An Eye on West Africa

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I attended a presentation at the Wavecrest College in Lagos recently. Wavecrest specialises in matters related to the hospitality industry, turning out really excellent graduates with certificates and diplomas. Professor Peter Jones, a UK-based educator, came to Lagos to look at Wavecrest and to make a presentation on his thoughts and his activities in this sector.

But before I detail what he told us, here are a couple of examples of how the African travel and tourism industry suffers from poor service standards.

I checked in for a flight in Abuja recently and greeted the man taking my ticket. When I got no response, I repeated my greeting. “I heard you” he said, “and I chose not to answer you.” Knock me down with a feather! No prizes for guessing that I won’t be flying with that airline Nigerian-based airline any time soon.

Then there was my stay at a hotel in Abuja, where I dined in an empty restaurant. I was presented with a nice big menu, spent some time choosing what I wanted, and then proceeded to order the lamb. A full 20 minutes later, the waiter came back and told me there was no lamb available, because they “had just sold the last portion”. What a lie! They never had it in the first place! I was unhappy, but not completely unaccustomed to such an occurrence. So I asked him what else was ‘not available’. After several twists and turns, it turned out that the menu was a work of fiction, and that chicken with chips or mash was all they had to offer.

And finally, I checked into a hotel in Luanda. The porter took my bag to my room and not only hovered around for a tip (I can live with that), but actually stuck out his hand and asked for one!

We have all had similar experiences, haven’t we? I suspect that my friend at the airline in Abuja is past redemption, but what about the others and their managers? Surely they can improve? But if so, what’s the answer and how do we, as an industry, get them to improve?

Back to Professor Jones. He was very forcefully making the case that in his opinion, in today’s world of hospitality education, there is the proven opportunity to turn the process on its head. When I was a hospitality management student, we spent two years in the classroom, then went out and worked in the industry for a year and then returned to the classroom for another year. That year in the middle was great (for me at least – others spent their whole year “carrying the keys”), but seemed unrelated to the periods either side. And yes, we did call it a sandwich course.

Professor Jones makes a very strong case for that being the wrong way round; that the classroom has its place, but the best education is gained from working in the industry, and then going into the classroom to discuss and build on what was learned on the job in a formal educational setting. On reflection, it makes sense to me.

The best part of this story is that this is not just a theory; it has been put into practice very successfully in the UK, at the Edge Hotel School based at Wivenhoe House, a country house hotel in the county of Essex. Their degrees are accredited by the University of Essex, and Wivenhoe House is a fully operational hotel, where the students are the staff receiving guidance from professionals, and the staff are students. A separate block provides the classroom and the other facilities required.

With the exception of Wavecrest, the hospitality schools in Nigeria lack basic facilities (think of a training kitchen with not a single piece of operational equipment) and practical knowledge in the teaching faculty. Graduates have a piece of paper, but no recognition from the industry.

Can’t we adopt this in-house, deep immersion training system and adapt it for Africa? With hotels providing the facilities, benefiting from the student labour, and recognising the value of training to the long-term sustainability of their business? Is management and the educational sector enlightened enough?

I remain hopeful, but it’s going to take vision.

Trevor Ward
MD: W Hospitality Group