Home » Friendly Demeanour, Nigeria’s Greatest Resource…says starwood’s Barry Curran

Friendly Demeanour, Nigeria’s Greatest Resource…says starwood’s Barry Curran

by Atqnews
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Sheraton Area GMBarry Curran is the new Area Manager (Nigeria) and General Manager, Starwood Hotels & Resorts. It is one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world and owners of nine brands including Le Méridien, Sheraton and Four Points by Sheraton. Prior to this appointment, he was Area Manager Cairo Hotels based at Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa in Egypt. 

Barry who is Irish by birth with education from Shannon College of Hotel Management and Cornell University took on his first role with Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2005 as General Manager at Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa. With over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, he has filled various management positions in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Guyana and Egypt. He has to his credit a proven track record in coaching and developing high performance teams and individuals, a number of which have been promoted to General Manager and Area roles. 

Barry also has a history of strong owner, staff and guest relations. He recently oversaw the opening of two new hotels in Egypt – Le Meridien Dahab and Le Meridien Cairo Airport. A first timer in Nigeria, he is married with two children and is a lover of golf, tennis, rugby and skiing.

Kindly tell us a bit about your working background?

Most recently, I spent 15 years working in Cairo, Egypt. I went there originally as the General Manager, Le Meridien Hotel and Spa and took over the Area role for Le Meridien. Midway through my time, Le Meridien was acquired by Starwood. I then took over as Area Manager for Starwood for the resort properties over there. Then, I had the opportunity to come to Nigeria which I absolutely jumped at. It was a fantastic opportunity. I am very, very happy to be here. As they say, I am based in Lagos, in the Sheraton Hotel and have responsibility for five hotels.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. is one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world with 1,128 properties in nearly 100 countries and 154,000 employees at its owned and managed properties. Starwood is a fully integrated owner, operator and franchisor of hotels, resorts and residences with nine the internationally renowned brands such as St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W,  Le Méridien, Sheraton and Four Points by Sheraton even though the last three are the only ones in the country presently.

When you were told to come to Nigeria, what were the thoughts that cropped up in your mind?

First of all, I wasn’t told to come. I chose to come. It was an easy choice to make because I think this is an extremely exciting country and it’s a very exciting time for the country. We just learnt it has become the largest economy in Africa as per GDP which I think it’s long overdue personally and I think no country will ever overtake you again and you will grow from strength to strength. What my immediate thoughts were to answer your question, I have had the pleasure of meeting the Nigerian team over the past four or five years because every year in Starwood we have an annual conference that all the country members participate. The Nigerian team has come on the world stage of Starwood over the past five years. I have been extremely impressed by their professionalism, friendliness and open attitude, dedication to work and overall, a great team. So, it was a very easy decision, when you are presented with a team of that quality. To have the opportunity of coming to work with them makes the decision very very easy.

Considering Egypt has a bigger hotel and tourism industry compared to Nigeria, how do you intend to bring your wealth of experience to bear in your new responsibility?

I am aware that there is very little inbound into Nigeria. And virtually all of the business is made up of either government-to-government business or corporate. You know large companies who are doing business in this country and bringing their people in for variety of reasons. Do I think there is an opportunity to grow tourism here? Definitely. You know the keys will be security. It’s very fundamental for tourism. People want to feel safe when they are going on leisure-based trips. Another important issue is that it is quite difficult to get visas into Nigeria; it’s quite a process. If you look at all of the countries who are active in tourism, the visa process is really, really simple. In fact, many of them, you either don’t need a visa or you can get a visa at the airport within minutes of arrival. If Nigeria is going to move in the tourism direction, they need to look into that.

You are coming in with quite a number of years in terms of experience especially in areas of career advancement and the personnel you have worked with. Do we expect same here considering Nigerian Starwood properties is expanding?

We will be continuing the expansion programme. Starwood added three properties to its portfolio in the last three years. We hope to open another four to five hotels within the next six to seven years. Most of these deals have already been signed actually with local Nigerian partners and it’s very clear to see that the expansion we already have in the last five to six years has been really tremendous for our associates based in our hotels in Nigeria. Because almost without exception and I think it’s fair to say without exception, each property that has opened has provided promotion opportunities for people already working in our older properties, and that has worked really well for us. It means we have been able to transfer skills they have had in that property immediately into the new properties which have worked tremendously in getting traction in the market. And delivering the sort of service we are well known for in this country amongst the Sheraton hotels and towers. So, the more we open, the more the opportunities. Our track record is that we do want to promote people who are with us already into those hotels and give them the opportunity of moving forward and that will definitely continue.

Still on Starwood, your Sheraton brand – the two Sheraton brands you have in Abuja opened in 1990 and Lagos opened in 1985 – are old hotels and some of the infrastructures are not in good. I know that of Abuja is undergoing a process of regeneration, what about Lagos which is facing the same problem?

I totally agree with you. We need to reinvest in the hotels. We are starting a major renovation in Lagos Sheraton in early June. It’s a three-phase renovation programme and will cover the entire hotel. In June, we would start with two floors – five and six – and then move down into the public areas such as lobby, restaurants and banquet halls. And we will complete the remaining floors in phase three of the programme. These ones are actually the floors that are newest and in good shape. We see that programme being completed in the coming years. All done, contract signed, contractors on site as we speak today. Everything is set to go. We want to enhance the product and it’s starting.

The combination of the Starwood property in Nigeria, L’Meridien, Sheraton and Four Points seem to confuse quite a number of people. Four Points is supposed to be on a lower hierarchy compared to the Sheraton but in Lagos it commands a higher strength and status. Compared to Le Meridien and Sheraton, how do we differentiate  each of these your products and are the standards not all the same? Are there no hierarchy in the Starwood bouquet?

Starwood Hotel and Resort is an umbrella company and within that, there are a number of different brands. We have nine and all the brands are positioned differently to target different segments of the market and different lifestyles. We try to develop our brands as lifestyle brands. You are quite correct to say Four Points is performing very very well. The real reason for that is that it’s a new product for one and in great shape. And it came to the market in my opinion at the right time. So, it captured a really good portion of the market. To clarify the positioning of the brand, in theory, Sheraton brand should be aiming at a higher mark than Four Points and I am quite confident that will happen once we get into our renovation programme and have new products to bring to the market. Same thing with Abuja Sheraton. There is a big renovation programme starting there as well.

Do you have a plan that will take care of the middle class?

Well, we actually have brands that address most segments of the market. We have many brands that are not yet in the country and our objective is to get many more of our products into the country because the market is there. Some you’ve never heard of but will be seeing in the future. We see lots and lots of opportunities here. One I can tell you is under construction in Lagos right now which is the luxury collection which we ought to open in the next few years. That is at the very high end.

How do you perceive Nigeria and the people and how will you define what you have seen so far?

Where I come from in Ireland is known as having warm friendly people and this is one of our biggest strengths. You know what we have been doing for centuries? Marketing that warmth and that friendliness. I see exactly the same thing in this country. You can almost not find a Nigerian with a smile on his face and when you consider some of the difficult circumstances in terms of their day to day living, that’s remarkable. My overwhelming sensation is one of warm, friendly people, open, interested to talk and exchange ideas with you. The other thing is a very well educated people of all the people have met. For me, it’s all about the people and I do think in reality, it’s your greatest resource. I don’t think it’s the oil or gas. I actually think it’s the people.

You have been around for some weeks now and I guess you have tried some Nigerian cuisine. Which one has excited you the most?

Going back to my ethnicity, I have to tell you we are not very good with spicey food. We are not designed for spicy food. My first one was a little surprise created for me on my second day here by my predecessor. We were having lunch together and he said listen, you have to try this soup. It was the pepper soup. He was to a certain extent kind as he ensured there was a very big glass of water closely. It was actually very nice but it was too spicy for me. As far as Nigerian food is concerned, I am going to have to ease myself into it, slowly but surely.

Should we expect changes in some of your products?

Those of you in Lagos are aware that we have a very successful wazobia evening on Friday in Lagos Sheraton and so I have been asking myself since I got here why are we only doing it only once a week. As an immediate thing, we are looking right now at expanding it into two or three times a week.

We are looking at Friday, and maybe mid week too, if I can persuade people to come out. That is something that is very much of the local people for the local people, very successful and people are having a great time. So, that sort of thing in terms of reaching out and providing services that people want to buy locally is what we will be looking into in the immediate future.

What are some of your plans in making the Starwood brand one to reckon with?

The first thing we are addressing is the renovation of the properties that need to be renovated and the two key properties are Lagos and Abuja Sheraton. The next thing is expanding our brand presence in Nigeria because we have nine brands and only three of them are represented in this country.

There’s no question that there will be more Four Points because it’s been very successful in this country. I see at least two more of that coming to the market in the near future but we have other brands which can add a lot of value like the luxury collection which I mentioned will open up in Lagos. There is an opportunity for Westin which is another brand we are looking at. Then we have other more boutique brands like W, Loft, Element which can also spice up the hospitality market. So we have a lot to offer and bring to the table.

How much is this expansion costing Starwood?

I can’t put a figure around it right now because it’s not  fair and there are other partners involved in this project that are still in the developing stage. It will be a very significant expansion in times of capital projects. Most of us are aware that there was a time a plan was hatched to remodel or redesign the rooms and one was actually prepared and positioned on the 6th floor and someone was brought in from Dubai to design it.

Do you plan to maintain or sustain that design or do you plan to renovate the existing structure?

That model room that was developed, which of course the whole purpose of designing a model room is to go through a process of evolution to create a fine product. What you saw there was a very fine example of what it will be; it has developed further and in my opinion better. And that is what we will be rolling out. It is that product but it is an enhanced form of it.

What advice do you have for upcoming hoteliers?

I’m a firm believer in expanding your horizons through travel, going outside your immediate environment to see what’s happening around the world. That’s where the ideas are, that’s where the latest developments are. Don’t be restricted to what’s going on around you, if you can travel and travel to destinations doing it very well and get some ideas there.


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