CORONAVIRUS: Hotel occupancy drops by over 60%, as hoteliers lament c ancellations of bookings

CORONAVIRUS: Hotel occupancy drops by over 60%, as hoteliers lament c ancellations of bookings

CORONAVIRUS: Hotel occupancy drops by over 60%, as hoteliers lament c ancellations of bookings
Courtesy: Andrew Iro Okungbowa/News Source: newtelegraphng.com

Despite caution by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), not to put restrictions on travel on account of the increasing threat of Coronavirus (COVID – 19), the tourism industry is one of the worse hit sectors as travel business is experiencing unexpected downturn.

In Nigeria, hoteliers are lamenting the impact of it on their operations as occupancy figure is said to have declined to an all- time low figure of over 60%, with the international brands the worse hit due to a drop in the number of foreign visitors to the country, a situation which has seen heavy cancellation not only on rooms but on banqueting and conferences, especially those with foreign content.

The long term impact of this, according to the hoteliers, is that many of them will be forced to adjust their projections for the year and also review their investment portfolio, and right size their workforce if the situation persists for long, thereby affecting the national economy and the contribution of hospitality to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Despite the impact on their operations, the hoteliers said they have taken necessary health precaution as prescribed by the WHO and the federal ministry of health by enforcing measures to protect their guests and workforce even as they have introduced checks on the medical and travel history of their guests. Speaking on this development, the Coordinator, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Lagos Chapter, Dauud Gbenga Sunmonu, said: ‘‘All the hotels have been put on alert.

Information passed across to all hotels to be wary of the signs and symptoms exhibited by our guests and report to appropriate authorities. ‘‘Hotels are being educated on preventive approach, cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation within staff and guests. Advocacy on causes and symptoms, staff are told to be cautious of guests coming to the hotel, provision of hand washing water and sanitizers in all public areas.

Foreign guest country of arrival is adequately taken note for high risks.’’ Furthermore, he said that: ‘‘Most hotels in the state are fully prepared to handle any eventuality as adequate information has been passed out to all of them, emergency numbers distributed for calls should suspicion arise, and there is mutual collaboration with the government agencies on this.’’

However, he said that the negative impact of it on the operations of the hotels is the issue every hotelier in the country is grappling to cope with, as he revealed that most hotels recording as low as 60% decline in occupancy and witnessing cancellations by guests. ‘‘Patronage has drastically dropped, business has been very slow, sales has dropped by over 60% occupancy,’’ said Sumonu. Adding that: ‘‘The cancellation witnessed in the last 10 days is worrisome.

This is generating a lot of fears in the business,’’ while on cancellation, he said: ‘‘Several banqueting functions have been cancelled to avoid gathering due to fear of spread. All international conferences and seminars cancelled in the recent time and future ones are also being threatened.’’

In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, the situation is also not any different as the General Manager of Rosebud Hotel and Apartments, Mrs. Aisha Onjefu, said that her hotel has not experienced any significant change in terms of impact; ‘‘there is no significant difference in terms of patronage, especially the frequent travellers.’’

But for the international brands, she said the story is quite different as their occupancy rate has been drastically affected by the situation. ‘‘The most affected hotels are the five stars that are usually patronised by foreigners,’’ she said.

The former President of the Hotel Owners Forum of Abuja (HOFA), Vincent Ugbor, who is also the general manager of Rockview Hotel, revealed that necessary health and hygienic precaution has been taken by the hotel, with measures such as hand washing with sanitizer in public areas within the hotel introduced for both staff and guests. Also, he said the health and travel history of guests are recorded at the time of check – in and that everyone appreciate the need for these measurements and comply fully with the hotel management. On patronage, he acknowledges a drop in the hotel occupancy level, a situation, which he said is as a result of drop in the number of people travelling.

He also revealed that the hotel has witnessed a couple of cancellations and postponements of booking of rooms and events by their guests. Adding that the effect of it may be minimal for now, but that if it goes for long, that the hotel may be force to adjust its operations and projections for the year.

Another hotel general manager in Abuja, also spoke on measures being taken by his hotel. According to Alhaji Aliyu Badaki, of Kapital Club and Apartments Hotel; ’’the outbreak of the virus has seriously affected the patronage because the movement of the people has been reduced. Because of the wide spread effect of the virus, a lot of tourists find it difficult to travel for business or tourism activities. This has greatly affected the patronage in the hospitality and travel businesses.’’

The Managing Director of W Hospitality, Trevor Ward, spoke on this development and its impact on the hotel and the country’s economy generally. On decline in occupancy, he said: ‘‘Sadly, yes, there have been many cancellations of bookings, mainly from overseas visitors, and the level of new bookings is low.

‘‘Hotels pick – up bookings as the month goes by, and the pace of that pickup is generally known from historic performance – the pick –up this week and last has been some 50% lower than expected,’’ he said. According to him, it is foreign business travellers that are mostly affected by this development.

‘It is the international business that is most affected, domestic travellers are less afraid – and as far as Nigeria is concerned, fear is the main factor, as we have a single – digit number of cases – but there is a general downturn.’’ This, he said has resulted in cancellations by guests.

‘‘Mainly those with an international content, as speakers and delegates are either prohibited by their companies from travelling or are afraid to travel because of the potential of being placed in quarantine away from home, either in their destination or when they return home.’’

On the effect this will have on the hotel pipeline development, Ward, who is renowned for the substantial work he has done in this area, with his yearly hotel pipeline development in Africa, a seminal report for the industry, said it will have ‘‘little or no impact.’’

He explained that: ‘‘Serious investors will understand that the industry is cyclical, affected by external events all the time – look at what we have been through just here in Nigeria – from security issues and Ebola in 2014, oil price reductions, starting in 2014/15, economic recession (2016/17), problems.

‘‘With elections (2015/2019) – but the good times always come back, and in fact, 2019 was a bumper year, continuing into January and February 2020.’’ Despite the negative impact now, he is optimistic that the industry in the coming months will bounce back.

‘‘The industry will bounce back, it always will, and the fundamental attraction of Nigeria, particularly Lagos, as a business destination, has not changed one bit by COVID – 19. We live today in an age of uncertainty, this is one more uncertainty to deal with, and we will overcome it. Speaking on the situation in Calabar, Cross River State capital, the Managing Director of Pyramid Hotel and Conference Centre, Charles Ogar, who is also the chairman of Hoteliers Association of Cross River State, said that things are quite calmer in the state and there is no public outcry about the virus.

However, he acknowledges that the level of awareness is high and that the normal watching of hands with sanitizers and other necessary precautions are being followed by the people even as he stressed that: ‘‘The news is that there is really nothing to fear here and everywhere is relatively quiet.

‘‘However, we will continue to intensify our hygiene and health watch by ensuring that our staff and guests are properly educated and checked and place water and sanitizers at the reception and other public areas within the hotel.

‘‘But in terms of impact on our business, that is not really an issue for us as the patronage has always been low, especially in this period of the year. Apart from the locals, the airport is not very active anymore. It is only one flight that comes in from Lagos and one from Abuja in a day. ‘‘So, the numbers are really low before now. Therefore, it has no impact or bearing really on our operations here.’’ According to one of the international brands in the country, Marriott International, which has about three hotels in the country, under the Sheraton brand: ‘‘We are closely monitoring the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization’s statements regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and following guidelines from these agencies and the local health departments.

‘‘The wellbeing of our guests and associates is of paramount importance. We are waiving cancellation fees for hotel stays through March 31 for guests travelling to or from the following locations: ‘‘Asia Pacific: Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, French Polynesia, Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Samoa ‘‘Europe: Italy.’’ According to the General Manager of Valencia Hotel, Abuja, Ediale Jose, the hotel has taken necessary medical measures even as he said the virus is still of no significance yet in the country and of less impact on the hotel’s operations.

‘‘The effect is not really felt in the hotel except for a slight drop in foreign nationals to the hotel,’’ he revealed, adding that: ‘‘The effect is still at the minimal level as the reported case of those affected in Nigeria is on a minimal level and is being contained.

However, it will definitely have its effect on foreign nationals coming into the country, thereby hampering foreign relations.’’ According to the President of Hospitality and Tourism Management Association of Nigeria (HATMAN), Samson Aturu, ‘‘our occupancy has fallen drastically in the last two months, especially with hotels that has international patronage as travel ban from Europe and China has led to major cancellations of bookings, seminars and conferences and the economy had slowed down drastically.’’