In October 2019, Mark Slade surprisingly announced that he was leaving his Managing Director position at Ringier Africa Digital Publishing, owners of Pulse Nigeria. One month later, he unveiled Jara Beach Resort which he Co-founded with his wife, Millie Slade. It’s been many months since then with lots of interesting ups and downs, including the Coronavirus pandemic which affected many businesses last year. Business Elites Africa recently spoke to Mr Slade to find out how the company is fairing. We also asked about how he and his team are bracing up for Valentine’s Day. Enjoy the conversation.
BEA: Nice to meet you, Mr Slade. Tell us a little about your background and how your entrepreneurial journey began.
MS: Great to meet you and thank you. Probably in my teenage years at school. I had always worked as much as I could – I started as a paper boy then worked in local pubs as a pot washer, then waiter, then bar man! My first real introduction into business and entrepreneurship was when I first came to Lagos in 2008. I’ve always liked to create, build brands and teams.
BEA: It’s been almost two years since you left Ringier to establish Jara Beach Resort. What has the experience been like so far?
MS: That’s right, well perhaps closer to 18 months. I started my transition out [of Ringier] in August 2019. In November we opened Jara Beach Resort. It’s been absolutely incredible. Highs, lows, tough days and amazing ones. As my wife Millie and I reflect on what we’ve created – we’re proud.
BEA: One question some people silently asked themselves when you unveiled the resort was ‘why hospitality business?’. So, why hospitality? Is it something you’ve always been interested in?
MS: Who are those people? (Smiles). Hospitality for us wasn’t brand new. I grew up in a Bed and Breakfast and we’ve always liked to host friends/ family etc. In 2014 I opened Lotus Bar – Lounge in Victoria Island which ran well for a few years and in 2017 Lil Zanzibar beach house in Eleko. Millie has worked in aviation (service) for her whole career, so for us it was an easy choice. We had previously discussed other businesses, including a little gift shop and a British fish & chip offering – Jara has allowed us to combine them both.
BEA: Last year, the hospitality industry around the world was pummeled by the pandemic. In what ways did it affect your operations and how were you able to navigate the challenges?
MS: Having opened in November 2019, we were only open for three months before the initial lockdown set in. It was extremely difficult, but we doubled down on our online marketing activities so that when we were able to reopen, Jara would be front of mind. It worked. When we opened in June 2020, we very quickly become fully booked. We had a two-three-year plan to add to our six rooms. In November 2020, we opened rooms 7-9, our three beautiful family cabins, pleasing after only nine operational months.
BEA: What are your projections for 2021, seeing as the pandemic is still very much a cause of concern?
MS: Hospitality is about being consistent, so that will be our focus. Ensuring all guests get the very best, safest, Jara experience. The pandemic is a huge concern, though our small boutique size is a benefit, we were fortunate not to be closed as long, or as affected as other hospitality businesses. We always knew our guests would be domestic visitors and that has been the case.
BEA: What is your overview of the Nigerian hospitality industry?
MS: I think if anything the last 12 months has demonstrated huge improvement. New venues opening up and many existing ones reinvesting knowing Nigerian’s are in search of local leisure offerings. Our own vision was to give Lagosians an international experience without needing to fly.
BEA: Tell us about your experience doing business in Nigeria. What are the challenges you’ve encountered?
MS: I don’t think there is a facet of the business which doesn’t encounter frequent challenges. Everyday there will be something – whether personnel, logistics, utilities / infrastructure, pandemics/ riots etc (it’s been quite a year). Our job is to focus on, solve and learn from each of them. In hospitality, guests rightly don’t care what’s going on behind the scenes, they expect to receive the value they’ve paid for.
BEA: Let’s talk a bit more about Jara Beach Resort. What are the services you offer and how expensive/affordable are they?
MS: Jara provides Nigeria’s premier all-inclusive beach experience. We have overnight and day guests, with all food and drinks included. The intention is that guests need not think about their wallet or additional costs as everything is included within their booking fee. We cater for celebrants and special occasions, couples and families, business retreats, weddings and intimate private celebrations.
BEA: Is this a competitive market?
MS: There are many great resorts in the city, most of which are much larger. Jara offers an altogether more exclusive experience, with just nine rooms. It’s somewhere to unwind, disconnect and indulge!
BEA: Lastly, it’s Valentine’s season. Are you expecting an upsurge in demand this year?
MS: Pleasingly we’re fully booked for valentines weekend. With day and overnight guests expected both days. We have a romantic menu, decorations and a few surprises in-store.
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