General Manager of Lagos Continental Hotels, Karl Hala has said although the African continent is endowed with a lot of natural attractions, it is yet to be untapped.
The hotelier in an interview with the Punch Newspaper stated that Africans need to market Africa to develop the tourism industry and boost the hospitality sector in the continent.
Please read the full interview…
Lagos Continental Hotels, Karl Hala, who is referred to as Africa’s hospitality guru, has spent about three decades managing hospitality brands on the continent. He tells BLESSING ENENAITE about his career, love for Africa and other issues
You have worked in the African hospitality sector for decades. What’s the attraction for you?
I came to Africa in 1985. I spent some time in Kenya before I moved to Zambia, where I stayed for another five years. I love Africa and its people and the culture. Anywhere I go, I do business with the people. I see differences in all my interactions with Africans and that makes me happy.
What comparisons can you draw between the hospitality business in Africa vis-à-vis other continents?
There are some people who may disagree but as far as I’m concerned, the African hospitality industry is doing very well. I have travelled to many places in Europe and other continents. When it comes to efficiency and the level of professionalism, it is really a lot better in some places than it is in other areas and that needs to be improved upon. When it comes to educational and vocational (areas), Africa is very far below. These are some of the things we should be addressing. In terms of service delivery and techniques, one needs to supervise people to build confidence in them.
What are the most critical needs in the hospitality business?
For me, the skill set is very essential. All I have to do is to work hard and give my team the right tools to perform. The 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 provide me with better ideas for me to learn more. Therefore, I need to go into the depth to speak to people on the ground, give them what they need to perform and give them accountability based on the level of the job.
What are the challenges facing the African hospitality sector?
This interview would not be complete if I don’t explain the challenges we encounter everywhere we have operations and how we continue to manage them. The challenges include lack of tourist sites, electricity and other basic services. Beyond what I have mentioned, one needs other equipment to do the business and minimise the risk of inadequate power supply.
What opportunities for growth exist in the hospitality business?
Africa has got growth opportunities but the truth is that Africa has to market Africa. It is a beautiful continent. It has genuine culture and people with different traditions. All that needs to be done is to carry them along, and bring in professionals that can take this globally. I believe if Africa gets together, there will be a deeper continent that people will love to see, to look at its nature and wonders, the culture, and the different drives.
Whenever one sees the ingenuity of Africa as is in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria and many other countries on the continent, one would be tempted to visit the continent. It is a beauty totally undiscovered. However, I believe that with more marketing efforts and public relations, the continent will definitely improve for the better.
Isn’t that taking too long?
Definitely, but to put all these in place will take time. Look at Europe now. Africa needs to always believe in itself. I have always believed in Africa and Africa has to do it by herself. Good things take a while, and the right professionals have to be put in charge.
What do you love the most about the Lagos Continental Hotels?
I remember quite vividly that when the place was opened in 2013, I was here. It has a design, which perforces the hospitality industry on its own and that is owing to its uniqueness – its oval shape and height. While there, one does not have to watch movies to know about Lagos; one can see it all through the hotel’s 3D windows.
The hospitality business was a huge and profitable industry before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the coronavirus practically grinded things to a halt. How would you describe your experience through it all?
Before the pandemic, we were running the business in the normal way. The experience was the same thing everywhere; not just in Lagos. That is what happened throughout Africa.
One has one’s team base and connections. But, the pandemic changed that picture. It changed people’s travelling behaviour. Not just in Nigeria; but globally.
This means that people no longer feel inclined to travel to attend meetings anymore. The big difference in Nigeria is that Nigerians love to travel. And when they aren’t travelling, they love to visit friends. They attend meetings and go to work. When the pandemic came, the travelling enthusiasm of Nigerians that used to be second to none suddenly crashed because they had to stay at home and conduct their businesses in the country.
The Lagos Continental Hotels used to be known as Intercontinental Hotel. What led to the transition?
It’s simple. Intercontinental Hotel pulled out and the name was changed to Lagos Continental Hotels. That helped to keep the outfit in line. But, we have become more popular with our guests and the name change is no longer a problem. People are now able to easily get to the Lagos Continental Hotel.
It seems the transition impacted positively on the hotel. How were you able to make it happen?
It is just like going online to do business. I must confess that Nigeria has a good press (media). It is a change that had been taking place over the years. Though the pandemic caused huge damage, the truth is that whoever one is, people would still perceive one as one is. From being Intercontinental Hotel to Lagos Continental Hotel, it is already an entity and a well-known brand. We have not seen anything to hold us back; at least, not in the last six or seven months.
Who are the people that make up your target audience?
Nigerians and international guests. It does not matter where one goes, the people will always do business. We have different classes of meetings for different individuals. Families and friends come in here too to have a good time. They come to relax, swimming and eat. Some people come in to reunite with friends. It has always been between corporate 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 regarded as the season of love. What do you have in place for the month?
There is a song titled, ‘Love in the Air’. We call ours ‘Love in the Continental’. It has been with us and we have to talk about love. In February and beyond, we would be giving lovers an experience they would remember for a very long time. If you are married, your experience with us will make you want to marry your partner again.