Kevin Kamau – Radisson Hotel Group District Director Nigeria/ General Manager Radisson Blu, Anchorage Hotel.
IWA: Going by your pedigree in the hospitality industry, can you please tell us the position hotels occupy in the hospitality industry globally?
Kevin: Simply put, hotels the world overdrive business activities as they serve as a catalyst to making their location, commercial hubs. Let’s take the tourism industry as our first example, and THE WORLD OVER, GENERALLY there is no doubt that the development of the tourism industry in any society comes with so many opportunities, but it is also clear that the industry cannot thrive without the availability of good and affordable hotels. For instance, one of the primary factors anyone coming from a place like Abidjan or Congo Brazzaville into Lagos would first consider is accommodation, how good and how expensive the hotels he or she would be staying are. I am sure you will agree with me that to stay in a good hotel in Lagos is very expensive at least when compared to a place like London, Dubai or even South Africa. Unfortunately, this is a major disincentive to the growth of the tourism industry in Nigeria. Therefore, it must be clearly stated that for tourism to really flourish in Nigeria, the government must ensure that there are enough hotels and they must be very competitive in terms of their rates and quality.
Moving away from tourism, lets us examine the impact of hotels on the corporate segment by way of meetings, incentive, convention, and events, what is commonly known as MICE. The more hotels and the more rooms there are in a society, the easier it is to bid for huge MICE events. Lagos for example does not have enough capacity to bid to host African Union events; the number of rooms available now is simply not enough to cope with the demands of such events. In addition, Lagos lacks convention facilities, as we speak there is almost no internationally acceptable convention facility in Lagos. Incidentally, hosting these kinds of events have a massive positive spillover effect on the commercial activities of countries. One country that comes to mind that is reaping the gains of its government’s understanding of the tremendous opportunities inherent in having enough good and affordable hotels in their country is Rwanda.
Now, what naturally happens is that the more hotels in a country, the more competitive they become. Customers are able to get very good hotels for cheaper rates and they are able to attract more visitors. I must say that the lack of competition breeds complacency. If we have a bit more competition, Hoteliers will become more creative with their offerings. I guess it is safe to say that more hotels and other hospitality products have entered more into this market in the last 3 years when compared to the last 6 years when I came into the market.
Kevin: In general, I would say the industry is growing and beginning to boom. The crux of the matter in my opinion is that Nigeria, like most other African countries, was not traditionally a service-oriented country; the focus in the early 80s and 90s for most African countries was more for commercial and manufacturing activities, there was little or no emphasis on hospitality. The truth is, it wasn’t until after 2010 that we sort of started seeing the opportunity in hospitality. However, it is gratifying that the youths are now going to school to study and say they want to develop a career working in a hotel and not the usual I want to be a doctor or banker. It may be slow, but we are moving in the right direction. Six years ago, there was probably only one school offering hospitality related courses in Lagos, now we have the likes of Lagos Business School (LBS), offering courses in hospitality. It is important to note that a hotel is not just about accommodation, what people fail to realize is that a hotel is like a municipal on its own; it must provide its own power, water, food, waste management, financial management, operations management and so on. All these perhaps go to show that there’s a lot more that goes into running a hotel. I am therefore glad that the hospitality industry is fast growing in Nigeria. I am particularly happy with the introduction of more schools, and we partnering with some of them to train and pull the right capacity of human capital from them.
IWA: What are the core competitive strengths of Radisson Blu and how have they worked for you as regards the brand in Nigeria?
Kevin: I would like to say that Radisson is a Nigerian brand, and I will explain why I said so, when Radisson as a brand came into Africa, one of the first two markets we opened in was Nigeria and South Africa. So this hotel is actually one of the first learning points for the brand in Africa. For me, the journey through these years is our biggest strength in this market. We may have originated from Switzerland, but we’re still very much African. At the 5 and 4 star levels, we got the Radisson, Radisson Park inn, and the Radisson collection, and these 3 brands are growing at almost twice the rate of any other major brand in Africa.
The truth is, we understand Africa; we have an African headquarters’ situated in South Africa, so we say we run out of Africa. There is no other international brand that can boast of having a headquarters in Africa, this tells you how serious we are about Africa. The second strength that I can possibly flag is that the brands we have are very suited to this market, if you tell someone Radisson Blu, they can relate to what it means; It is a high-end brand and they know that, if you tell someone Park inn, they know that is targeted at the middle class of the market. I must say that we have really done well in mastering our craft with these two initial brands that we introduced into this market.
Therefore, with the successes and strengths, we have built over time in running the Radisson Blu and the Radisson Park inn brands in this market, we were able to open the Radisson which is our third brand this year. We are also ready to, within the next 6 to 12 months open the Radisson collections. That shows you the confidence we have in the market. This is good for both the owners and customers as well as the staff because it gives room for more development opportunities. The other big strength is diversity. I haven’t seen any other brand that focuses on diversity and the development of local content as much as we do. For example, we train and develop Africans to take up the traditionally expatriate jobs. We are the only Nigerian brand with a female general manager and that just stands us out. I am an African and we hope that when I eventually leave, I will be replaced with a Nigerian general manager someday. We also move our people around for exposure, currently, a Nigerian Sous Chef is serving in one of our hotels in Sierra Leone and our hope is that when he would be returning back to Nigeria he would have been ripe enough to return as the executive chef. So we look at everything holistically as a work-in-progress for the brand. If we have the right people, then we are able to serve the customers right.
IWA: What is the Radisson Blu average occupancy rate and what are the factors responsible for it?
Kevin: We are doing well in the market, particularly in the Nigerian market. The economy seems stable, not minding the fact that the general election was held this year, everything seems to have gone quite peacefully. The government seems to be putting policies that help support and stabilize the economy in place and I must say that is good. If I should speak a little more about the government policies, I am happy about their focus on encouraging a lot more locally produced products. This really helps our business to be able to sustain the rates. In addition to that, internally we also try to think outside the box. For instance, our chef, the housekeeper, and the head gardener have said that we can’t keep importing some of the spices we use, and they went ahead to create a garden for such supplies. Such small things help us grow our capacity. You can see a lot of emphasis on local farming and agriculture.
IWA: What would you describe as your most memorable moments in Radisson Blu since you became the general manager?
Kevin: There have been very many memorable moments for me, but probably the biggest ones are when I walk into other branches of Radisson and I see the different heads of department whom we first employed as cleaners or waiters, for me you can’t beat that, it makes you feel proud. There’s an excitement in the fact that I am able to be part of changing and transforming lives and that stirs up some good memories in me. Someone gave me a chance at some point, so I am happy that like them I am able to also give chances to other members of the team. So perhaps those are the memories that put a smile on my face the most.
IWA: Are you comfortable working in Nigeria and what Nigerian Food do you love most and what are the parts of Nigerian culture that you like the most?
Kevin: Let me start with the people, Nigerians are very friendly. My wife says that each time she travels out of Nigeria the thing she misses the most is the warmth of Nigerians. The average Nigerian is constantly asking about your wellbeing; the truth is that they have a particular greeting for almost every situation. It is in Nigeria that people will ask you and say, Sir, how was your weekend or how was yesterday? It is also here that find people saying, Sir, how has your day been or hope you are well? The truth is that it is possible to take that for granted here because it’s part of the people’s culture but you don’t find it everywhere, so for me, this is one of the things I love the most about the Nigerian culture. I also love the weather, I know that there are challenges here like there are everywhere else in the world, but with those challenges come very many opportunities. It’s been very exciting for me living here, and I have actually been for 6 wonderful years. I have even had some of my children here; so, it’s truly been a fruitful experience for me.
IWA: You made a mention of opportunities, can you please specifically highlight these opportunities, particularly the ones that directly impact your industry?
Kevin: One of those areas is Agriculture, there are massive opportunities in Agriculture for Nigeria to explore. Recently, I had a chat with someone who is into the production of milk and he told been that the milk that is being currently produced in Nigeria cannot even cater to 10% of the local population. So investment can be made into rearing more dairy cattle. I am a strong believer in getting things done indigenously, so we are presently working with some communities in Nigeria for beef production; we want to rear the cattle in a way that we will not only get sufficient beef but we also get the right quality. Note that the cattle they have in Denmark, Nairobi, Durban, or Cape Town are most likely to be the same as the ones here in Nigeria, they only have different processes of feeding and rearing.
However, I am glad that looking back at the way things were 6 years ago, there has been a lot of improvement regarding the level of imports into Nigeria, but I must say that we certainly can do a lot better than how we are now in terms of the level of imports into Nigeria. I can’t wait for when what Dangote group and Honeywell flour mills are doing with pasta or flour, will be replicated with rice and other essential produce in Nigeria.
IWA: What does one need to succeed in the tourism industry?
Kevin: The most important qualification for success in my opinion is passion, I don’t think you can be successful at anything without having a passion for that thing. Everyone that I know that has succeeded in what they do, are people with a genuine passion for what they do. Passion breeds a staying spirit that nothing else can give one. I usually tell departmental heads not to hire anyone only for that person’s experience, we will rather hire a person with passion but without experience, since we can train him or her to become an expert on the job, but we can’t force that person to be passionate about the job, it’s something that comes from within.
IWA: This is usually my last question, what is that thing that you would like to tell Africans?
Kevin: I think we haven’t realized yet that Africa is the next or new frontier, it is why all the Chinese, Americans and European firms are investing here. You are talking about a population of over 1.4 billion, the market is here, so the opportunity is not coming, it is already here. We should believe in Africa, rather than always wanting to go and seek greener pastures out there, let’s look inward and contribute our own quota to making Africa better than it is now.
IWA: Do you have any other thing to say?
Kevin: The Radisson group is a growing brand, we’ve got 5 key brands that are really going to grow in this market; Radisson Collection – which is our luxury brand, Radisson Blu – we all know as our upscale brand, and the Radisson Park Inn – for the middle class. The latest in our collection is the Radisson Red, which is designed to be very engaging because it is targeted at the millennials.