Continued investment

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With a key strategy to make its brands and offerings stand out, Carlson Rezidor seems determined to remain relevant to a changing market. In Africa, Marc Descrozaille, Area Vice-President, Africa & Indian Ocean for Carlson Rezidor, has identified security and status elements as important focus points. He took some time at WTM Africa to meet with Business Traveller Africa and discuss the group’s African strategy.

Q: Is it still the Rezidor strategy to open a Radisson Blu in the main capital city before you explore other brands?
A: Definitely. It’s our key brand and one that everyone understands. Sometimes there is an opportunity for Park Inn by Radisson and sometimes it’s also the right approach, because we will be looking at secondary locations, which are typically for mid-scale brands. In Angola we are developing a portfolio of Park Inn by Radissons in five cities, and this is definitely the right brand for these locations.

Q: The first Radisson Red will open in Cape Town later this year. Why is the time right for Radisson Red in Africa?
A: Radisson Red requires a certain market maturity. You need a niche clientele that understands what we are trying to achieve in destroying some of the typical elements of the hotel experience. We’ve turned the reception into an art gallery. So, if you opt not to check-in online and get your key on your device, the receptionist will check you in on the couch in the gallery.

Q: Is it targeted at the millennial traveller?
A: People with the millennial mindset, yes. We believe in being there to casually meet with other people. We focus on the drinks and bar experience. More about snacks and tapas. It is informal in a way, which caters for the needs of a younger generation, but they are a growing market.

Q: Can we expect to see any of your other brands come to Africa?
A: I’d like to think that our other brands will bring value to the continent. Right now, though, we need to wait for HNA, the new main shareholder, to decide on a way forward.

Q: With your properties mainly in the five and four-star ranges, do you agree that there is opportunity in the lower star ranges?
A: For sure, and we have adjusted a little bit on our strategy accordingly. We are focussing more on Park Inn by Radisson because we see this gap in the market. As much as 85% of our clientele here is African – Africans travelling within Africa. Ten years ago travellers to Africa were mostly Europeans, Americans and a few South Africans. Today, people in Kenya’s neighbouring countries travel to Nairobi for business. These travellers are prime candidates for midscale brands, where frequent stays in five-star hotels becomes too expensive.

Q: What is the background strategy behind Rezidor’s aggressive African expansion?
A: Compared to Hilton, we are very late entrants to the African market. We began signing deals a little over 10 years ago after we realised that the continent’s economies were catching up to the rest of the world. We determined when Africa would start flourishing and planned a strategy around this long-term vision. We are planning for the long-term future, not the short-term, so the ‘downturn‘ of some of the African economies hasn’t derailed our plans. Africa still has a lot of catching up to do and we are going to be ready when it does. We want to position ourselves intelligently as we have moved to focus on key cities, instead of countries or markets. In some cities we want to have 10 or 15 hotels. In Cape Town we are going to have six hotels at the end of the year, and quite possibly 15 hotels in total.

Q: Are you not concerned that some of Africa’s biggest economies are currently struggling?
A: We’ve had a lot of questions about Africa’s ‘downturn’ in the past 12 months, but we don’t build hotels for the next two, three years or just one cycle – we build hotels for the next 50 years. We want to position ourselves cleverly and our strategy is to focus on the key cities.

Q: You recently opened a Park Inn by Radisson in Nairobi and a Radisson Blu in Cape Town. What’s the next opening?
A: We are going to open the Park Inn by Radisson Kigali in Rwanda. After that we have the Radisson Blu Hotel N’Djamena in Chad, and then the Park Inn by Radisson Sousse in Tunisia. Later this year we’ve got the opening of the Pearl of Africa Hotel Kampala in Uganda that joined our Quorvus Collection in Januar y.

Q: Are there any international hotel trends that are worth mentioning?
A: What I’ve found interesting is the emergence of Airbnb, which is either creating a new market or taking market share from the traditional market, but I think there is space for everybody. Marketing and PR of hotels has changed. It’s no longer a hard sell. You have to appeal to customers on a more personal level. Traditional marketing isn’t doing the trick. In a current campaign of ours, we are using PR and marketing in a more subtle way to connect with clients. People plan their next trip well in advance of departure dates and we need to make sure that, somewhere along the line, we make it into their plans.