fulfilled when we started operation but I know we still have a lot of work to do and by God’s grace, we will sail through.
What informed the choice of Ibadan for this hotel?
Maybe you don’t know, I grew up in Ibadan. This place is like my second home. I had my primary, secondary and tertiary education here in Ibadan. I have always wanted to have businesses around the globe not just Nigeria. So, when I conceived the idea of World Lilies Guest House, in fact the first place that came to my mind was Ibadan. Not Lagos. As a businessman, you need to have foresight and Ibadan is the third most populous place in Nigeria. Experts have predicted that by 2036, the population will skyrocket to 11.3 million and you know what that means for the hospitality industry. So, I see a new Ibadan set to emerge.
The edifice is furnished to taste, how old is the place and was it designed by you?
Everything you see there is imported and yes it was designed by me even though I had one or two contribution from my Architect, Engineer and my wife, who is an interior designer. I can boldly tell you that I am a man of taste and anyone who has met me can testify to that.
For a quiet city like Ibadan, compared to Lagos, how would you describe the patronage?
Things are picking up fast. This is just our third month of operation so I don’t want to be too forward but we have great expectation and so far, it hasn’t been bad. The hotel as you can see is built to taste, so first, they enjoy the best infrastructure and I make sure they have great value for their money from the check in and check out. We also have an event centre, two buildings away and our customers enjoy major discount when they book it for their occasion.
How would you compare the social life in Ibadan with Lagos?
Ibadan people are actually more social than we perceive them to be though we know Lagos is a buzzer!
Is there any plan to take World Lilies dream beyond Ibadan?
Of course! Even the name should tell you that. Like I said earlier, Ibadan is just a starting point by the grace of God.
With your state of art and tastefully furnished rooms, any plan to turn over the management of the hotel to professional hotel managers?
In the long run, yes! Even though the present team on ground is doing fantastically well. But you know as time goes on, we will have to expand and that means we will need more professional hands.
What other ventures are you into?
My training as a lawyer has given me the necessary background to do a whole lot of things without limitation. One thing I always tell people is that the legal profession is the best profession ever. I call it the ‘high leveler’. As a lawyer, with the kind of training you get, you can fit into any business you venture into; so let’s just say some other things. You will hear about them soon.
How do these numerous businesses of yours affect the time you spend with your family?
I am a family man and my family is my priority. I am surrounded by a good team which makes the work easier because I do a lot of delegations.
What do you do for leisure?
I relax, and watch football. By the way, I’m a Gunner (an Arsenal Football Club supporter). I also do enjoy travelling but I don’t have that luxury all the time.
Words around here say you’re a huge philanthropist. Is that your own way of giving back?
Well, I wouldn’t say it the way you put it, I would just say that I do it to the best of my abilities. God has been faithful to me, so I see it as a responsibility to God.
At a time when many people are complaining about the hazards of the hospitality business, you’re investing in it. Do you have any word for people that might have given up on the business?
The hospitality industry is a huge industry all over the world. I understand that there are many challenges but it’s never a write off, not in this era of new technologies, tourism and development. Hotels are always in demand as more and more people are travelling and in need of accommodation. That is why all our facilities are of international standard. What I would say is that the business is capital intensive, so you have to have patience and a lot of it, if you know what I mean.
How difficult or easy has it been having to shuttle between Lagos and Ibadan to monitor the business?
It is only God, and the passion for what I’m doing drives me.