Africa: I am excited to be part of the journey of transforming Africa’s hospitality business- UBONGABASI NSEOBOT
Ubongabasi Nseobot is the sales and marketing manager of Southern Sun Ikoyi. Last year she was celebrated among the top 100 women in tourism in Africa for her contributions to the growth of the industry, especially in the hospitality sector where she holds sway as one of the most influential female professionals. She speaks with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on her sojourn in the world of hospitality
Ubongabasi Nseobot hails from Akwa Ibom State and grew up in Uyo, the state capital where she spent most of her formative years with her parents, both of blessed memory – Apostle Asuquo A. Nseobot and Deaconess Iquo A. Nseobot. She cherished the high spirited nature of the big family setting, which was almost a clan of its own that she grew up in, with strict discipline and care.
‘Dad was a real disciplinarian and with his little military training during the civil war days, my growing up couldn’t be any more fun (She laughs). Mum was the mother hen, she’d always look out for everyone else but herself, and very excited about any opportunity to throw a big party and play the caterer to the entire family and friends during family occasions and events,’’ she reminiscences.
‘‘Believe me, those were the best days of my life,’’ she adds in emotion laden tone.
For her education, she attended a number of schools, including Christ the King International Nursery/Primary School in Uyo; AdiahaObong Secondary Commercial School at Eniong offot in Anua – Uyo and Lutheran Special Senior Science Colleague at Ibakachi, Ikono in Akwa Ibom State before proceeding to University of Jos in Plateau State where she obtained a Diploma in Psychology and then University of Lagos for her Bachelor Degree in Mass Communication, which by her admission was her first love and passion.
Hospitality was not a deliberate choice for me
For someone whose first love and passion was mass communication – in love with stringing words together, being expressive and outgoing, you wonder how she ended up in hospitality sector and has since then never wavered but rather has grown to become a force to be reckon with as one of the top 100 women in tourism in Africa.
‘’I stumbled and fell right into it. I never set out to work in the hospitality industry. I’d always thought I’ll end up in an oil and gas company or telecommunications or one of those high flying companies but here we are, living and loving the service industry like a delicious dream,’’ she reveals with a joyous mien.
‘‘It feels like I’ve been in it all my life. There is absolutely nothing more pleasurable and fulfilling as being a part of a solution. You know the hospitality and service industry in Nigeria had long been in dire need of a group of service oriented people who would wake up and be totally committed to its full scale transformation, a people who would not only be brave enough to take this bull by the horn but also sacrifice their all to own that space completely.
‘‘I mean it’s time for that paradigm shift, it is time for the stakeholders to begin to actively get involved in changing the narrative of the tourism sector of the Nigerian economy. We will surely get there, we just need to stay on track and keep pushing from both angles – private and public sector.’’
The hospitality journey
‘‘I started my hospitality journey at the then Hotel Bellissimo by Chevron in Lekki Penninsula, Lagos State. It was pretty natural and real for me from the word go. I love meeting people, making friends, socialising and networking and so it came naturally for me when it was time to earn a living doing just that and as a result filling the hotel beds, sourcing delegates for meeting/conferencing as well as catering for them, and in turn yielding revenue for the business and return on investment for the owner.
‘‘I’d never worked in a hotel before, it was my first so I had a lot of learning to do and much was impacted on me there I must say. I learnt the modus operandi of the industry, structure and administration, policies and procedure, and industry best practice among others.
‘‘It was a very good platform for me to start a career in hospitality even though I didn’t think I’d stay there longer than a year or two but I ended up doing three very productive years.
‘‘Later on in my third year, the late Pieter Bekker, who was then general manager of the Protea Hotel Oakwood Park, Lekki, came along and made me an offer to join his team at Protea Hotel, which I immediately jumped at because this was an international brand that was going to give me the growth opportunity I needed to explore my potential and build a career in the hospitality industry.’’
Southern Sun Ikoyi years
Having established her grip in the industry, she became a beautiful bride with many hotels head hunting her. One of them was Southern Sun Ikoyi, which took over the former Ikoyi Hotel. At first she turned down the overtures from the hotel because she was contented with the place she was, especially with the close family bond that existed.
However, enamoured with the glitz and rewards that come with working in a five star rated hotel, she later opted for the offer after being persuaded by the hotel general manager that the four star rated hotel, plans to upgrade to five star shortly after commencing operation and based on that promise, she jumped ship and cast her lot with Southern Sun Ikoyi, where in almost a decade now, she has risen to the top echelon as the sales and marketing manager.
‘‘Intriguing, revealing, exciting, very educating, impactful, challenging and sometimes can be overwhelming,’’ she says of her eight years stint with the hotel. ‘‘I wouldn’t have it any other way, that is Ubong for you,’’ she adds even as she expresses gratitude to the hotel management for the opportunity given her to recalibrate her career to the height that she has gotten today and still aspiring for more conquests and accolades.
‘‘I’m grateful because Southern Sun Ikoyi gave me the platform I needed at the right time to move my career to the next level. This hotel nurtured, groomed, tamed, encouraged, disciplined and matured me in more ways than one within the past eight years that I have given my all to its growth and success story, the best is yet to come.
‘My experience in Southern Sun Ikoyi has been very rewarding and fulfilling. I’m truly excited about the future of this company and pray to God daily that I be blessed to witness it.’’
For all you know, Nseobot stint at the hotel may go a long way as she discloses that ‘‘I dare say that Southern Sun Ikoyi’ s DNA of unique, warm and personalised service delivery served on a platter of excellent culinary reputation is always something to look forward to.’’
Top 100 women in tourism in Africa award
Her steadfastness, commitment, professionalism and devotion to the development and promotion of tourism paid off last year when she was named among the top 100 women in tourism in Africa by the organisers of the yearly Akwaaba African Travel Market in Lagos. For her, the award is a benefiting recognition, as she says that:
‘‘I feel grateful, extremely honoured and humbled. I thank God for everything. To be recognised alongside those great women who have put in over 20 – 30years (minimum) of their lives building the industry in Africa is a real honour and great privilege. Some of them I look up to and have a whole lot of respect for their work. It is a sign that hard work and dedication sure pays whether from within or outside your establishment and no matter how long it takes, hang in there surely.
‘‘You know, sometimes one is tempted to think no one is watching talk less of even seeing the extra efforts, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, extra miles and long hours put in, you just keep at it, be spunk and passionate about what you do expecting nothing in return but the greater good of the industry as a whole so that when the rewards start to come in it will be worth every inch of it.
‘‘I believe my nomination, votes and subsequent win came from the stakeholders within the hospitality industry, those who think I’ve made a commendable impact enough to be recognised in the little over 17years that I’ve been around for and equally think I have the potential to do more towards growing the hospitality industry.
‘‘I know for a fact that there is still a whole lot of work to be done to get us to where we need to be in order to be able to compete favourably with the rest of the world. It might take some time but we are committed to getting there surely, and so I’m excited to be a part of this big journey because it is a real privilege to be recognised for doing something you love, believe in and are passionate about.
Besides crowing about the accolades, she is honest enough to recognise the challenges it imposes on her: ‘‘Big responsibilities indeed, I’m pretty sure you know what that means, right? But I’m ready and willing to live up to it and contribute my quota by all means possible to grow the hospitality sector as much as I can. So help me God. That is all I can say for now.’’