Partner and Chair of Africa Business Group at PwC Joel…
Introducing… Frieda Demor Nwokolo, owner of Eastgate Hotel Ghana and a hospitality guru who has spent the past decade honing her craft, exploring her passions and making herself a force to be reckoned with in Africa’s boutique hotel industry.
In this interview, she shares her experience of setting up a boutique hotel in East Legon, Accra, the challenges faced and how she has powered through.
Freida, please tell us about yourself
My name is Frieda Demor Nwokolo. I’m a Ghanaian who has been in the hospitality industry for about 10 years now. I’m a Christian with four lovely kids.
You graduated from the Ghana institute of Management and Public Administration, and also hold a Bachelor of Applied Science in Hospitality Management. What motivated you to work in this industry?
From a young age I realised that I enjoyed hosting people and events. I used to get so excited doing it, even for free, and I put 100 per cent passion into it. That was when I had my eureka moment – that the hospitality industry was one I could make money from and enjoy doing. I have been doing it for over 10 years now.
How did Eastgate Hotel start, and what was the drive to start it?
When we [my husband and I] were building the structure we were not thinking of using it as a hotel. It was originally supposed to be our home. But I thought it was too big because at the time we only had one child, our first daughter. My husband, who is into construction, was building a smaller house for a client; I saw it and fell in love with it, and we decided to move in there instead.
The Eastgate Hotel building was vacant for some years before I got the idea to restructure it as a hotel. We did the feasibility studies – a lot of research to cover all bases and ensure optimal results. We then got architects involved and remodelled the building to meet hotel standards.
We really enjoyed the process of transforming the building because it met needs in our neighbourhood, as there weren’t so many hotels around. So that’s how the whole thing started; it was supposed to be a home but I think God meant it to be a hotel.
What makes Eastgate Hotel Ghana different to any other?
In Eastgate Hotel Ghana, our customer service is top-notch – it’s one thing that makes staying at or using our services great because we cater to every need of our customers, no matter how specific.
Most times when people visit boutique hotels they don’t usually expect much, but when they come to Eastgate our customer service blows them away.
For example, if you come to our restaurant and you request for something that is not on the menu, we’ll try our best to seek and provide it. We go out of our way for our customers and this makes all the difference.
How did you get funding for Eastgate?
The hotel is 100 per cent funded by my husband. He’s an entrepreneur in the construction industry. The journey hasn’t been easy though; along the line, we faced unexpected problems. Redesigning required a lot more capital than we’d thought especially with the unexpected issues. And since it began as a home the building itself was not factored in as part of a ‘business’ expense’.
Are you seeking investment now?
Not at this moment, no. After about five years of pumping personal cash into the business the revenue generated was eventually able to adequately fund operations and keep the hotel running.
Can Eastgate Hotel be found anywhere else besides Ghana?
I am aware that there are other Eastgate Hotels around Africa but they are not affiliated with Eastgate Hotel Ghana. We just this hotel at the moment and will consider expanding to other countries in Africa in the near future.
Which countries are you targeting?
I would love to have Eastgate in Nigeria; we’ve been looking into this seriously. We are also considering Liberia because of their location in West-Africa, and the thriving hospitality scene there.
What has been your biggest entrepreneurial challenge?
One major challenge that we faced while setting up and establishing Eastgate was providing amenities. When we started, we had to buy water from private suppliers instead of having our normal Ghana water valley and that was a major challenge because it cost double or even triple what it would have cost if we were directly supplied by the Ghana water valley.
Also, at the time when we started, we had problems with light and electricity, and we had to supply these on our own 24 hours a day.
Another problem we faced was having to deal with too many agencies. In Ghana we have AMA Health, AMA, Ghana Tourism Authority. For a small hotel, we had too many agencies checking for the same thing over and over again and it was quite a headache. It would have been nice to have just one body that deals with authentication and licensing.
And finally, when it comes to financing, you don’t receive a lot of support here in Africa. Securing loans from banks is a struggle because of their nearly impossible requirements and short repayment plans. If we had the financing, I’m pretty sure we would have expanded into other countries by now, but being self funded makes our progress quite slow.
What’s your 10-year vision for Eastgate Hotel?
In the next 10 years, in addition to expanding to other countries, I would love to have established Eastgate Apartments. These apartments will house people from all over the world; individuals and families who don’t want to stay in hotels for months can stay in our apartments on a short lease.
Finish this sentence. In 2020 Africa will…
… provide the best of everything that is in high demand in every industry.