Africa is experiencing a boom not seen for decades. The IMF forecasts economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa of 6 per cent in 2014, compared to global growth of 3.6 per cent.
And this boom is getting an additional jolt of support from the world’s multinational hotel chains. January 2014 saw Africa’s largest hotel chain bought by global giant Marriott (marriott.com). For decades major global multinationals shied away from Africa, but today they are battling to get a place in Africa’s fast-growing economies and to serve the growing middle classes.
Marriott is leading the way by investing US $1.5 billion in 25 new hotels equalling 5,000 rooms. To boost capacity further, Marriott is taking over South Africa’s Protea group (proteahotels.com) and its 116 African hotels.
“We have 25 Marriott brand hotels under construction in seven countries in Africa that will come on stream over the next four years,” Alex Kyriakidis, the chain’s president for the Middle East and Africa, told Bloomberg (bloomberg.com).
The new hotels “are going to bring us into Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Ethiopia and Mauritius. With our existing hotels plus those in the pipeline and those Protea operates today, we will be in 16 countries in Africa by 2017.”
Bloomberg calls what Africa is experiencing the “fastest pace of hotel development in the world”.
“Our mission here is to grow, grow, grow,” according to Kyriakidis.
Meanwhile, a further boost is coming from the US $5 billion Angolan sovereign wealth fund, Fundo Soberano de Angola (fundosoberano.ao/language/en/). It will be investing in hotels and commercial infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Bloomberg. This could include 50 sub-Saharan African hotels in the next three years.
“We believe there’s a lot of investment interest in Africa,” said Chairman Jose Filomeno dos Santos. “It has a lot of mineral potential, almost a commodity hub. We believe this interest will remain there for the coming years.”
Little thought is given to the role hotels play in development, yet they are a critical development tool for any country wishing to move up the economic ladder. As the quality of hotels improves, they tend to become key gathering and meeting places. Conferences and seminars can act as catalysts for change, attracting people from around the world. When quality hotels are in place, then the top-drawer global conferences will come to town, in turn bringing new tourist income for local businesses.
Anyone who has stayed in a hotel in Africa knows that standards are variable: the pool with dirty water, the power cuts, the food hygiene standards that might not match what people are used to at home. This is what international hotel chains can change. Not only do they demand the highest standards in their own establishments, they also push up standards at local competitors, as all of them battle for the attention of visitors.
Africa has been overlooked by the large global hotel chains and brands since the end of the colonial period in the 1960s and 70s. Africa was considered too poor, too chaotic, too dangerous and too much hard work for it to be worth the effort.
But now the tune has changed. With Africa’s population over a billion, and many of the continent’s economies experiencing rapid growth while also urbanizing, conditions are fortuitous for the hotel trade.
The situation has changed in the last decade, for a variety of reasons: debt relief, a rise in commodity prices, expanding trade and investment with China and the global South, and a growing middle class — all slowing the growth of poverty. Africa is still notorious for under-investment in infrastructure and has a long way to go to catch up to the fast-moving economies of Asia. But greater optimism is leading to greater real investment. And the world’s large hotel brands are the latest to join in the rush to Africa.
Large chains including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Kempinski hope to open 300 new hotels in Africa over the next five years. The number of hotel beds is set to increase by 30 per cent by 2018.
Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti in Tanzania (http://www.fourseasons.com/serengeti/) is the first investment in Africa by the Canadian brand. Four Seasons is known for its luxury, upmarket city hotels and has kept with this tradition by building the largest and most luxurious safari lodge ever built in Africa.
This is having a knock-on effect on African hotel operators. The surge in investment is giving these local operators the right incentives to create African brands and to raise their game.
Nairobi in Kenya has become something of a test market for high-end boutique hotels. Already a city benefiting from its status as an international development hub, home to many agencies including the UN Environment Programme’s sprawling and verdant headquarters (unep.org), it has also become a corporate headquarters for Africa and has a large U.S. presence (nairobi.usembassy.gov). This means lots of people coming to the city to do business and attend events, creating a market for better quality accommodation.
The Kenyan-owned, 156-room Sankara Nairobi Hotel (sankara.com) boasts of having the best wine list in Africa and claims to be a five-star hotel. It also capitalizes on being close to the international airport and the UN’s Nairobi headquarters.
“There’s an appetite for something local that’s different and, for the first time, there’s the confidence and funding to bankroll new developments,” said Sankara Hotel Group director Rohan Patel to Wallpaper Magazine. “Africans don’t want a theme-park African hotel, with prints of ‘the big five’ on the wall. That’s condescending. Nor do they want a New York-style hotel. They’ve probably been to New York. They want modern, connected Africa.”
Elsewhere in Nairobi, the Kenyan-owned Tribe Hotel (tribe-hotel.com) is looking to expand to meet growing market demand.
“The market for new, authentic, yet modern African hotels is growing,” manager Michael Flint, who previously ran New York’s Ritz-Carlton, told Wallpaper.
“We’ve been so successful here we are building a new 187-room hotel in Nairobi. We’ve taken over a boutique hotel called Westhouse (westhouse.co.ke). And we’re looking to expand further, with properties at the airport and on the coast. Who knows what will be next? Tribe will be a mini empire.”
In Rwanda’s capital Kigali, the Rwanda Marriott has ambitious plans. Rwanda was ripped apart by ethnic genocide in the 1990s that killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide). Now, the country’s economy is booming and its hotels are getting an upgrade.
The Akilah Institute for Women (akilahinstitute.org) in Kigali has been helping in training women for the hotel sector. They sent trainees to Dubai and Doha to learn how to do hotel service the Marriott way.
Starwood (starwoodhotels.com), a competitor to Marriott, is hoping to grow its African hotel investment by 30 per cent as well. It will be done through the Sheraton, Aloft, Le Meridien, St Regis and Four Points brands. The first St Regis has already opened in Mauritius.
Neil George, Starwood’s head of African development, believes “Africa is the final frontier. It’s adventurous.
“I would rather arrive in Kinshasa and work out how to do a hotel there than do it in Frankfurt,” he told Wallpaper.
The Hyatt (hyatt.com) brand is now running the Hyatt Kilimanjaro Hotel in Dar es Salaam (http://daressalaam.kilimanjaro.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html), Tanzania. Peter Norman, Hyatt’s African head, is working on opening a Park Hyatt in Zanzibar (http://zanzibar.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html) and another Hyatt Regency (http://investors.hyatt.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=228969&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1863203&highlight=) will open in Arusha and a further 140-room Hyatt in Senegal (http://investors.hyatt.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=228969&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1863204&highlight=).
The 200-room Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi (http://www.kempinski.com/en/nairobi/hotel-villa-rosa/welcome/), boasting an outdoor heated pool, and the Olare Mara Kempinski (http://www.kempinski.com/en/masai-mara/olare-mara/welcome/) luxury camp in the Maasai Mara will also be joined by projects in Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.
Kempinski also has properties in Chad and the Congo, has bought the Hotel des Mille Collines (https://www.millecollines.net/) in Kigali and aims to operate 20 hotels across sub-Saharan Africa.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson has the Mahali Mzuri in the Maasai Mara and it is seen as a stylish role model for other hotels. The local landowners and herdsmen have been included in the business, benefiting from the hotel and helping to preserve the local ecosystem.
EasyHotel (http://www.easyhotel.com/news/2011/africa0.html), a low budget hotelier, is also rapidly expanding across southern Africa.
Published: May 2014
1) Catererglobal.com: Catererglobal.com offers a unique service that provides an easy-to-use, specific recruitment website for vacancies in the world’s best hotels and cruise ships. Website: http://www.catererglobal.com/jobs/africa/hotel/
2) South African hotel jobs: HotelJobs South Africa is an industry specific job website for the hotel, hospitality and catering industry. Website: http://www.hoteljobs.co.za/
3) Hotel Staff Africa: Many hotel jobs across Africa. Website: http://www.hotelstaff.co.za/
4) Hotel Career: Many hotel jobs for the Middle East and Africa. Website: http://www.hotelcareer.com/jobs/middle-east-africa
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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