Lagos Top 10 Hotels: “Oyinbo Eagle” Paul Kavanagh of Wheatbaker Hotel Ikoyi declares ‘I am a Calabar Boy’ (Part1)

The name Paul Kavanagh, strikes a cord when it comes to the hotel industry. Having traverse the industry in different continents, the astute hospitality expert is well grounded and comes with a lot of experience. Presently the General Manager, The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi Lagos, Kavanagh who regards himself as a ‘Calabar boy’ Spoke to Travellers Magazine in an Interview that will be Published in 3 Parts. The interview is part of the series on the Lagos Top 10 Hotel Project. The Project Covers Best Hotels in Lagos and Their Managers Excepts:

Good day, Paul. Good to have you around today.

How long have you been in this hotel?
I arrived here on October the 15th of last year, so its about 8 months.

Before Wheatbaker, where were you?
Nairobi, Kenya, opening the coolest hotel in East Africa, the Social House, Nairobi.

And before Social House, where are you?
I came back over this side of Africa, to Ghana, Golden Tulip, Accra.

And before Golden Tulip, Accra where were you?
Oh! my word, I was in Colombia and before that Mongolia, and before that Nigeria. And somewhere back around 2009 Calabar in Cross River State my home state.

You are known as ‘Oyinbo Eagle’, why is that so?
I have been here since 2009. And I remember the day that I decided to come. I was sitting in a house in London and I had three choices. I could have gone to the Maldives. I could have gone to a hotel in Ireland. I could have gone to Nigeria and I chose Nigeria. Of course, over the Maldives, any day. I came here and within days of life on Obudu mountain, I was forever more a proud Calabar boy.

Nigeria has issues but you decide to identify with it, even when you are in Ghana anytime Nigeria was playing you had your eagle jersey on?
Certainly more in South Africa than in Ghana. Very of proud to wear my Super Eagles jersey at the 2010 World Cup. In Ghana, I got very into Ghanaian rugby.

The Wheatbaker is one the best hotels in Lagos?
Let me just correct you, it is not one of the best. The Wheatbaker is the number one hotel in Lagos.

According to Paul?
No, not according to Paul, because Paul actually takes no credit for it, it all belongs to the previous general manager. The Wheatbaker is unique globally. It is the only hotel in the world to have been number one on TripAdvisor for 10 years in a row. Now that belongs to Mr. Grindrod Simon my predecessor, a legend, top, top, legend. And you have to remember that as we represent Nigeria, Nigeria holds a place in the hotel industry globally. It’s not just that Wheatbaker is the number one hotel in the city, it is rated as such, it is registered as such and it is everything as such. Now that sets a lot of challenges, don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a great thing. But when it comes to acknowledging certain factual correctness factually, this is the wheatbaker; know that it is number one.

READ: Africa: Leading travel promoters in Nigeria, Ghana win awards

What makes Wheatbaker number one?
Oh, that is even easier to answer. We have 184 staff members, that is the one thing that makes us different. Every hotel in Lagos, every hotel in Nigeria, we all have bedrooms, we all have televisions, we all have bathrooms, we all have beds. But what makes us different is our people.

And where did they come?
They come from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, right? Majority of them are Nigerian and majority of them have been with this hotel since day one. It’s a great example of how when you look after your people, your people will look after you.

When a guest comes to the Wheatbaker, the number one hotel in Nigeria, what is the guest expecting to see?
Well, what they are expecting is sometimes hard to define. As you know, when a white man is coming, what does he expect? Scary Nigerians. But when they come through the gates and they feel the serenity, they get the peace, they get the quiet, all those types of things and they feel at home. When you are a Nigerian and you are coming here, you know what to expect. You know what this place is. So obviously when a guest arrives here, the Wheatbaker is a number of things. It is about service, it is about our people. It is about the welcome. But every hotel will tell you they deliver a great service and they have a great welcome. One of the differences with the Wheatbaker as opposed to certain other hotels is, ours is very authentic. It’s like our art. Our art is real art on the wall. You go to certain hotels and the art is not real. The art is imitation from either way back in renaissance times or from some hotel art factory in South Africa. But ours is genuine, predominantly Nigerian, mainly West African art. And that creates something. So with the Wheatbaker it creates the art of hospitality. It’s something that we nurture and we grow within our building. It’s about being authentic. When somebody comes in, it’s not like oh yes Sir. It’s welcome home, welcome back.

Wheatbaker is supposedly the number one hotel in Nigeria and Lagos? How well does it play in Africa?
Well, across Pan Africa, whether you go down South and a little bit because of our history, we have connections to South Africa in the past. But equally, the awards we win, Pan African awards, Global awards that we win, but the main thing with the Wheatbaker is that we are known in certain countries in the world. So we have a big profile in South Africa, we have a big profile across East Africa, in Kenya for example. But we have as bigger profile in America or in the United Kingdom.

Why is that so?
When people come home, whether it’s Nigerians coming home or whether it’s the ‘Oyinbo’ coming here for business, they go back and they’re saying, wow, I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect I would be getting a standard equal to global standard.

You are not in any chain?
No, we are completely independent. We are independent and privately owned, we stand by ourselves.

Does it work for you that way?
Yes. Very much so. It means we control what we want to do. So when we develop our brand, when we look at our brand, when we look at our product offering, we don’t have to match others. So if you are being critical of a brand and I’m not, but if you are being critical of a brand, you would say each brand is only as strong as its weakest link. I won’t name brands, even those that I have worked for previously. But if you work for a brand and you have one property that is not at the same level, the whole brand is reflected by that. With us at the Wheatbaker, our weakest link is whether we have one room that is not at standard, but we can fix that.

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