Oluomo Jamiu Talabi, Secretary, Lagos Hoteliers Association and ex-officio member, Hotel Owners and Managers Of Lagos, in this interview with SIMPLE IKEM bares his mind on the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on hoteliers and the need for the government to listen to calls for support. Excerpt:
TNE: Since the ease of lockdown in the hospitality sector, what is the situation presently?
The sector is yet to return to normalcy pre-COVID-19 era. I am not sure operators can get it right and back to normalcy within six months or one year except we want to deceive ourselves.
The COVID-19 situation is a circumstance we have to live with for some time to come. Yes, the government has given us the go-ahead to reopen with some conditions that the majority of our members are trying hard to fulfil.
TNE: What are the conditions given to the operators by the government?
The Lagos State Safety Commission has told us to register. Some of our members have done so but others are still perfecting the requirements.
According to the government, the essence of the registration is to make sure that specific safety measures are put in place before the reopening of businesses.
Many operators have reopened while some are trying to put one or two things in place before they reopen for business.
The business is slow right now but not rosy yet because the ban on inter-state travel has just been lifted. After the announcement, the majority of Nigerians are not travelling yet for business and leisure.
There is no money in the economy for Nigerians to engage in buying and selling across the states. However, we thank God for survival and life.
TNE: Would you say the need to travel has further been dampened by the safety-first mantra as being advocated by NCDC and the government?
Oh yes! People want to stay healthy and be alive to transact business just as operators that lost so much to lockdown still want to remain alive to reopen and make money. Don’t forget that it is only the living that makes and spends money.
By and large, we also want to keep our customers and lodgers safe and that explains why organisations are striving hard to meet and implement the NCDC safety protocols.
Many Nigerians are still sceptical about the deadly disease as it continues to record casualties daily across the country and all over the world. Daily update about the Coronavirus concerning the sharp rise in the number of cases across the country is scary. Nigerians are still skeptical.
The effect of this is that the bulk of our customers is business people and other travellers that come into the state for transactions before returning to their bases outside Lagos.
Apart from businessmen and women being skeptical about travelling, the economy is down and that is also not helping the sector to bounce back.
Every Nigeria is trying to manage pending the time the economy will pick up again. The fear of travelling, the safety of life and the economy have affected overnight stay.
TNE: At the association platform, has government extended palliative to hoteliers as it promised the aviation industry?
The government has not done anything, Lagos State in particular.
However, they have assured us that something will come. We held a meeting with the Commissioner for Tourism a few days ago.
During the lockdown, the association made some representations to her and she told us that the ministry has agreed to give a 50 per cent waiver on the cost of annual licence renewal.
Also, she promised to impress it on other commissioners to do the same for the association. She disclosed that all of these have been packaged for presentation to Governor BabajideSanwo-Olu for consideration.
We are hoping and praying that the governor will see reason with the commissioner and instruct other arms of the government to extend an olive branch to the association.
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TNE: As the lull in business continues, what is the fate of workers in the hotel and allied sector?
You will realise that before this period, the government has asked organisations not to sack workers. This formed part of our proposals to the government for support to forestall sack of workers and enable us to meet our obligations to workers in the sector.
In reality, there could be rationalisation in the form of a reduction in salary, forced leave without pay or even casualisation if we don’t sack. This is the reality because operation, as it is presently, cannot sustain the business and overheads.
Even during the lockdown utility bills kept coming like electricity consumption and maintenance of alternative sources of power in the hotel.
We have some workers on essential duties like the security, technical staff that keeps the generators running when public supply fails. Also, are the cleaners that must tidy up the environment; we have no choice than to pay them even though we are not making money.
TNE: Given the gradual ease and reopening of the economy, how long do you think it will take the sector to recoup and bounce back into business?
We have told the government to grant tax holidays for the next year because we can’t be paying tax and levies on nothing. Invariably, we cannot stabilise this year maybe by the first and second quarters of 2021.
COVID-19 pandemic has come and we have to live with it for some time to come and nobody knows how long. So, all these measures must be implemented by the government.
TNE: What pet talk do you have for workers and other publics in the hospitality sector?
We as employers are not pleased with the downturn in the economy and lull in our business operations. Fortunately, our employees are mature having seen the situation on the ground. They have seen things for themselves because it is not that owners are hiding anything away from them and we are bound to abide by the situation.
I must tell you it is not in our interest to sack workers because the chain and cycle such lay off will have on workers and their families are enormous.
Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can perform than to abide and join the country in prayer for solutions to contain the pandemic soon.
TNE: What assurances would you want to give on the safety of customers’ health and otherwise?
We are not just assuring them by way of mouth we want them to practice and perfect safe hygiene. As far as we are concerned both individually and as an association, we give best assurances of safe and virus free lodging to our customers, staff and other stakeholders.