The Envoy Hotel is one of the leading Hotels in Abuja in quality service delivery, unique offerings, attention to details which distinguishes it from other hospitality outfits in Abuja.
This classy Hotel with fantastic edifice located in a serene environment close to the diplomatic corridors on the diplomatic drive is hospitality redefined, excellent in security, distinct in style, grand with state of the art facilities, beautiful architectural master piece, a welcoming and courteous staff, best cuisines to carter for local and international guests.
The Envoy is the first hotel in Nigeria to use Level 2 Global Lighthouse Certification in Hotel Security. The certification is a multi-layer security concept specifically designed for sophisticated travelers that is independently audited. Besides, there are CCTV cameras fitted in all areas of the hotel with intruder alarm features for the fences.
In this interview with Franklin Ihejirika, the general manager of The Envoy Hotel, Dewald Kruger speaks on the unique features of the hotel, location, its unique selling point, new innovations, experience in the hospitality industry, among other things
What is your experience in the hospitality industry
I am from Pretoria Johannesburg, South Africa. I studied at the University of Johannesburg. I have a degree in hotel management and a diploma in Hospitality at the Twanege Institute of Technology. I began early in a very reputable, tremendous hotel, at a 5-Star Southern Sun property. It was a sister project and tourism was giving its due in good phases at Dortmund. We saw a very good standard. That time, it was like the Civil Service, in the morning you wore your suite, in the afternoon, we wore shorts and tuxedo. May be am a little bit of a traditionalist so I worked in those hotels. I also worked in Protea hotels, after that, I ventured into restaurant and did corporate catering contracts where I served bid companies with staff up to four thousand. We had management lounge, directors’s lounge, we entertained directors, managers, ministers, foreign entities, tourists, deputies, so it was catering at a high range, am used to taking care of people. I think I have done with my experience. And then even in 2010 World Cup South Africa was doing well. I had a good contract, taking care of media and media houses, as they visited all the stadiums, take care of locker rooms, referee locker rooms, training matches, we cared for them. It was a very interesting time. But as you know, the economic turn down was just extending to South Africa, and affected most of the projects. Afterwards tourism really stood down in South Africa and then I met someone at Protea to ask if there is any opportunity in their property, I said can I join you? And they said, not in South Africa, but they have a project in Nigeria which was nearing completion. And I thought I should I take it. Should I come to Nigeria?
I have never travelled before so it was a great decision for us. At that time the view about Nigeria was very different, and I jumped on the plane, I flew down here and I just met a new country, a new people I didn’t know existed. They are very friendly, hardworking and I really wanted to get on with the people and my new job. So, I landed at Protea Hotel Ikoyi, Lagos where I worked. I brought skills, knowledge, training. I think I did great, after that I returned to Mantis for one and a half years. As you know they were busy with The George Hotel project Ikoyi. But you know I was not fortunate enough so I had to go back to South Africa where I worked in a 7-Star hotel, Carelus Safari Spar and Lodge, where I won multiple awards. It is a beautiful pristine property, the only fountain waterfall there, falling from a 100 metres and Rhino, Buffalo, all these big animals.
So, it was a bit of a journey coming back because, then they were developing the Providence Hotel in GRA Ikeja and Leadway Hotel, Ikoyi, that was also changed from Protea Hotel to a new name called Layola.
When this opportunity became available and it was always going to be a beautiful project, the design is good, plan well thought out, good furniture, good fittings, and that’s how I came here for three months now. Here’s a boutique type in the hospitality industry where you have your five senses catered for, which is taste, smell, hearing, touch, sight, so the music is fine, seat comfortable, the smells are good, the taste is good, so may be that’s something different you will experience here, we want to really take care of all the five senses and by this, the sixth sense which might be our hospitality and friendship. May be that’s a long introduction but that’s my experience.
What fresh ideas are you bringing to the hospitality industry?
There is one thing that is pertinent at The Envoy Hotel and it is the security condition of this place. We have reached level 4 of certification programme, the highest level you can get. It is a very stringent condition. The time we were in Ikoyi, it was the time of Boko Haram, so security was stepped up in all the hotels in Lagos. So, we were fortunate to get a good security company for intelligence training etc, and we are happy we brought the company into the system. We ensured that our guests are safe, access controlled, our guards are registered. It’s a big Canadian company and we work very close with the American Embassy to make sure that this place works, it is obviously not good for guests because they want to be a bit rugged but for the care of our guests and the class of our guests, we feel they will appreciate it, they will come here.
The name The Envoy, located in a diplomatic street, close to American Embassy and others, was it deliberate?
The owners of the Hotel has this property and is the only property that has commercial right in this environment , it also has its limitations, we can’t open a shop, we can’t do an event and attract over a thousand people, we can’t do that. We don’t really have direct contact, connection or ownership with American Embassy, or Americans, it is 100 percent local owned property and operated by Mantis under agreement. It located in this area by chance and it works in our favour.
Is this high profile security not inhibiting room occupancy?
A lot of people would rather be in Maitama, Wuse area or elsewhere, but some guests want it, to be able to eat their meal, read a book, drink their wine, enjoy the night. That’s where we market ourselves to. Have your fun, do your work in a cosy place, so they like the serene environment.
We have hotels set up this way, along the line, things begin to go down. What’s your plan to sustain the standard?
Security is number one in this place. Already we have a plan to maintain standards. The architectural plan is great but as you operate the property, you see the defects. We will continue with improvements, strict changes, after six months, some things are coming into place, the doors, are done, the hinges are oiled, the lawns are clean, strict attention to details, as a part of international business, we cannot stay back. We will keep it up.
Response in-terms of patronage
It has been interesting, to be honest, we would have a 50 -50 split from locals to the expatriates or continental guests. In fact Nigerian response has been very good, it has been up to 80percent as against 20 percent, we have to even scale our menus to local flavours, but I leant it is swinging a bit over and we are watching all those trends to see where the business is going, but we have a very good response. April, May, June, was public holidays, religious holidays, so the real business months we had was August, September October. We were looking very sparkling, we have good response. We have very small conference rooms, boardroom, staff, we have some groups coming in to book for a week, we are fortunate that they are responding to what we are offering.
How do you cope with competition from other big hotels in Abuja and how do you rate hospitality industry in Abuja
Is the same thing as Nigeria playing Bafana Bafana. For the challenges, you need to know your study, your competition, see where the weaknesses are, you see where their strength are, you look at your weaknesses, your strength, you look at the market condition and you plan your course of action, then you say I am going to fix my rate, am going to do my full presentation and you invite your guests and see how the respond, some will say no you are crazy, some will say fantastic. So that you know how to gauge your game plan and after the half Time you go to your changing room and see what the coach Is saying, see what the statistics are saying like are we making money, Is the statistics good, are we giving money to our owners, and we say small tweaks, small plans, small changes an then we hit. Sure we fix our rates, our offering like the evening turn out sales, entertainment at nights, Sunday buffets. So we use these things to enhance our competition offering. So next year, we know where we should be going to. Another thing is shortage of big meeting spaces, we should ideally have 100 to 200 meeting space, that would have been good for us
What is the interest of the hotel in entertainment particularly music because we watched one yesterday?
We would like to create a music experience on Friday night, we understand the Friday night traffic, people like to go launch, like to be entertained, but we are peculiar, we are a distance from Maitama, from the big city centres, so we need to attract customers, so our window is about 7pm to about 9pm, 10 o’clock window, we can’t be too noisy because my guest are are indoors, I don’t want to upset them, we got small window and we need to take small interesting voices, bring them up, expose them and bring them to the market and hopefully we are finding acceptance. Is just a small entertainment niche, for us, we are still developing more actions with food, cooking, cuisines for a more wholesome entertaining night out and from here you can go to your club and lounge and get a little noisy.
Have you had a situation whereby a brewery company comes to do promo like buy one and get one free here?
Yes we have our own show where we do Happy Hour, a throw over from World Cup and Budweiser. So everyday we have Happy Hour from 6-7 pm and Happy Hour on Fridays also 6-7 pm, and then soccer weekends like today from 3 to 5 when games are taking place . During the World Cup, we did quite very well and then the Rugby World cup coming up next year and we got quite a number of experts around, USA, United Kingdom are all going to participate, so we expect to have a busy Zanzibar area to visit and you know the doors are open and you don’t need need passport to visit our Zanzibar.
Do you have any arrangements for visitors who would like to do a city tours?
We have not meet up with any tour operator in Abuja that will take people to see city sceneries and coming from South Africa, you know we want to be adventurous, we want to be natural. We went ourselves, we went to Zuma Rocks, went to Zoo, to IBB Golf Club and you know we need to take our guests where they can be safe, it is a bit of a challenge because the animals in the Zoo are very under stressed so we cannot take them there. Zuma Rock, they can only look at the Rock from a far. If the state is serious about developing tourists attractions, we can go to parks, to river plates, secret gardens or very nice restaurants in the area, that you can do anywhere, we are looking at unique destinations which would be nice for an American coming here, my Indian guests, my guests from Finland, you know they have got a lot of things there, so I need to show them something like that or better. You have visited South Africa a lot, you know they have got Soweto tours, Cape point tour, table mountain tours and others, this is some of those things that we would like them to develop, imagine we develop that Zoo into a small reserve where you can see Giraffe, Zebra, and others, imagine bringing school groups, educational tours, explaining to them about ecological works, telling them how Aso Rock developed in geological terms, so just from one trip you can do so much, but it needs commitment from the authorities and support so that Dangote will come and build tent enclosures, Julius Berger will come and buy tenth enclosures and open up marketing opportunities and they need zoological supports as well. Like our group has done, they re-established all the big five animals in the eastern cape like Buffalo, Rhymes, Lions, big games , but they need to do small stakes first before you can get to that.
What are your strategies to sustain good customers care and staff training?
First you start with recruitment because you need to recruit with the right attitude, because without the right attitude you are going nowhere. After that, induction and training starts, we have a very good trainer from South Africa that did the implementation, we have the team that visits frequently to make sure that the managerial skills are kept up to date and we are moving to online Web based training model where all staff will have their inner loggins and then we do online training, they will get this course personally and that will make them more marketable, up-skill and multi-skill so that they will earn higher salary at the end of the day they will also feel fulfilled. Also every quarter we have a team that does all skills training, house keeping training, front office training, skill training for restaurant and bars. We also engage consultant that comes and redo one training, re-educate the staff on wines. We got fantastic selection of South African wines, I think that is too narrow, we also like to include your favourites of the old world, from France, Spain, Portugal, Italian, Australia and Newzeland. They will get back bigger and a broader picture of wine connoisseur, that will happen next year. Also we cross train our chefs, like the chefs from Lagos, they are visiting us because chefs training is hands on, we trust their theory is there, off course is the foundation and also to get the local Nigerian dishes, you can’t learn that anywhere, you need to be Nigerian to cook for Nigerians, we interact and cross pollinate to see that we can get the best from the best and training Is the key, so training them to blend everyday becomes so important.
Challenges of Power supply
It is a country wide challenge, I can’t say that we do better or worse than the rest, but power as it is done with the latest technology involved like domestic switched overs and things like that, our hotel is designed for small power, efficient power, so that is a very strong direction for the group, we also have a Planet 21 scheme where we want to have as small as possible covering foot print where we would have solar power.
We can also have local where we can fly in things by seeing what is available maybe from Calabar and Asaba. So is a challenge, and I don’t think it will be fixed in the near future, we are looking ahead on how to recycle our waste, we throw a lot of edible foods away, we can use them in growing compost for plants and things like that, so our group has got a very aggressive model that we move to Planet 21 which all the hotels will comply and use. Solar panels, wind, heat generated and then re-used in different areas.
No of rooms, staff and ratio of expatriates to Nigerians
On the numbers of staff we have here, that one is confidential, on the rooms, we have 57 rooms here, we have two expatriates. it is nice to have them here with me, we also combine the rich teams, combination of flavours and culture to even give a richer experience to our guests.
How do you rate the hotel
Realistically, we are a Four and half star hotel. According to Tripadvisor, we are a four and half star hotel, the Hilton is Five star hotel according to public opinion .
In model boutique hotel grading, our hotel did very well, we just won award in England as the best boutique hotel for our dry court property, so we think we are fighting a good fight in our class, also next year, we will also like to file for the Pen Award which the Weathbaker Hotel in Lagos won, I think they have won it so many times and is time somebody from Abuja give them them a good fight.
Where would like to see The Envoy Hotel in the next five years?
I would like to see our cuisine really stand out. We are still finding our feet in-terms of fine dinning and really sourcing the best products. The owners have built a marvellous structure, so we will really want to match it with really marvellous and stand out cuisines so that their fusion with Nigerian and continental dishes will stand out. So that we can develop local things with international twist and serve it with confidence and with beauty. You know Nigerian cuisine is a bit rough, but on fine dinning table, it looks rough, but we will put it into an area it will also look beautiful and taste fine . We would like to keep our security as high as it is even higher because we can’t do anything if we don’t have security. If we lose a life or property it can affect us, so that is our prime objective.