Jamiu Talabi is the General Secretary of Lagos Hoteliers Association (LHA). In this interview,with to Ebere Chibuzor, he speaks on why most hotels operate below standards of franchise. Excerpts
We have a new government in place. Have your association met with the new government it relates to your sector?
Unfortunately we have not met with the new government although we have written him to congratulate him immediately after he sworn in and surprisingly he personally acknowledged it and with that we are looking forward to having a very good relationship with his government.
We have not met him because we felt it will not be too good for us to directly go to the governor and we are waiting for him to set up his cabinet.
Did you see any indication under his dispensation that tourism will drive?
I think he will drive tourism
In setting agenda, I think there are certain things the previous administration was not able to do. What do you think are those things and can we look at them in short term, medium and long term? We hope that he will appoint a professional to man the ministry.
We will be so glad for that. Talking about the previous administration, we made several presentation to them as regards my plight; unfortunately nothing came forth and majorly it has to do with taxation. In a situation whereby virtually every ministry will have something to forward. So we found out most of our bills are duplicated. So we sat down at our own level and we felt if we continue like this, this industry will die, particularly those of us that are SMEs. When we talk about big ones such as Protea, Sheraton and others; they are not feeling it much. However, those of us at this level are really feeling it much. So we made a presentation to the government through the commissioner that most of the bills are duplicated. For example Federal Government wants 5percent from all our profit while Lagos state government wants 5percent on the same thing. So Lagos registered us to operate hotel while local government will come to license our bar. So what is the essence of the license that state government gives us. The license to us is duplicated. Why not harmonise it and let us have them in a single paper through ministry of tourism.
Were those things addressed?
They were not addressed. So we don’t know our stand.
How do you think, it can be addressed?
Government should look at consumption taxes and local governments’ taxes. In 1993 Federal government prohibited collection of individual sales Value Added Tax, VAT,. Why is it some states like Lagos still do it. They don’t collect it directly from us but they do Recent reports have shown that hotels are the list indebted sector among the bank debtors. What do you think is the reason? The reason is that we have a whole lot of us that are retiree and when they were at service they built some of the hotels and they are very careful to go for loan. No reasonable hotel will want to be indebted.
How can you ensure that hotels do not serve as a hideout for criminals?
We don’t have too much on security because the previous government tried. We have always commended the efforts of government when it comes to security. But the problem is the road network. Another challenge is power; although it is arguable that it has improved. We are doing our bits in terms of security. We check our customers regularly when they come but you should understand that there a is a limit to the checks we can do, or else you drive away good customers. We don’t have the magic wand to dictate criminals but we have our own measures on ground just as we make sure that whoever comes in is properly documented. Anybody that is not ready to give us his or her details can take his money somewhere else and that is our rule across. Of course if someone comes in and stay for one week we ask questions. We encouraged our members to install functional CCTVs but we decided lately to come up with biometrics system due to the recent insurgency in the country.
Hotels operate below the franchise standard they have. Why is it so?
May be one of the reasons is the economy of such country. If the government policies are right and the atmosphere is conducive, they might want to compete with the ones out there. I think it is the unfriendly government policies that make hoteliers go beyond standards. Again some hotels don’t want to pay staff salaries.
How effective is your association?
Our Association is synergizing due to this government policies such as consumption tax and others. We are not relenting at the executive level. We just started biometrics two months ago and we are also organizing a retreat around October 13 to 15 at Abeokuta. All these are just to keep ourselves in tune with trends and also to upgrade ourselves, not just the hotel owners but also the employees.
BoI released fund to SMEs recently. Were the funds accessible to your association?
It is not but we are working on one and the reason has been that we don’t have our association at the National level. The one we are currently working with is from the Ministry of Trade and Investments which is a World Bank fund meant for certain. Tourism is one of the sectors that will benefit and we have told our people who ever that is interested to indicate their interest.
How do you think FG could help hoteliers?
Due to these myriad of challenges we are having, we are considering to have a Bank of Tourism equivalent to Bank of Industry but not at this level. We hope that the issue of electricity goes on like this because we have never had it so good in terms of electricity. The issue of consumption tax is also one good area we want to government to come in.