As hospitality outlets reopen their doors after the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, Vanessa Obioha writes that Marcel Brekelmans, the General Manager of Lagos Continental Hotel, is taking grand steps to promote African excellence in the hospitality industry
Two days to the reopening of Lagos Continental Hotel, its vicinity bustled with activities. New and old staff and expatriates converged at one of the conference halls on the 23-floor luxury hotel for a retreat. Experts like the Ghanaian chef, Selassie Atadika, who was listed among the top 100 chefs in the world was part of the speakers at the retreat. The speakers emphasized the need for the staff to improve their service delivery to exceed the expectations of their guests.
The General Manager of the hotel, the lively Marcel Brekelmans was on the ground to ensure that the activities were running smoothly. Having been shut down for seven months due to the global pandemic, Brekelmans is keen on repositioning the hotel as a top hospitality offering on the continent.
His ambitions are necessary. In the past few years, the relatively new hotel, formerly known as Intercontinental Hotel, has experienced some challenges affecting patronage.
However, in all of this, Brekelmans only sees a silver lining.
“I always like to see in whatever situation I end up in a silver lining. And the silver lining for this particular project was that it allowed us to rectify what was no longer acceptable in the current day hospitality world,” he explains.
“The hotel had lacked tender loving care for quite a few years. Whatever the reason they are for being I think lies behind us. I do not really want to look to the past, I would like to look to the future.”
What excites the Dutch hotelier most is the commitment of the new owners of the hotel, 11 Plc.
“Some owners invest and then step back and see what’s happening, our owner is extremely engaged and looking to open a high-quality product, and they are not only willing but actually investing a lot of money into the property. And this is going to be continuous until we have what we are looking for,” he enthuses.
The commitment is reflected in the treatment of staff of the hotel. Despite the economic constraints caused by the mysterious coronavirus, for five months during the shutdown, no member of staff was retrenched or furloughed. Notwithstanding, there have been several apportionments both domestic and expatriates to support the next phase of growth for the hotel. Brekelmans also points out that the hotel went through some refurbishment.
“We took the opportunity of the lockdown to work on the outstanding maintenance issues,” he says. “Some of them are very visible, like painting, the new concepts of the restaurant, but some of them are not so visible, but no less important. We have dealt with the past challenges of continuity of power, air conditioning, hot water and cold water supply. These were four points that were really challenging our operation and therefore we did not get the guest satisfaction that we were looking for in the past few years but by rectifying these four pillars of any hotel, we hope to gain back trust from our new and past clients.”
Guests visiting the hotel which officially opened on October 15, will easily notice the facelift. From the rooms to the restaurants. Each of the rooms has been soft touched. Painting, furniture, bathrooms, tilings, all have been redone in anticipation of a large-scale refurbishment within the next year or two.
In ensuring in-house guests safety regarding the ravaging COVID-19, the hotel rooms are rigorously cleaned and disinfected. After departure, rooms are left for a minimum of 24 hours and decontaminated before another guest’s arrival. Also, the hotel’s in-room directory now comes in a newspaper form. This enables the hotel to change it on daily basis to avoid paper contamination.
Two major projects that are at the heart of Brekelmans are the partnership with Atadika and the launch of the female executives’ floor.
The new floor dedicated to the corporate female travellers is redesigned by a female architect, artwork done by female artists, the security provided by females, and housekeeping and room services provided by female attendees.
In recent times, the number of female corporate travellers has spiked. Brekelmans sees that increase as an emerging market to tap into.
“More and more top executives in various companies are females. So it’s a definite market for our hotel to invest in and we have to diversify.”
But female travellers have also faced security risks while travelling. In a 2018 report by Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) in partnership with AIG Travel, 83 percentage of women say they have experienced one or more safety-related concerns or incidents while travelling for business.
Brekelmans intends to address that concern by providing safety measures.
“The rooms will be comfortable but foremost safe. Safe in every sense that when a female guest is in our hotel, she can open the door without hesitation, knowing that it’s good people on the other side.”
To enhance the femininity touch of the new floor, Atadika will be packaging different chocolate boxes with female names that will be available in each room on the floor.
Brekelmans who has an enviable reputation as a result-driven hotelier sees the partnership with the chef as a way of promoting African excellence. The chef according to him embodies the kind of passion he envisaged in his staff, having been the only African chef in the list of highly ranked chefs in the world.
Atadika’s promotion of African cuisine, and intersecting it with the environment, sustainability and economy are intriguing to Brekelmans. He is weighing other future partnerships with the chef. Her understanding of the agricultural sector makes him query the future of agriculture in Nigeria.
“Nigeria is one of the most educated farming community in Africa but the discovery of oil led to the abandonment of the agricultural sector. At one point, the country was the largest exporter of pineapple but all of that came to an end with the discovery of black gold. But oil will come to an end; in the next 25 years or thereabouts. New ways of energy are coming up and we will have to diversify. Feeding the nation is a top priority and with incredible growth, you will need to get back into agriculture, you cannot afford to import it. It’s not sustainable. It’s not the way forward.”
But the way forward for the hotel according to him is to retrain the staff to fetch the maximum satisfaction from guests.
“If you want to create a successful business, development and support must be continuous. Our business model going forward with our staff should be very simple. Do what you say and say what you do. So our guests know exactly what to expect when to expect it and how to expect it,” he notes.