An Eye on West Africa

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I have been in Abuja several times over the past couple of months, looking at proposed new hotel projects there – just ideas at present, and it will be several years before any of them are ready to welcome you. 

For those who don’t know Abuja, it is the capital of Nigeria – Lagos was the capital until 1991, when the government moved north, to the centre of the country. They started planning the city in the 1970s, started construction in earnest in the 1980s, and are still building today. Whilst commercial activity is at a low level compared with Lagos, Abuja is the administrative and political heart of the country. If you are doing business with the federal government, which controls vast swathes of the economy, then you have to visit Abuja. And if you want to meet a minister, well, the wait can be measured in days! Abuja is also a good place to waylay the state governors, who are frequent visitors, as it is from the centre that funds are doled out to the regions.

For all of these reasons, it’s strange then that in the capital city of Africa’s most populous nation, there is not, currently, a single internationally-branded hotel under construction. Plans aplenty, and that’s where we come in, but nothing on-site. Not that there aren’t several other, non-branded hotels on the way. The Ibeto Hotel, in the Gudu district, is due to open very soon, and from what I saw of it recently, it should be a really nice hotel. The AES Suites has opened in Jabi, and although somewhat eccentric in terms of the design (it’s obviously designed only for short people, as even I had to duck when I went through any doorway), and ignoring the ridiculous hype about it being a ‘6-star’ hotel, it’s an acceptable mid-scale hotel.

The trouble is, these hotels, by which I mean the unbranded ones without a management company, tend not to stay the course. For various reasons, they deteriorate quite quickly (and I pray that Ibeto and AES are different), general managers come and go, sometimes at alarming speed, maintenance is neglected, the faults in construction become an unmanageable burden, and so on.

The market in Abuja is dominated by the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, a 670-room behemoth, where serious business is done in the various restaurants, bars, lounges and Presidential suites. It’s ‘see and be seen’ in the lobby, with a constant stream of ministers, other senior politicians and government officials, and visiting heads of state. And because of that, it is not for everyone – it’s is virtually impossible to find a quiet corner anywhere, and not everyone wants to be seen!

Alternatives to the Hilton include the Sheraton – sadly, a poor example of that brand, although watch this space, as a total refurbishment is on the cards, and the hotel does have great Italian and steak restaurants. Then there’s the Hawthorn Suites (a good room product, but lousy service), the Best Western (ditto, but the new general manager has vowed to tackle that), and the three Protea hotels, offering that chain’s normal, efficient service. There’s also a host of unbranded hotels, such as the Rockville, the Bolingo and the Reiz Continental, where I had the best meat pie ever, recently! Some of them are good, some bad, and the majority are in the middle.

So, what’s coming? Radisson Blu, Park Inn and Courtyard by Marriott all have deals signed, but none are yet under construction. I’m not hugely convinced that all of these will see the light of day, but I would be happy to be proved wrong. Abuja needs more hotel rooms, it’s a busy city – although weekends are quiet as so many people ‘go home’ – and has the potential to be the main conference venue in the sub-region. Connectivity is improving, with flights to London, Frankfurt and Paris, as well as to Lomé, Accra and other African cities. And, compared with other Nigerian cities, Abuja ‘works’, with an excellent road network that is seemingly always being expanded. There’s also huge construction work underway all over the city, including Churchgate’s World Trade Centre and the 170-metre Millennium Tower, which are both in the CBD.

There’s a great market for the international hotel brands in Abuja, and I know of several of the leading global chains that are keen to get established there. Here’s hoping for some action soon.

Trevor Ward
MD: W Hospitality Group
www.w-hospitalitygroup.com