Big Potential

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Cresta Hotels is one of Southern Africa’s largest hotel management groups, managing or operating 17 hotels in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia, three of which the group owns. Ten of those properties are in Botswana, but editor Dylan Rogers was drawn more towards what Cresta CEO Glenn Stutchbury had to say on Zimbabwe, where the group has five properties, covering Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

 

Many in the African travel industry would like to see Zimbabwe complete a full revival and once again take up its place as one of the premier travel destinations on the continent. But it has some way to go, from a business travel point of view. Whilst Victoria Falls has apparently enjoyed an encouraging past year or so – thanks to growth of approximately 16,000 room nights in a year – the same cannot be said for Harare or Bulawayo, according to Glenn Stutchbury.

“Harare has been under some stress,” he says. “There’s a lot of city product, but that 10-year gap of isolation and hyper-inflation meant the hotels couldn’t maintain product. So, standards went down and it allowed the bed and breakfast market to take over.”

According to Stutchbury, there are between 300 and 400 rooms in the B&B market in the Harare northern suburbs, which is the area favoured by corporate executives, and they’re charging higher rates than the hotels.

“The playing field is not level in rates and taxes, minimum wages, levies etc. But the hotels need to jack up their product. In the last couple of years there’s been a Meikles refurb, a Cresta Lodge refurb, Rainbow Towers has done some, as has Crowne Plaza. Hotel stock is gradually picking up, and now it’s about rates and service,” says Stutchbury.

The latter is something Stutchbury believes his hotel staff are quite skilled at, offering ‘no-frills’ 3-star accommodation with all the basics you need for a comfortable stay, whether you’re on a business or leisure trip. He’s also quite comfortable in the mid-market space, and happy that this might be a more sustainable sector of the hotel industry.

“We are definitely mid-market and we don’t pretend to be anything else,” he says. “On our refurbs we’ve focused on what is expected of a 4-star, but staying in the 3-star space. There’s more space in the mid-market range. From an affordability point of view, there’s a limited number of people who can afford 5-star, and we have a very firm roll-out plan staying within our segment. We’d like to under-sell and over-provide.”

And what Cresta provides in the business travel space is the basics.

“The business traveller has certain needs,” says Stutchbury. “It’s a good breakfast and it’s a clean and comfortable room. For me, it’s Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, with Wi-Fi underneath shelter and food! The big guys have had to change their Wi-Fi policy – Tsogo Sun changed late last year; Protea added another 400MB onto their daily allowance. We give free Wi-Fi away in every hotel to all our guests.”

The current breakdown of those hotels is as follows: 10 in Botswana, with only two in Gaborone and the rest in Francistown, Jwaneng, Kasane, Maun, Mahalapye, Palapye and Selebi-Phikwe; one in Zambia in the form of the Cresta Golfview in Lusaka; and five in Zimbabwe, with one each in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, and three hotels in Harare.

So, where to next for Stutchbury and Cresta Hotels?

“The Copper Belt is just lunacy at the moment and there’s a shortage of stock there. We need stock up in Ndola, Kitwe etc. We’re also keeping an eye on Livingstone from a corporate perspective, and we’re looking at two more products in Botswana this year. We’re also having a look at Namibia and I’m very keen on Mozambique – we’ve got three opportunities under close investigation in three destinations. Then Tanzania is the next step for us.”

Whew! That’s enough on the plate for Stutchbury and Cresta Hotels, and it’s no surprise that he’s a difficult man to nail down.

What is clear, though, is that he’s passionate about the African continent and incredibly bullish about what the future holds for his industry.

“There’s big potential,” says Stutchbury. “Africa is wide open.”

Dylan Rogers