Carlson Rezidor’s new Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, Friedrich Schaefer, has had to trade in his Cape Town lifestyle for a more gritty Johannesburg existence, but that sometimes comes with the turf when taking on a bigger job. Either way, he seems to have a clear vision of what he would like to achieve, which he articulated to me over a couple of cappuccinos at one of the two Radisson Blu properties in Sandton.
As with many of his contemporaries with similar hotel experience, Friedrich Schaefer is of the opinion that successful hoteling is not rocket science, and the keys to that success often lie in just getting the basics right.
But, I want to know the secrets to a great business travel hotel, and whether, in the modern age of constant connectivity, it starts with something as ‘material’ as great Wi-Fi?
“The complimentary Wi-Fi in our hotels has been one of the major strategies or key success factors, and I think we were one of the first to do it,” says Schaefer. “Connectivity is so important, but then there are also fundamentals you have to get right, like security, service, a clean and functional room, decent bed and a good meal.”
The Carlson Rezidor strategy is all about new builds and management contracts, and Schaefer makes it clear that the group policy is not to franchise in Africa.
“We bring expertise and resources, with offices and sales people all over the world,” he says.
With that in mind, and looking at the bigger picture, just where does Africa fit in for the Carlson Rezidor group?
“Africa is very important for the company and we have the largest pipeline in Africa as a group,” says Schaefer. “We came into the market later than other hotel groups, but I think we’ve been very active for the last five/six years. We’ve signed a lot of deals and we’ve opened a lot of hotels.”
In the sub-Saharan region, the group has 12 hotels operational now, and according to Schaefer, they should have another nine or ten more between now and 2015.
“Next up will be Abeokuta, which is about 100 kilometres outside Lagos, and then in 2014 we have Nairobi, Kigali and Newlands (Cape Town) all coming up, as well as some other projects.”
And where else would Schaefer like to see the Carlson Rezidor footprint?
“Angola is one where we need to be, but aren’t at the moment. Then there’s Kenya, and that’s why we’re opening in Nairobi, and Ghana. Then there’s Rwanda, where I was recently and was really impressed with the country, the infrastructure and the people.”
The latest mark that Carlson Rezidor has left on the African continent is in Maputo, where the group recently opened the very first Radisson Blu property in Mozambique. That’s after showing its rivals a thing or two by sticking its neck out and opening the Park Inn by Radisson Tete, in this thriving mining city in the north-west of the country.
“The Park Inn product is very well suited to Tete, which is not a major capital of Mozambique,” says Schaefer. “The strategy is to have a Radisson in the capital city of a country, and then we roll out the mid-market product which is much more suitable for smaller cities. With Mozambique, we did it the other way round!”
So, was Schaefer surprised that Rezidor’s competitors didn’t beat them to it in Tete? After all, there was clearly demand and an opportunity for someone to go in and cash in on the increased interest in this mining-rich region to the north of Mozambique.
“Well, sometimes you have to be the first.” (grins)
And that could well prove to be Rezidor’s differentiator in the market, with all the big groups fighting for a piece of the pie in every major African capital city, whilst Schaefer and co quietly go about their business, keeping their eyes open for more ‘Tete-like’ opportunities.