Q&A: Seeing the Opportunity

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Mantis Collection is a group of privately-owned, 5-star properties located around the world, made up of boutique hotels, game reserves, eco lodges, ski lodges and chalets, and yachts. Their African footprint includes properties in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Morocco, whilst their latest foray is into Nigeria, where West Africa division MD, Patrick Shorten is overseeing the opening of the Grand Towers boutique hotel in Abuja.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Nigerian hospitality industry?
There are huge opportunities, but one of the major issues is the lack of standards and attention to detail in most hotels. There are of course a number of international hotel groups in Nigeria that are offering international standards, but the privately-owned and smaller country-type hotels are sadly lacking in standards of service, décor, cuisine and efficient management.

Is there a need for a credible grading system or is the current system satisfactory?
In time, I think it’s imperative that a grading system is introduced. I have seen a number of smaller hotels branding themselves as 4-star, when they possibly would not achieve a 2-star rating in other countries with a grading system. Currently, the international brands that are operating in Nigeria have imposed their own ‘grading’, linked to international standards.

Why did Mantis Collection decide on Abuja, as opposed to Lagos, as a starting point for its West African operation?
Abuja as Nigeria’s capital was established approximately 15 years ago and is the fastest growing city in Africa, with major international businesses setting up base here. All the international embassies are based here. The city is well designed and the infrastructure is good. Corporate business is flourishing and there is a demand for 5-star boutique accommodation.

Do you believe Lagos is over-traded, particularly from a 5-star hotel point of view?
No. Definitely not. I believe there is only one truly 5-star hotel in Lagos. The past years of the 4 and 5-star hotels running at 85% occupancy at an achieved room rate of $350-plus are over, and an equilibrium is now creeping in, with rates becoming normal and healthy competition arising. Mantis will be opening The George, a new 5-star boutique 62 all-suite hotel on Ikoyi Island, Lagos, in June 2013.

What are your thoughts on the opportunities for hotels in the lower star (1 to 3-star) categories, in Nigeria?
There is most definitely an opportunity for further 3-star hotels. However, for 1 and 2-star, there is minimal opportunity as this sector is well covered.

What are some of the challenges you are experiencing in setting up operations in Abuja?
Experienced builders and artisans are hard to find, and experienced management and HOD’s need to be expatriates. Urgency is a problem and due to the central location of Abuja, most of the supplies need to be trucked in from Lagos. However, recently, there have been some major developments on the supplier side in Abuja.

Does the violence up north threaten to halt investment in Nigeria and affect travel to the country?
Unfortunately, this is a concern for many investors and travellers. But, this violence is mainly restricted to outlying areas and government-backed businesses. The private sector does not seem to be affected.

Does Nigeria suffer from an unjustified negative perception of the country, because of the violence?
Yes, Nigeria is unfairly judged internationally. There is corruption in government which is entrenched and will be difficult to eradicate, although the citizens are really good people. Crime, corruption and unrest, in my opinion, are greater in South Africa.  

Does Abuja have the potential to overtake Lagos as the business hub of the country, in the future?
Yes. Lagos has reached saturation point, with between 20 and 30 million people living there. It will take a long time though, as Lagos is big!

Does your Abuja hotel offering differ from that you would provide in Lagos?
Rates are slightly cheaper than in Lagos, but over time I see this equalizing. Regarding standards, we definitely do not deviate in our offerings, but the designs, décor and positioning do differ, as each venue is regarded as an individual property.

What are the Mantis Collection plans, in terms of further West African development and investment?
We have three signed-up management contracts to date – Grand Towers in Abuja, The George in Lagos and Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti State. There are a further three in Abuja, Lagos and Owerri that will come on board in the near future. We are also currently looking at Ghana, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands, among others.