Elilly Hotel opened its doors to the public three years and a half ago. The hotel was hailed for its size and glamorous interior but throughout the years had not been performing up to its potential. Now with the aim of attracting customers and reviving the business, the hotel has ventured on to changing its marketing and managing team.
Roland Garoute whose career in the hospitality sector spans over 35 years previously worked at Ramada Addis Hotel as the general manager. He prepared and opened the property which he says allowed him to get a feel for the business in Ethiopia.
Now as the Managing Director at Elilly Hotel, he has come up with new concept that would put the hotel on the map and attract customers once more. Capital spoke to him about his views of the hospitality sector in Ethiopia and his plans for Elilly Hotel
Capital: What was the state of the hotel when you came onto the scene?
Roland Garoute: It has been three and a half years since this hotel was opened, the previous managing director’s way of running the business was a bit different, and maybe there wasn’t a lot of staff to help him with decisions , the property living up to its potential, which the board of trusties realized and they thought it was time to take a step back and let a new management team move in; around 75-80 percent of the management team has turned over in the past two to three months including a new executive Chef, the board and myself. There was an evaluation and decision that was taken two months ago to really think hard in terms of what needs to be done to put this hotel back into the market.
It has been underperforming for a number of years; it is a beautiful property there is a lot of potential but it needed a new approach, new marketing strategy and a new concept. My background is food and beverage I was VPA F and B for a couple of large international chains so I have a tremendous passion for food and beverage. I came here and realized there was a huge opportunity to develop a food concept on the 10th floor which is a big area, there is a terrace, a bar which never opened and so on. So, started to think about it and develop a couple of ides which I put forward to the board and they approved. So now we are working on two new concepts which we hope will be ready by the end of the year.
The main restaurant upstairs that we call VIP at the moment, will be changed into an open kitchen concept. What I did at Ramada Addis was the Brazilian restaurant, obviously I cannot replicate this concept here but I renamed the restaurant Marco Polo; and I used the travels of Marco Polo to design the culinary experience for the guests. So, the menu will start from the Mediterranean, Italy, the birth place of Marco Polo all the way up to China and Japan. Then there will be some open stations, a Sushi bar, Teppanyaki and so on. All this will be open and there will also be a huge charcoal grill for large beef cuts and various meats and excreta.
That will be the new concept for that area and on the other side we have a bar, it is a beautiful place, it has two levels and what I intend to do there is turn it into an English pub which I have not seen here. So it is a completely new idea; not exactly new but introducing this cozy warm atmosphere; lots of wood lots of leather seats and so on and a jazz concept/ jazz club. There will be a stage where we will have live music as well as a continuous stream of jazz from the classic; 60s and 70s and not too much modern free jazz but mostly classics and blues and so on, I think people love it here so I believe it will be a good crowd puller.
The idea is to bring a lot of people from the outside, I’m thinking of people who are now mostly going to Ramada which I will try to bring over here, discover the new food concept and sort of on the same level go from the restaurant to the pub which is right after crossing the bridge between the two. It’s like having one stop for dining, wining, entertainment destination. That is the main idea of the complete renewal of the 10th floor of the hotel.
The pub will be called legends and we plan on opening it around November and the restaurant needs a bit more work in terms of kitchen equipment and training and so on and we are planning the opening date to be in December and a full launch basically for the New Year.
Capital: When you were developing these kinds of concepts, did you look around different hotels in the city to find out what they are doing?
Garoute: Yes, I have gone and seen every relevant hotel in Addis, competitive destinations, and looked at what they were doing, what kind of food they offer, what kind of atmosphere and entertainment they have and after reviewing that I thought that the two concepts are something I have not seen anywhere and it would probably pull in the crowd by the quality of both cuisine and the bar, the atmosphere and added comfort, furniture that we will be bringing in and so on, I think that will be very welcomed.
Capital: Especially for the food concept you have you would bring in a chef and so on, how challenging was that?
Garoute: For me it’s not too challenging, I have done it many times before. Definitely for the Chef, it involves a lot of research which we are doing jointly with developing recipes, doing some testing and we are also going to bring in an Asian Sous Chef who will be mostly doing the Sushi and Tapniaki and all technical kind of cuisines which we don’t have the skill for here.
Capital: What about having local trained staff, we see that being a problem in different hotels, is it the same here?
Garoute: I wouldn’t say it’s a problem but it is a challenge. I have been lucky to have worked for 20 years in Asia so I have a very good understanding of what to do and I will be doing a lot of the trainings myself. The Chef we have is Indian but he has worked in a lot of different countries so he also have an exposure to Asian cuisine. The rest is basically spending time with the staff, explaining the menu concept and menu knowledge and service technique.
Capital: In Addis we are seeing different chain hotels pop up and with that obviously comes strong competition. On the other hand there seems to be very few hotels that understand this and try to introduce different new concepts.
Garoute: This is what I have observed so far, looking around, everybody is doing the same thing. They have not realized the business is moving forward very fast. Addis is developing quickly, there are new market segments coming in, people coming from different origins, they need to have their needs catered to and so far it’s not really happening except for like I said the Brazilian restaurant at Ramada is doing a good job, there are a couple of very good Italian restaurants in town as well.
Another things that people have realized that Italian is famous so everybody wants to open an Italian restaurant. So now what I have thought about is looking at something that will make people curious; what this, what is this concept, is what kind of food, what kind of flavor is it; that is what will attract people.
It will go through obviously a period of awareness and advertising, so I am hiring a very good PR and social media champion who will be working very strongly on social media platforms such as facebook as well as traditional media such as newspapers and so on.
Capital: Elilliy is a locally grown brand; something we don’t see all the time when it comes to big hotel investments. What is the future you want for the hotel?
Garoute: As you know, right across the road we have another tower coming up that will consist of large parking facilities; over 300 cars, 300 apartment suites as well as what will be a the biggest convention hall that can accommodate 2,500 delegates as well as a huge open restaurant at the top.
There are also a couple of big projects going on; resort hotels in Debre Zeit as well as Burayue. We want to develop our own brand; the Elilly and I do my best to develop brand concepts, I do have some background in that area which will help develop the ideas we come up with.
The core element of a brand is the core values and culture; the rest, you can get anywhere. Everybody has operating procedures the challenge is getting the operations and monitoring their implementation to enhance service quality. Mostly what guests are requesting is an experience and by developing concepts and having some other ideas, there will always be a new experience.
Capital: There is always a shortage of trained professionals in this field. Since more hotels are opening in the city there is also the issue of poaching employees from one business to another. What is your view on that?
Garoute: The idea is to give them skill and motivation to work for us and looking after their needs is important. The reason people are moving constantly is because we don’t give them reasons to stay. The idea we are developing now giving the staff sufficient confidence in the product, give them a career path rather than just a job, by developing their skill through training as well as giving them the capacity to move to other projects and try to retain as many as we can.
I know it is difficult, that is why we will have a strong training management here on board. We know that some of them will leave because another hotel will offer them 500 birr more salary but we will try to make them realize money is not just the only thing about the job, there is the career development aspect of it as well.
Capital: You have been working in the hospitality sector for a long time which makes you an expert. What do you see in the Ethiopian market right now?
Garoute: It is a difficult market at the moment for reasons which we have little control over but we hope that these things will resolve. It’s a market where I think there is a lot of potential for people and properties who are putting emphasis on quality and value for money. I think if we manage to combine those two elements; quality of experience and mostly value for money, we will balance favorably the market to our direction.
We will be very aggressive, we have completely changed our marketing team, we will be very aggressive in the market, selling not only the product but also the concept and service quality at a rate which will be very competitive for the next year or year and a half and then reevaluate the conditions. We know there are new hotels opening as well so we have to keep our eyes open and be ahead of the market demands.