Amaka Amatokwu-Ndekwu is a US-based award-winning hospitality professional, organizer of The Pyne Awards and Founder, Women in Hospitality Nigeria. In this interview recounts her experience in the industry and expectations at The Pyne Awards 2020. Excerpts:
Can you share your experience in the hospitality sector?
The hospitality industry was a great starting point for me. It has and is still educating me on customer service; it has opened my mind to different cultures, attitudes and values. It has taught me empathy, paying attention to detail, and ultimately left me an unforgettable experience in the minds of the people I have come across. Being a visionary in the business has further broadened my perspective. It encouraged me to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers, it helped me to understand that guiding myself effectively strengthens my ability to lead others.
About 10 years ago, I began my hospitality career with the Protea Hotel Kuramo Waters now under the Marriott Brand. I’m thankful to all the people I’ve met in the course of this journey, their influence and their teaching is what has gotten me this far. I have worked with leading international and local hotel brands, worked as a consultant to restructure and restore failing hotel businesses. I am the founder and president of The Women in Hospitality Nigeria, the CEO of The Pyne Hospitality Company the organizers of Nigeria’s largest hospitality and tourism awards. I am a mentor to the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in Business, a mentor to the Lagos Business School, Alumni of Castell Project Leadership Group, a leading hospitality non-profit organization for Women Leaders in the United States, a partner of the Interswitch Group, on Payment Services for the Hospitality & Lifestyle Industry.
I am recognized for my contribution to the socio-development and growth of the hospitality industry, which has won me a number of awards and nominations. Part of my mission is to position the Nigerian & African hospitality industry and its peers on a global map while shifting the perception and narrative of our service industry.
Tourism and hospitality are globally embraced. What’s your view and assessment in Nigeria?
The hospitality & tourism industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, and it’s great to see that Africa isn’t left out. The rising purchasing power of customers, digital developments and partnerships between the private sector and government agencies in the industry has accelerated its continued growth.
Nigeria is not, however, one of the countries that are trying to develop its hospitality and tourism potentials extensively. I see our young talented industry professionals, including myself, struggling to put Nigeria on the tourism map, but without government support, we can’t go that far. Such young talented individuals need to be involved in creativity, structuring, the decision-making, implementation and development of the Nigerian hospitality and tourism sector. I see that some of these talents are now recognizing and promoting tourism from other African countries, which means that we are losing our talents to other countries.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” this is a remark that we’ve been making for quite a while now, when are we really going to start recognizing our gifts and talents that could drive our tourism industry further? We’ve got so much potential out there that can be harnessed.
The Pyne Awards is fast becoming a leading hospitality and tourism event. How do you hope to uphold the standard?
A project/initiative cannot be considered successful if the standard is not sustainable. The Pyne Awards is a leading hospitality and tourism event that aims to place Nigerian & African hospitality, travel & tourism on the global map. What makes us stand out from other tourism awards event is that every year we bring new concepts/themes, honour the brands and employees who work for these brands, and ensure that we have a new message to share.
Every year we are open to new partnerships and ideas, to be successful in this sector, you need to be open to collaborations, ideas and feedback. Our aim is to make every year’s event a different experience.
What are the expectations at The Pyne Awards 2020, any new innovation?
The theme of The Pyne Awards 2020 is African Royalty. This year, we will expand our award categories to other African sub-regions such as Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and the like, which have been established as the giants of African tourism. Several African countries will be included each year. We strive to be the leading platform for hospitality and tourism awards in Africa. Nigeria is going to be ready to compete with our African peers.
The roles of hotels in tourism development cannot be overemphasized. What is your advice on providing quality hospitality service delivery?
The role of hotels in the growth of tourism is very critical and cannot be overemphasized. I am pleased to say that there has been a significant improvement in service standards and culture compared to when I began 10 years ago. The enthusiasm and motivation of its players have changed, but it can be even greater.
My advice on how to provide quality hospitality services can be provided from two perspectives. One is for hospitality companies; the other is for government agencies.
Hospitality Organizations: must establish a culture of treating every guest like a VIP; should make training a regular priority, not just a one-time one. Personalize your customer service. Create a positive atmosphere for your employees. Upgrade your toolbox and be creative. Create a program to assess the efficiency of your customer service and relate the actions of your staff to the overall performance of the hotel.
Government agencies: Establish a program to monitor service standards, health and hygiene requirements, star ratings and facilities.
As a Nigerian in the diaspora, do you think Nigeria is a country of special interest to visit by foreign tourists?
Sure, Nigeria is a country of interest to foreign tourists, thanks to our fashion and entertainment industry. Nigeria is one of the African countries most Black Americans want to see, based on the stories they’ve read about the Motherland. I wish Nigeria could see its potential and get to work with professionals like us who have so many ideas.