Q&A: Focus on Quality

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The 5-star Federal Palace in Lagos has a rich history, but GM David Kliegl knows that will count for little in a competitive environment, where he believes there’s a surplus of hotel rooms. He joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat about the property he runs.

Give us a sense of the history of the Federal Palace?

This hotel was built in the 1950s. It was a privately-owned hotel, known as the Victoria Hotel and was then bought by the federal government and renamed the Federal Palace Hotel. The reason for that was the banquet that was held after the signing of the declaration of independence, was held in this hotel. That was in October 1960.

How did Sun International first get involved?

Our current partners purchased the hotel in the 1990s. They operated it for a number of years and then embarked on a refurbishment programme which stalled, and the hotel was actually closed for about 10 years. That’s when we got involved. We bought a share of the company – the Tourist Company of Nigeria – which owns and operates the Federal Palace. We then completed the refurbishment of the hotel and it opened again in July 2008.

What are your thoughts on the Lagos hotel industry?

Everybody thinks that Lagos is under-subscribed, in terms of hotel rooms – that we apparently have a shortage of about 15,000 hotel rooms. But, I firmly believe there’s a surplus of rooms in the short-term, and you can get some really good quality rooms at more international market orientated prices, whereas before, you were getting poor quality at inflated prices. So, things have become more competitive since we arrived in 2007. You are seeing better quality product, food and beverage and facilities, and it’s quite exciting for us in the hotel business, because now, we really have to start ‘hoteling’. So, there’s a focus now on quality – friendliness, uniforms, staff training, food and beverage offers, hygiene – all things that weren’t great focuses before. It’s good for the industry.

What are your challenges?

Infrastructure. Everybody knows about the electricity situation, but for us, we are quite concerned about the food chain. The fact that there are very poor distribution systems, and it’s very difficult to get produce from the plateau into the cities. We are very specific about our quality and our food hygiene, but at the same time we are corporate citizens and we need to support the locals. But, it’s very difficult. The power situation is sometimes unmanageable, but it’s the quality of the local produce that is a concern.

What are your thoughts on the lack of a set grading system in Nigeria?

We took a view that we would apply the same set of standards to those applied in South Africa. So, it’s the crockery, the linen, glassware, services, carpet quality etc. We believe that when the standard grading system comes in, our grading shouldn’t be less than the 5-star grading we have now.

Are you not concerned at a lack of a grading system?

It could be a ‘free-for-all’, but people know. Guys come to us and say, ‘well, where’s your spa?’ We don’t have a spa, currently, but in the minds of the Nigerian consumer, a 5-star property should have a spa. It’s a valid point, but it’s not a grading criteria. My point is that there are very worldly, well-travelled people out there and if you have a lousy offering and are calling yourself 5-star, people will know that you aren’t up to it. We would absolutely like to see a grading council and we would certainly support it. We are fully compliant with all the laws and we are one of the few hotels that are paying the hotel consumption tax imposed by the Lagos state government, because we believe that that tax should go to the funding of a grading council. And, unless you are paying that tax, you shouldn’t be allowed to participate in any form of grading.