Lagos Continental Hotels Managing Director Karl Hala, who is considered Africa’s hospitality guru, has spent around three decades managing hotel brands on the continent. He says ENENAITE BLESSING on his career, his love for Africa and other issues
You have worked in the African hospitality industry for decades. What is the attraction for you?
I came to Africa in 1985. I spent some time in Kenya before moving to Zambia, where I stayed for another five years. I love Africa, its people and its culture. Everywhere I go, I do business with people. I see differences in all my interactions with Africans and that makes me happy.
What comparisons can you draw between the hotel business in Africa vis-à-vis other continents?
Some people may disagree, but as far as I am concerned, the African hospitality industry is doing very well. I have traveled to many places in Europe and other continents. In terms of efficiency and level of professionalism, it’s definitely a lot better in some places than others and it needs to be improved. As far as educational and professional (areas) are concerned, Africa is far below. These are some of the things we should address. In terms of service delivery and techniques, you have to coach people to give them confidence.
What are the most critical needs in the hospitality industry?
For me, the skill set is very essential. All I have to do is work hard and give my team the right tools to perform. People, in my opinion, come first in all work situations. When things happen that are beyond my control, I approach my friends who are in the field. They give me better ideas for me to learn more. Therefore, I have to go deep to talk to people in the field, give them what they need to perform and give them responsibilities according to the level of the job.
What are the challenges facing the African hotel sector?
This interview wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t explain the challenges we face wherever we have operations and how we continue to manage them. Challenges include lack of tourist sites, electricity and other basic services. Beyond what I’ve mentioned, other equipment is needed to do the trick and minimize the risk of an inadequate power supply.
What growth opportunities exist in the hospitality industry?
Africa has opportunities for growth, but the truth is that Africa needs to market Africa. It is a beautiful continent. It has an authentic culture and people with different traditions. All you have to do is go with them and bring in professionals who can take this on a global scale. I believe that if Africa comes together, there will be a deeper continent that people will love to see, to look at its nature and its wonders, its culture and its different motivations.
Whenever one sees the ingenuity of Africa as is the case in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria and many other countries on the continent, one would be tempted to visit the continent . It is a totally unknown beauty. However, I believe that with more marketing and PR efforts, the continent will definitely improve for the better.
Doesn’t that take too long?
Certainly, but putting all this in place will take time. Look at Europe now. Africa must always believe in itself. I have always believed in Africa and Africa must do it on its own. Good things take time and the right professionals need to be in place.
What do you like most about Lagos Continental hotels?
I remember very well that when the place was opened in 2013, I was here. It has a design that imposes itself on the hospitality industry and is due to its uniqueness – its oval shape and its height. There, you don’t have to watch movies to get to know Lagos; everything can be seen through the hotel’s 3D windows.
The hospitality industry was a huge and profitable industry before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the coronavirus has brought things to a virtual standstill. How would you describe your experience through all of this?
Before the pandemic, we were running the business as normal. The experience was the same everywhere; not just in Lagos. This is what happened all over Africa.
We have our team base and our relationships. But the pandemic has changed that picture. It has changed people’s behavior when it comes to travel. Not just in Nigeria; but overall.
This means that people no longer feel inclined to travel to attend meetings. The big difference in Nigeria is that Nigerians love to travel. And when they’re not traveling, they love visiting friends. They attend meetings and go to work. When the pandemic arrived, Nigerians’ enthusiasm for travel, which was once unmatched, suddenly collapsed as they had to stay at home and conduct their business in the country.
The Lagos Continental Hotels were formerly known as the Intercontinental Hotel. What led to the transition?
It’s simple. Intercontinental Hotel withdrew and name changed to Lagos Continental Hotels. It helped keep the outfit in line. But, we have become more popular with our customers and the name change is no longer a problem. People can now easily travel to the Lagos Continental Hotel.
It seems that the transition has had a positive impact on the hotel. How were you able to make it happen?
It’s like going online to do business. I must admit that Nigeria has a good press (media). This is a change that has taken place over the years. Although the pandemic has caused enormous damage, the truth is that whoever you are, people would still perceive them as they are. From being Intercontinental Hotel to Lagos Continental Hotel, it is already a well-known entity and brand. We have seen nothing to hold us back; at least not in the last six or seven months.
Who are the people who make up your target audience?
Nigerians and international guests. No matter where you go, people will always do business. We have different meeting classes for different people. Families and friends also come here to have a good time. They come to relax, swim and eat. Some people come to meet friends. He has always been between business and leisure.
We also have a variety of chefs from different parts of the world. We have everything to delight our customers.
February is generally considered the mating season. What do you have in place for the month?
There is a song called “Love in the Air”. We call ours ‘Love in the Continental’. He has been with us and we must speak of love. In February and beyond, we would give lovers an experience they would remember for a very long time. If you are married, your experience with us will make you want to remarry your partner.
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