UWA IKECHUKWU GEORGE is the general manager of LOBIC MERIDIAN HOTEL, Owerri, Imo State. In this interview, he tells Business A.M.’s DIKACHI FRANKLIN that the hotel and hospitality sector can create 60 per cent of needed jobs in Imo State if the government can create an enabling environment and harness properly the opportunities the sector presents.
Could you please tell us a little about the hotel and hospitality industry in Imo State?
Thank you so much. First of all, I am Uwa Ikechukwu George, the general manager of Lobic Meridien Hotel, Owerri. I read Business Management (education) at the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, English and Literary Studies at Imo State University and Master’s degree in International Relations at Imo State University. I have managed a number of hotels including 40:40 Club, Lobic Meridian Hotel etc.
Now the hotel and hospitality industry is one that has not been properly exploited especially in Imo State, this is against the backdrop that this industry can generate 60 per cent of the employment in Imo State if properly harnessed and managed. This is because opportunities are there; it just needs a little encouragement from the government by providing basic infrastructure and the enabling environment for the sector to thrive.
So, basically, the hotel industry in Imo is one that can help the government to fight crime, help the government to generate revenue and above all address the issue of unemployment in the State.
Could you tell us about the accommodation, especially the number of rooms you have here?
There are 60 functional rooms, all fitted with up to date fittings, electronic equipment etc, for use and comfort of our guests and costumers. As a matter of fact, we have a functional swimming pool, we have exotic bar stocked with all kinds of wine, both hot and non-alcoholic drinks. We have also a very sumptuous restaurant, we offer 24 hours service, we also have water-tight security architecture. And one of the things that is our selling point is the ambiance and specious premises and also one of the very best trained personnel in the industry.
The importance of training is important in the industry, how often do you train and retrain the staff to equip them with the growing trends in the industry?
Here at Lobic Meridian, we have different kinds of training; we have in-house training and external training. For in-house training we schedule a routine where on weekly basis we engage in training but the external training we do that mostly three times in a year. We bring external trainers to come and train our staff on the latest trend in the hotel and hospitality business.
As the general manager, could you honestly tell us the relationship between you in your capacity as the general manager and the entire staff under you?
The relationship is one I can categorically say is cordial. Cordial in the sense that we try to establish a relationship that ensures we deliver adequate service to the guests.
And also as an administrator, I make it as a point of duty to ensure that every benefit accruable to every staff is being provided. This includes, prompt payment of staff salary, making sure that the staff is well taken care of. We provide food, and we provide accommodation and all that. In fact, one thing we do here is that the staff comfort is key to us.
There are many hotels of international standard in Owerri, doing one thing or the other to ensure they retain the customer, i.e. trying to ensure that the guest continues to patronise them, can you tell us the methods you apply?
We have been around here for business for about 15 years now. What we do, basically, our selling point is service delivery. This is what we teach all our staff to ensure that they serve the customer and guests, treat the customer as a king he is and make sure that every customer enjoys the value of the money he is expending, that is what we do.
And for us in Lobic Meridian, we don’t see any competition and in the industry, we do not have what is called competition because what the industry needs in Imo State is an enabling environment.
We want to use this opportunity to call on the government to exploit the investment opportunity from the private sector basically, most of the hotels are privately owned. But the government can exploit the sector to better the lot of the citizens.
How can the government do that?
The government can do this in form of creating awareness. I remember some years ago, we had a minister of information that crystalized a particular maxim that says “Nigeria is a great people and a great nation”, this is what instils confidence in people and in investors to come into the country and know that the country is not about violence.
So in Imo State what we need is that government should expose the good aspect of the state. This will bring in people, thereby creating avenue for the hotels to make money.
And also we want to appeal to the government to ensure that they develope tourist’s sites in the state and develop them to world standards, some of them like the Nekede Zoological Garden, Oguta Wonder Lake. The Monkey Colony in Aboh Mbaise, the Abadaba Lake in Obowo etc .These will bring people into the state and the multiplier effects will be unparalleled.
And we expect the government to provide this infrastructure to ensure that businesses thrive and companies will have no issue in payment of taxes and rates. On this we also we call on Hope Uzodinma to find out some ways he can advertise the State to be the envy of other states in Nigeria.
The Xmas season is around again, are there some preparations to ensure that guests who will come into the state and patronize you see Lobic Meridian like a home away from home?
We as a company have made arrangements ensuring that we take care of people who will visit us from various parts of the country and internationally, this we have done by making sure that all our facilities are up to date.
And we also ensured that to the best of what we can, we have provided adequate security for our guests to enable them feel very comfortable.
We are all for business, we have addressed every shortfall in form of personnel and other matters.
Are there certain things you see as challenges against the industry?
The challenges are not peculiar to Lobic Meridian or the hospitality industry. We have issue of power which is driving investors away. It consumes more than 40 percent of our revenue. So we want to appeal to the government to see if there is a way they can give subsidy in power, especially to the business sector, because what you find is that for every profit you make, power takes more than half and this is a challenge.
Also there is the issue of multiplicity of taxes. We want to tell the government to ensure that they synchronize all their taxes in one document so that hotels will not be embarrassed with barrage of revenue consultants coming to hotel premises to disturb. That is unhealthy for the kind of our business. We want to call on the government to consolidate all revenue heads in one document and that would be served to the hotels every beginning of the year so that before the year runs out all these things would have been taken care of and it will be a win-win situation for both the practitioners and the government.
What would you say was your reason of going into the hotel industry?
Okay, as a business administrator, hotel business is one that exposes people to the latest trend in the society. In the hotel industry you are at liberty to meet the high and mighty. The hotel also offers me the opportunity to administer the business professionally and ensure that I put all those exprience in a functional way.