Hotel GM on the effects of Ghana’s election and building a brand in West Africa

Bruce Potter has been the general manager of the Holiday Inn Accra Airport hotel in Ghana’s capital since its opening in November 2008. The hotel was named Best Business Hotel, Ghana, in Business Destinations’ 2013 Travel Awards, and Potter has been named Business Destinations’ General Manager of the Year, Africa, 2013. The hotel also hosted US President Barack Obama and the first family when they visited Ghana in 2009.

Bruce Potter, general manager of Holiday Inn Accra Aiport hotel, Ghana

Bruce Potter, general manager of Holiday Inn Accra Aiport hotel, Ghana

Potter has been part of the campaign to firmly establish the Holiday Inn brand in West Africa. He shares his experiences and advice with potential investors.

Describe Holiday Inn Accra Airport’s business? 

We are one of the busy hotels like many – there are 10-12 [upper segment] hotels in Accra. We all have our fair share of our customers. Business this year has been slower than the years in the past and I am putting that down to the high court case regarding the government (Ghana’s 2012 election result was challenged by the opposition in the Supreme Court), which meant that investors have been waiting to see [the outcome] before making any steps to invest.

Every year when there’s an election, business slows down five or six months beforehand on new investors. The current investors have a rally so business in some respects gets busier before the election so that ties and deals can be struck.

Once a new government starts, as in the past for me, [it’s] taken four to six months before the country gets back into proper gear and this year we’re only starting now, with the government now really having been established to stay in power. I think the next three or four months before Christmas will be a big pickup compared to the rest of the year.

What was business like before the December 2012 election?

Business is stronger in Accra for hotels, especially the large corporate establishments. Being near the airport makes it a prime location. The average stay for customers is three to four days. They come in on a Sunday, leave on a Friday. Weekends are traditionally quiet for the hotels but on average over the last four or five years, there’s been a 10% increase [in patronage].

Who visits the hotel?

We cover the world. The largest patronage for the hotel will be American followed by the UK, followed by South Africa, but we cover all the areas from Middle East to as far afield as Russia. We have customers from every part of the world. There is a trend for the Eastern countries to be developing [as visitors]. China has taken over in size although they don’t use the hotels as much but they are making a big difference to construction from where I see [it]. But internationally, all the regions are covered.

What challenges have you encountered in Ghana?

The main challenge with the customer is making sure we reach their expectation. In Ghana, the international expectation is high with the new buildings and the terrain, and the development of Accra over the last years… The staff don’t have the travel experience or the international experience to understand what that customer’s expectation will be. So the challenge is to have a training and teaching on each culture, each nation. Around the world everybody has their own preference [of hotel service].

So the quality of the hospitality industry staff is a concern?

The quality of the person is there. If anything, from my experience now in Ghana, the people here are more willing to learn and understand and are [more] committed than I’ve seen elsewhere. But the experience and what they have seen outside of Ghana is only what they have seen on television, and that is quite different to the real world.

Future plans?

The owner of the hotel has two other properties. He has long stay apartments in Accra’s Airport Residential [Area] called Holi Flats, and in the next two to three months we aim to open a five-star hotel in Takoradi [in Ghana’s Western Region, where crude oil is being produced] and that will be branded as a Best Western.

What advice can you give to potential investors?

They need to find somebody on the ground locally who they can rely on and who has got their interests at heart. It is very easy to arrive in Ghana and be overtaken by the excitement of opportunity and very quickly fall into a trap where deception and money very quickly spent can disappear. The cost of doing things in Ghana has been increasing year on year.

So potential in Ghana is enormous, but know your territory. You can’t bring the ready-made product or work practice from America, UK or Europe into Ghana and think that you can plug-and-play. There’s a whole lot of local learning to be done before you succeed.