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COVID-19: Abuja hotels count losses, may lay off staff

Following the lockdown in Abuja, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many hotel and hospitality firms shut down their businesses and are already counting losses, Daily Trust gathered. A survey across Abuja city centre reveals the devastating effect of the pandemic. From the Central Area, through the Central Business District, Wuse 2, Maitama up to Garki area, popular hotels are shut. Our reporters observed security agents manning the shut gates at the Sheraton Hotel, a once busy hotel around the Wuse axis. Fraser Suites at the CBD is also not open for business but an official said private lodging of individuals is still being accepted. The same goes for other hotels like Transcorp Hilton, Chelsea Hotel and Rockview Hotels around Maitama and Wuse 2 axis; Bolton White, NICON Luxury, Residency Hotel, and Top Rank around the Garki area; Alexis Hotel and Grand Cubana in the Jabi axis of the city.

 These structures, which once beamed with life with various activities, have now gone very quiet, with empty halls and parking lots. Staff of some of the hospitality outfits told Daily Trust that they have been at home for nearly three weeks and that they are concerned about salary cut or outright stoppage if the situation does not improve.

 “I work in one of the hotels in Central Area and we have been told that if the situation remains like this, we may not get our full salary for April 2020. Although, there is no news of a job cut yet, staying at home without a pay cheque is disastrous,” said Ameh Okpe, a hotel attendant.

According to another worker, the number of security guards at the hotels has been affected too. “Since there is no business and people are not patronizing, some of us who were stationed on floors of our hotels and strategic points other than the entrance points have been told to ‘‘rest’’. Only those who man entrance points are on duty in the meantime,” Philip Umeh, a hotel guard at Utako, said. Social distancing worsens drought at hotels Some of the workers also gave other reasons for the decision by hotel operators to enforce the stay at home order for their staff members. Ruth Magaji works for a popular hotel at Wuse 2, she said the management of her hotel did a situation analysis and found that business will drop during the period, especially if the on-going lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun state continues. “If guests are not coming who will the staff be servicing. I have been at home since the third week of March and we are not sure when this will end,” she said. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force on the COVID-19 control had directed state governments to curtail the gathering of people over 20 and 50 in some cases as part of the social distancing measure.

Many hotel workers in Abuja said public functions where their services are usually needed are no longer allowed to hold across hotels as security agents were on the look-out to punish violators. “People are no longer patronizing our hotel to rent event halls and restaurants. Event hosting and event centre space leasing are the hottest part of hotel operation in Abuja and most workers are often engaged during such functions. “Lodging is crucial too but the block revenue is from event hosting and hall renting. Sadly, those have ceased so far,” Mr Akin Ogunsanya, a hotel manager said.

Hotel owners ‘considering’ staff layoff – Owners Confirming the impact of the lockdown and the pandemic on hotel operations, the President of the Hotel Owners Forum, Abuja (HOFA) Chief Chike Ezeudeh, told Daily Trust that some hotel owners are considering laying off staff members. He said the hospitality industry is greatly affected by coronavirus, adding that some hotel owners are also considering salary reduction. “After the lockdown, what happens? Some may be able to pay while some may not be able to pay. How do you pay staff salary, maintain facilities, and pay AEDC, FCT Water Board, AMAC, FCDA, FIRS, where do you get the money and resources? “It may lead to so many hotels reducing staff and you know what the impact will be on the economy.

Laying off staff members is what we never envisaged, so both the owners and the workers have to find a way to reconcile the situation,” he said. He said the lockdown impacts negatively on hoteliers, “because some of the hotels have closed down. The workers are no more there and apart from that we still have to pay all the bills. We are the second employers of labour after the government; we want to see what the government can do as a palliative for us.” He called on the government to provide palliatives to hoteliers to cushion the effect of the lockdown on their businesses.

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