There are indications, from stories making the rounds in Akwa Ibom State, that the government may be considering renewing the one-year management contract it signed with Icon Hotels and Resorts Nigeria for the management of the Ibom Icon Hotel and Resort in Uyo, the state capital.
The new contract, if it goes beyond the realm of speculation, may be for a period of about 15 years. This should be cheering news for anybody interested in the fortunes of the five-star hotel in particular and development of the hospitality industry in the state in general.
The decision to sign Icon Hotel and Resort Nigeria, the local franchise of the Kenya-based Icon Hotel Group Africa to manage the symbol of Akwa Ibom hospitality was perhaps one of the best investment decisions the government has taken in the last six years of its eight-year tenure, beyond its industrialization drive which has seen it establish more than a dozen thriving industries in different parts of the state.
Events and developments relating to Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort in the last one year have vindicated the government’s decision to hand over management of the hospitality facility to the third managers since it began operations in 2007. And anybody with a sense of appreciation would acknowledge the fact that there have been some positive and noticeable changes in the operations of the hotel.
I have had cause to travel to Uyo on four occasions during the period, and during each of the visits I have been a guest at the hotel. Each stay in the facility has exposed me to something new and different from what I experienced on previous occasions.
The Icon Hotel and Resorts Nigeria has applied its well-known expertise in fusing local cultures into service delivery on the African continent to introduce some things that had not been part of the culture of Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resorts. For instance, it wasn’t part of the practice to prepare local dishes on demand, in form of a la carte. I found that I could order for local delicacies and have them freshly prepared while I wait, and delivered in record time.
A regular guest who visited the hotel in the past would not fail to notice a friendlier and more welcoming disposition by the staff, which is obviously the new culture the current managers have brought into the operations at the facility. Their excitement in the course of delivering services in the various departments comes naturally.
A man who acts as a tour guide, by name Ime, takes delight in conducting guests round the hotel and explaining the changes that have taken place in the last one year, missing no opportunity in telling them that Uyo is fast becoming the Dubai of Nigeria, on account of the number of visitors to the state, many of whom have made Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort their permanent choice.
The striking difference between the managers of Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort and their counterparts in similar facilities in other parts of the country which are managed by expatriates is that while the management structure in those hotels have a large concentration of the foreign managers, there may not be more than seven foreigners on the staff of the Uyo hospitality facility. There is a heavy concentration of Akwa Ibom indigenes in senior positions, which reflects the deliberate policy of the board of the hotel to be sensitive to the local content policy of the federal government.
The progress Ibom Icon Hotels and Golf Resort has made in the last one year, which has impacted positively on its fortunes, has guaranteed job security for the staff and boosted their morale. This must be considered within the context of the government’s employment policy of creating new jobs while guaranteeing security of existing ones.
The current managers have not only equipped the staff with new knowledge and modern skills in hospitality, they have raised the bar in service delivery in the state, setting standards others are trying to emulate.
This is good for the industry, as hospitality operators are striving to up their game in order to meet the standard expected by guests who stream into the state almost on a daily basis for sundry activities like conferences, retreats, marriages, or for leisure. Some of these guests have been exposed to the best hospitality standards around the world and would expect nothing less in a state that is fast assuming the status of an investment destination.
There is something of a consensus that if Icon Hotel and Resorts Nigeria could achieve the level of success it has recorded in just one year of managing the Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, then more years on the saddle could significantly transform the fortunes of the hotel and also help in boosting the economy of the state.
A renewal of the one-year contract by the government to allow for more years of stewardship by the current managers would certainly be a step in the right direction. With the managers have done in so short a time, the government would certainly not want to go back to the era when it had to give subvention to the hotel to even remain functional.
Bassey lives in Abuja