Transcorp Hotels is a fast emerging brand in Africa’s hospitality industry. Since 2005, when it beat a group of investors to emerge as core investor in the flagship of Nigerian hotels; the Nicon Hilton Hotel Abuja, now known as Transcorp Hilton Hotel, the company has continued to further a course that aims to reinvent the luxury hotel concept. Since becoming the single largest investor in Transcorp Hilton Hotel in 2011, Transcorp Hotels has established a huge footprint in Nigeria’s high-end cities with three additional properties in Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Calabar. In addition, the company is also developing two new projects worth over $500 million including a 5000-capacity conference facility, luxury apartments and upgrade of existing hotels. As Chief Executive of Transcorp Hotels, Valentine Ozigbo steers the implementation of key strategic goals of the company’s business expansion, merger and acquisition opportunities, upgrade and renovations. On the eve of the 30th anniversary celebration of Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja, Ozigbo shares his thoughts on the hospitality industry and factors that helped Transcorp Hilton Hotel retain its position as Nigeria’s most prestigious hotel. Why is the Transcorp Hilton Hotel brand so exciting? Transcorp Hilton is one of Nigeria’s best exports and it’s one brand that positions Nigeria in the highest levels of positivity. It’s also a very major brand that Nigeria is proud to call her own. The hotel is known as the beating heart of the city because this is where it happens— a city within a city. And it’s indeed a brand that every Nigerian president or leader has been associated with. This is where every major guest of the government is hosted. That clearly shows that there’s a lot that we’re doing right. And we pride ourselves as being the only hotel in the whole wide world to have hosted over 50 Heads of governments in one particular night. That remains an unbeatable record and an amazing history that I’m proud and happy to have witnessed. We have also amazing history with thousands of people, who either had their honeymoon here, or celebrated a lot of happy moments here. There are also many whose career changed from a decision made here, and adults that had joyous moments here while they were infants. These histories and experiences endear us closely and strengthen the loyalty of our guests. Could you shed some light on the founding history of the hotel? This hotel was commissioned on the 21st of April in 1987 to host the ECOWAS meeting of that year. When the decision was made to relocate Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja, the idea for a five-star-hotel where government guests could be lodged was conceived. The hotel was commissioned with the future in mind. Because of the topography…THICK OF THE BUSH of this location where the hotel is sited today, many people thought it was insane for the government to try to situate a hotel here. That was then. Today, the hotel’s location is one of the most high-profile locations in the FCT today. We are right in the middle of the three arms of government—the presidency, judiciary and the National assembly. More than that, the 20 hectares of land that we occupy make it impossible for any other hotel to replicate our structure. The hotel has indeed come a long way. In the early years of this hotel, only two to three floors were booked at every point in time. The rest of the rooms were always vacant. And the founders went through that pain and sustained the hotel until they realized that they needed experts to run the hotel. That was how Hilton Worldwide was brought in to manage the hotel.
What are some of the unique and historical design features of the hotel? We are at the center of Abuja, and not only are we next to the three arms of government, the hotel is designed to have three wings which helps with efficiency of space and facilities. Like I stated, when you have the right size of land in the right location and with the right concept, you are already a winner. With the huge size of land, about 20 hectares, it gives the architects the ability to innovate and be creative. That is why right from the gate, to the road connections and the imposing lobby, you begin to have a true 5-star experience. Our expansive and amazing lobby is one of the most famous meeting points in the world. This is a thousand bedroom hotel and if not for the large expanse of suites that we have, which then reduced the rooms to 670, out of which 30 are presidential suites, 20 are ambassadorial suites and many more suites as business and royal.Aside from these, with over 20 meeting facilities, 10 food and beverage outlets, 3 lawn tennis courts, large sized swimming pool, high quality gym facilities, and many more world class facilities, as well as the very strong structural delivery of the hotel, we have one of the best products globally, and I must therefore commend the ‘visionsers’ of this masterpiece. In your opinion, what luxuries and amenities would you say, have now become almost standard necessities as compared to over a decade ago in the hotel industry? Demand for modern amenities and features are on the rise. And what we’ve done as a hotel company is institute a culture of continuous improvement: Always challenging to be better than yesterday. So, we started a Kaizen initiative which has helped us to drive the program across all departments in this hotel in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness. That is how we’ve been able to constantly up our quality of service delivery. Strictly on amenities, the whole world is going digital, and we can’t afford to be left behind. In order to meet growing demands, we have improved our key lock system that now requires every occupant to use their keys to access the lifts and floors, we implemented free wifi for all Hilton Honours members, we have introduced USB ports in the rooms and have reconfigured the rooms for greater convenience, and we have introduced IPTV so that guests can easily connect their systems and can interact better with our TVs. All of these are in the new upgraded floors. These were all luxuries but the minimum that global travelers would expect. Does some of the consolidation in the hotel industry influence how you might position the hotel moving forward? Well, the consolidation is more on the operatorship side of the business where top global brands are racing to outsize the others perhaps for greater efficiency and growth. For us as hotel owners, we are largely unaffected by this race. One being that the operator we use, Hilton, is ever dynamic and always on top of their game to refresh the brand, and on the other hand, we have such an exceptional product that one can argue that the product promotes the brand more than the brand promotes the product. So, even if we do not have a Hilton as the operator, we are likely to remain successful. But in our case, we have the best of two worlds, because not only is our product well positioned, we have the clear global leader in hospitality as our operator. To answer you more directly, whether Hilton acquires another brand or is acquired by another brand, we’re fine. And as we develop new products, we are always dispassionately assessing brand partnership on its merit. We ask a simple question of which brand is best suited for this particular location and for this particular product. When we did this for our Lagos and Port Harcourt projects, we came to a conclusion that we would be better off to partner with Hilton and so we did. What are some of the biggest challenges that you’re facing to improve the guest experience today? There are five things that are most crucial in Nigeria in managing any quality hotel. The first is making sure you have a good product,motivated team members, adequate security, sustainable power supply and overall maintenance. Once you can tick all the boxes in these five things, you have the winning formula. And we have spent millions of dollars to overcome all of these, and also done a lot to build capacities among our team members. But it is a never-ending exercise and we can’t afford to rest on our oars. These are the main challenges that keep us awake. So now, with all of these efforts you’ve put in to sustain the high standard of the hotel, Are you worried about any new competitors coming in’ No. And that’s because we are always ahead of the competition in terms of service and products. We’ve undergone several upgrades and now embarking on the mother of all upgrades, infusing many more years into the life of this hotel. That has been made manifest in the modernity that we bring to the fore, and we are currently spending over a hundred million dollars on this hotel at a time like this not just to sustain the standard but to elevate it. With all of these, competition has a lot of work to do. One other reason why we’re not worried is that hospitality is a very dynamic market and Abuja is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. What that means is that there’s enough space for everybody so in some cases when competitions actually come, they open more opportunities.