Fabiyi Aderemi is the chief executive director of Berbera Palace Royale and Delida Guest Suite in Abuja. Although he is an engineer by training, he delved into the hospitality business. In this interview with Stellamaries Amuwa, he speaks on what constitutes style, saying it is all about being unique and comfortable.
How long have you been in the hospitality industry?
I have been actively involved in hospitality business for two years and my first hotel started in 2017 and that same year I started another one. Then in 2018 I opened another apartment and shortly, by God’s grace, we will be opening another hotel.
What inspired you to join the hospitality business?
I was inspired by my experience back then working as an engineer. As a telecoms Engineer, I travelled a lot within and outside the country. Although my head office then was in Lagos, most of the time I was in the East or Northern part of the country. I was just everywhere as a network optimizer and that requires that I stay in lot of hotels and staying in those hotels was not too good an experience. Sometimes you find yourself in very thick remote villages with those type of hotels that you can’t even use the bathroom. I have stayed in bed bugs-infested hotels where I wake up scratching my body in the wall. I have had to ask myself if I actually paid or it was given to me free. This is due to the lackadaisical attitude of the staff and the lack of consciousness and empathy from the staff; all these things, I realized, could be checked.
Also, when I was younger I lived with my grandmother who was in the hospitality business. She was a big Bukka owner back in those days in Ilorin and my mom was a caterer and event planner. So, unconsciously giving service to people had been a part of me and with all my bad experience from hotels I felt I can own a hotel with a difference, a hotel where you can stay and at the same time feel at home with conducive facilities that is affordable and staff members that are customer friendly. The convenience which are the value added services, like having a business centre, fitness center and in-house restaurant which is affordable and efficient within the premises of the hotel are the things I considered before I took off the business, and so far, so good we have been doing our best to focus more on customer service.
What have you brought into the hospitality business that makes you stay above your competitors?
We have uniqueness in rendering our customer services. In Berbera hotel, from the security people you meet at the entrance to the very top management staff, we are all on ground to render outstanding customer services. It will surprise you that me as the managing director of the company also check in customers. I take customers on rooms shows and introduce them to the facilities we have. Here, we operate on team work, no boss no subordinate; we are all team players. Sometimes I sit at the front desk to check customers in and actually show leadership by example. When I do that happily, they will also feel confident to do the same.
Secondly, every first customer of any business is the staff itself, so Berbera hotel puts a lot of focus on staff welfare. We have designed a lot of platforms whereby we promote staff welfare. We have the contribution platform and the entrepreneur development platform because I tell all my staff that if they continue to work for me they cannot be richer than me because I pay them but when working here you can start a business. Thank God for social media like instagram or facebook. We train our staff to be able to use it effectively to have a business by the side that would not affect their productivity while working in the hotel. We have loan platform for school fee, house rent and other basic needs that might distract them from putting in their best. All of these and many more are the things we pay attention to.
Again, we pay attention to our customers a lot. We show empathy when they complain. These you don’t get in many hotels; a lot of time, staff wait for their managers like, ‘oh there is a complain; okay lets wait until the manager comes’. No, it shouldn’t be. The staff should have some level of responsibility to tackle problems on their own. Because the manager is not there does not mean they cannot take decisions.
Statistics have shown that after about five years of establishing hotels, business starts dwindling, what’s the way out?
Berbera hotel is a brand that focuses more on customer service and so in few years’ time you will see Berbera holding the mantle of customer service within the hospitality business. As a matter of fact Berbara is going to be like an institute where people come to train on customer service and some hotels who need staff can say ‘apply to Berbera; they can send you cooked staff, not just random people but people who are already grounded in delivering customer services. Good customer relationship can make people want to come back. In few years from now I see Berbera leading in customer delivery services in the hospitality industry.
What have been the challenges so far?
The challenges are numerous but we find solutions around because one of the challenges we have is that there is no more attention in the industry as a whole. A large number of investors are just in for the profit; not too many of them pay quality attention to the basic reasons why they set up the place. A hotel should be a home away from home, it should be a refuge place. The way people go to the Church to seek the face of God should be the way they go to hotel to seek sanity. It should be a place you see peace after a hard day’s job. The major challenge is that people are losing focus. They need to retrace their steps into delivery services.
Secondly, the way government agencies clampdown on hotel owners is crazy. Here in Abuja alone for AMAC, I think we pay nothing less than 18 different taxes. Some will come and ask to be paid for premises inspection; others will say fire state; another will say fire federal; another will say waste AEPB and another will say waste AMAC. Why should we be doubling paying taxes. Remember there is no steady power supply. We have to run the generator and make expenses on diesel. It is expensive to run a standard hotel because of lack of basis amenities which shouldn’t be a problem. Water supply is another problem. We spend a lot of money paying electricity bill and also running and maintaining the generator so that it doesn’t shut down at midnight.
A lot of policies need to be put in place to let hospitality business grow. There are no policies that welcome investors into this business; you discover that most people that are running hotels here in Abuja are people who want ot make money by investing in it and not the real key players. How many international hotels do we have in Nigeria apart from Transcorp and Sharaton? Go to Dubai and see international Hotels everywhere, I think if they government comes down on taxes we will be able to do better than we are right now. How many resorts do we have here, but is the investment safe?
How do you achieve your urbane look?
I keep it slow. Although it is not easy, I live a good life. once a year I have a holiday outside the country with my family. We have a bond and we see the other side of life as a family. I was trained to put family first in everything I do no matter what it is. I am working so that my family will have a better life, not for them to inherit me because I train my children to be independent and do more exploits than I have done in order to achieve all these. We need a bit of comfort.
Tell us about your most memorable childhood experience?
While growing up with my grandparents, I could remember vividly that for you to go and visit a friend you must answer some Cambridge exam questions like who is the father, where does he work, where does he live and so on and if you fail to give a satisfactory answer you will not be allowed to go visit the friend. So I was more of an indoor person but regardless, the most memorable experience are the times I spent with my family because we use to have cousins come around. During holidays our house is like carnival session.
What does fashion and style mean to you?
Uniqueness. I wear what makes me comfortable
What is your advice to intending investors in the hospitality industry?
Have a reason why you want to go into hospitality business and not just because of money. If you go in because of money you will lose focus in a short interval. My reason for going into this sector was to have a distinguished customer service and that has been my major focus. I love to research. I read about hospitality, agriculture, health, etc. I am not static; I pick up ideas from a lot of reading.
Tell us a little about your family
I am from Omomaro in Kwara State. I am a graduate of Covenant University and I have eight certification in Telecommunication Engineering. I used to be an Optimisation Engineer in Globacom. Working in Globacom has a great impact on who I have become today because it enabled me to work with the best brains in the industry. I had the most wonderful bosses. These are goal getters who have their different approaches. I have a wife with three kids: two boys and one girl. I have three siblings, two women and a man. My parents are very understanding and religious and my grandparents also made impact on who I have become today. They thought me to be self-motivated and most importantly they thought me how to manage resources and not go beyond my limits.
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