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Leading The Charge: Adaptability, Reliability And Innovation In One Of West Africa’S Oldest And Most Reputable Hospitality Brands

Dupe Olusola is Managing Director and CEO at Transcorp Hotels. She is an award-winning business executive with a wealth of experience from institutions including, most recently, the United Bank for Africa where she served as Group Head, Marketing, and Head, Embassies, Multilaterals, and Developmental Organizations. Dupe spoke with ON Research about what leadership and adaptability mean for one of the leading hospitality brands in West Africa.

A lot has been said about the state of the world and the current pandemic, yet there is much more to figure out. What does the word evolution mean for your daily business?

For our daily business, evolution means adaptation to the “new normal”, hinged on the philosophy of continuous improvement. The term “new normal” which refers to current realities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, has become increasingly real as the lockdowns begin to ease globally. Our lives as we knew them have changed and may not return to what they used to be.  

The hospitality industry was one of the sectors hit hardest by the coronavirus, a virus that is curbed by reducing human-human contact. Unfortunately for the industry, we thrive on person to person contact, from our large events to dining at our restaurants, so it’s clear why the sector suffered and why over 75% of our revenue generation streams were brought to an abrupt halt in a second.

Evolution for Transcorp Hotels means holding dear the core reason why we are a hospitality business; spreading warmth through our excellent customer service. Hence, we have developed innovative solutions to synergize and heighten our safety protocols while meeting business needs, putting the health and safety of our guests and employees as the topmost priority. In practical terms, evolution for us means learning and re-learning daily. Lodging staff in the hotel to guarantee guest and staff safety, ramping up our existing cleanliness standards, hosting fewer people than usual in our meeting rooms and restaurants to ensure social distancing, taking our food and laundry services to our external guests’ doorstep, and creating outdoor relaxation activities for people to enjoy in a safe and serene environment. We had to be innovative, and that evolution meant creating many firsts in our local domestic market. 

What tools are helping you and your business to navigate this dynamic new environment?

Technology! I would say the essential tools that have helped me personally navigate this crisis are the video conferencing applications. From ensuring that I keep in-touch with my family members to joining work meetings, it has helped bridge the physical distance caused by the pandemic.

Our business also has benefitted from video conferencing applications. During the lockdown comprehensive strategy sessions on our post-COVID-19 recovery plans were made possible because we could connect virtually.

The global community has been forced to rethink models of engagement across sectors, whether business or social, and has resulted in changes, some of which are here to stay. What key changes do you foresee in your industry, and how are stakeholders gearing up to address these?

During the pandemic, there arose an increased awareness of safety and wellbeing among individuals. This cascaded to the hospitality industry and particularly to hotels and other accommodation providers. It is interesting to see how hotels responded swiftly to these changes. At our hotel, Transcorp Hilton Abuja, we adopted the Hilton CleanStay program, which is a set of enhanced cleanliness guidelines formulated with health experts to ensure our guests feel safe within our premises. Also, Transcorp Hotels Calabar, our second hotel, improved on existing cleanliness standards to ensure safety during the pandemic.

Service diversification and local stakeholder engagement is another trend we are seeing in the industry. We expect hoteliers to look for ancillary revenue streams to continue to stay afloat at this time, and to focus their strategy on the local community as the inflow of international travelers is hinged on borders opening up. At Transcorp Hotels we tapped into the online delivery service with our food delivery and launched the drive-in cinema to stay top of mind for our guests, while still generating revenue. 

What lessons can businesses in your industry in other geographies learn from the challenges you’ve faced and the solutions you’ve developed?

I think the primary lessons we have all learned are the need for innovation, adaptability and agility. The pandemic has forced us to come up with ways to provide service in an era of social distancing, increased health consciousness and close to zero contact. If you cannot innovate and adapt fast at this time, your business will suffer. As I mentioned earlier, we have had to create solutions like rearranging our meeting rooms and restaurants to adhere to social distancing, create leisure activities that people can enjoy safely such as drive-in cinemas, picnics and more. In general, businesses have learned to be innovative and practice agility as they operate.   

Finally, tell us about an ongoing project you are excited about?

As they say, never let a good crisis go to waste. During this period we have embarked on several exciting projects, some in the short term and others in the medium to long term. A short-term project I am particularly excited about is the drive-in cinema launched at Transcorp Hilton Abuja. It is particularly exciting because we have found a way to bring people safely out of their homes to enjoy the little pleasures of life, such as watching a movie. The joy and satisfaction of our guests, especially after being locked down for so long, remains priceless. We were also very particular in creating different activities to engage our followers online, from cookery content taking place at the hotel to live jazz and music events.

There are other long-term projects the company is working on, such as our shared office space. The main focus for us long term is to adopt the asset-light strategy and expand faster. There is so much in store from us and we cannot wait to start rolling out new initiatives. The future is bright and exciting. We are very optimistic about the great things that will come from us as a result of our ability to innovate in this period.

Interviewed by Ugo Ikpeazu, Partnerships Coordinator and Research Associate at ONResearch.

Dupe Olusola

Dupe Olusola

Managing Director and CEO, Transcorp Hotels Plc