I fondly remember visiting the Concorde Hotel in the early nineties with friends and family. It was always the highlight of my visits to Owerri. As a youngster, I marveled at the size and opulence of the establishment. But I was just a young impressionable chap, it didn’t take much to impress me.
The large white building, sat back on a massive gated grounds, looming over all with a sense of importance and pride. Flags lined the incoming roads, waiving and welcoming us to come play and stay for the weekend. I was always in a good mood when I heard we were going to the Concorde.
Back then when we walked in, we were greeted with smiles and treated like royalty. The bar/lounge appealed to me as a teenager because I thought that’s what life was about – hanging with friends, drinking Guinness, and checking out the beautiful women. The restaurant had great food and the service was good too. It seemed like it all flowed and it just worked.
My brothers and I loved hanging out by the poolside. The pool was huge, crisp, and clean with a cool blue hue. Tennis courts flanked the pool area where my dad and his friends would whisk off to play a few matches, and afterward, they would gather at tables full of cold beverages, where they shared stories, laughed, and joked. This was life.
There was even a small casino with slot machines and games – I vividly remember winning a large amount (for me) of money, but much to my dismay my senior brothers quickly took it from me because they promised to win me more money with it – that didn’t happen.
Coming to the Concorde as a youth was fun. It seemed elegant and high-end, even luxurious. The beds were gigantic, the decor seemed up to date for the time, the vibe was pure. But a lot has changed since then.
I heard through various friends that the Concorde had lost its luster. When people visit Owerri, the Concorde is rarely recommended as a place to stay. Back in the day – it was the place to stay.
Owerri has no shortage of hotels. Every corner seems to have random hotels sprouting up. Some are very good. Some average. Many are poor. I wanted to see for myself how much the Concorde had changed, so I scheduled a night to hang out and reminisce about the good old days.
Driving up to the hotel I was hit with a sense of nostalgia – it was familiar, it brought up the memories that I still hold close. It made me smile. We pulled up to the gate and were greeted by the gateman in uniform who let us in with a wave.
Our driver drove up under the porte cochere, where we climbed down from the SUV with our small bags in tow – we only planned on staying one night. While the driver parked the vehicle we got out and took some obligatory photographs.
The hotel seemed smaller. Maybe because I was smaller back then – who knows? It stands about 7 storeys high and occupies a large footprint. Right away it was apparent that years of neglect had taken their toll.
Paint was peeling across the dingy facade. Trash was strewn along the grounds and the waste bin by the front entrance was cracked and discolored. The windows were filthy too. As we entered through the automatic sliding doors, I wondered how long ago the windows were cleaned correctly.
We weren’t greeted when we came in, but that was okay, I have not been greeted at many hotels at home and abroad. What struck me though was that the place felt empty- literally and figuratively. I could count on one hand the number of people in and around the lobby – there didn’t seem to be much “life” in the place.
We walked slowly to the counter to check in and we stopped to look at a big display of all the former governors of Imo state that was front and centre. I had booked our accommodation online prior, ensuring that we got a room. That wasn’t necessary. In fact it caused more delays. They couldn’t find my reservation in their system and they blamed it on bad internet network. After several minutes of confusion, I interjected for them just to book us another room. I was hoping they would be nice and upgrade our room for the hassle, but no such luck.
After check-in, we went up to find our room. There was only one working lift at the time, and it made some strange grinding noises – it was unsettling. We reached the sixth floor and went down the long hallway that had old and faded orangish-colored carpet and the walls were the same color, it felt dark and there was a musty odor.
We found our room and struggled to get the door open. Once inside we were greeted by a pinkish-coloured room with dark furniture. I have nothing against the colour pink, mauve, or whatever colour it was – but it made the room feel tired.
We put up our belongings and decided to head downstairs to check out the lounge and pool. Sitting in the lounge I was transported back in time – I sat with a drink, observing the area and taking it all in.
Not much had changed from what I remember, it still felt cool. The one bartender kept a good eye on us and was attentive to our needs. We ordered fish pepper soup and waited far too long for it to appear. The dish was tasty though.
We paid our tab and tipped the worker who seemed happy by our generosity, and we sauntered out to the pool area. This all looked the same, just a bit run down and neglected. The pool was still big and bright and it looked maintained and refreshing.
There were a few people sitting in chairs under some trees that were close to the pool. Everyone was quiet and there was no food or drinks present. I couldn’t tell if they were workers on break or just folks seeking shelter from the hot sun. We walked by them and headed towards the pool where no soul was present.
There were huts surrounding the pool area that served food and drink and there was even a karaoke club. I imagined that at night, this area would be the place to be. We strolled around for a bit, we did not swim, we just were taking in the ambiance.
Checking out the next day was bittersweet. My friend thought I may have been too harsh with my critique of the hotel, but I was just being honest and transparent. I work in high-end real estate for my job, so this has conditioned me to look at everything – which is necessary.
I was glad to be leaving, not that I hated my stay, but rather we were bored and there are just so many other fine hotels for the same or less money in Owerri. I still have an emotional connection to the Concorde – I wanted to fall in love with it again but the hotel needs some major updating.
It honestly could use a few million dollars to get it back to a 4-star level. But who will fund this? So in the meantime, the focus should be on maintaining what is currently there. The hotel’s standards have fallen, but there is still an opportunity to make it a decent choice for travelers and pleasure seekers.
Driving out of the hotel parking lot, dust from the road billowed around the vehicle as we approached the gate, the security man jumped up to open the gate for us, he smiled, saluted us and I slid him 1,000 Naira for his assistance.
As we rolled away I thought to myself in a melancholy tone, that I probably would never stay here again. But who knows, that can change in a heartbeat, and I am sure if friends said they were going to hang out at the Concorde for fun, I would surely follow.