Africa’s second-largest country is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. But the nation has a complicated, often-violent history marred by colonial rule, dictatorship and civil war. Nonetheless, it’s expected to boom in the coming years, with more interest being taken in the DRC as a business travel destination.
A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been at the centre of what is often called ‘Africa’s World War’. This has left it in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, and despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, people in the east of the country remain in terror of marauding militia and the army. However, it remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in terms of natural resources, with a heavy reliance on the mining of cobalt, copper, industrial diamonds, gold and coltan.
Business Travel Activity
On the hotel front, the most significant activity took place in February, with the news that the Grand Hotel Kinshasa had joined the Lonrho Hotels stable, and that the group planned to put the hotel through a multi-million dollar refurbishment. Lonrho Hotels has invested significantly in the DRC and successfully led the reconstruction of the Grand Karavia Hotel in Lubumbashi, which re-opened in October 2009. The plans for the Grand Hotel Kinshasa included creating 220 new 5-star bedrooms, two new branded restaurants, a club lounge, a new bar and coffee shop, sports centre, state-of-the-art meeting and conference facilities, high-speed Internet connectivity, and a secure VIP arrival service from the airport. From an airline point of view, the only major development saw Arik Air announce the launch of new flight services from Lagos to Kinshasa. The first commercial flight on that route was due to take place in early December and will subsequently operate twice weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Kinshasa is the capital and largest city, located on the Congo River in the west, with approximately 10 million inhabitants. The copper-mining city of Lubumbashi is the hub of the south-east. Kinshasa International Airport or N’Djili International Airport has not undergone much in the way of upgrading in recent years, and offers a fairly basic airport experience. As a result, Lonrho Hotels has seen a gap in the market and offers its guests VIP assistance in getting to and from the airport.
“We will arrange to meet or transfer you between the hotel and the airport,” says Amandio Martins, VP – Revenue, Sales & Marketing for Lonrho Hotels. “At departure, you can enjoy our Premium Lounge, while our personnel take care of your luggage and check-in formalities. You then go directly to the plane through a speed customs lane. Feedback from our guests is that this service is much appreciated and good value.”
In addition to the bad state of roads, political instability makes travelling by car or bus extremely unsafe. Although trains and ferries are an option, domestic travel is best done by air, although travellers should be aware of the country’s poor air safety record. Serious business travellers should consider private charters. Taxi services are available in Kinshasa, but they are unreliable, and car rental options are limited and usually require that a chauffeur also be hired. Driving is done on the right-hand side.
All foreign nationals require a visa, with the exception of travellers on transit flights, who do not leave the airport.
Internet accessibility is fairly adequate in urban areas, but dependent on electricity. There is some mobile phone network coverage and local providers have roaming agreements with a few international companies, but visitors should avoid attracting unwanted attention by using mobile phones in public.
There is a noticeable absence of any high-profile international hotel brands in Kinshasa, but that is expected to change in the coming years.
“Kinshasa is predicted to be the largest city in Africa by 2025 and is experiencing unprecedented growth. We’re therefore very excited to now have a presence in Kinshasa,” says Ewan Cameron, CEO of Lonrho Hotels.
Lonrho’s acquisition of the Grand Kinshasa and the addition of the property to its DRC portfolio shows that the group is serious about the country as a business travel destination. Never mind ‘first mover advantage’ – the upgrading of the Grand Kinshasa and the implementation of business travel-focused services such as Wi-Fi, a selection of restaurants and concierge services, has seen Lonrho steal a march on its hotel competitors in Kinshasa, which is not blessed with a plethora of high quality hotels.
Due to political and military volatility and many socio-economic challenges, visiting the DRC is risky and visitors are advised to avoid all but essential travel, especially to the eastern and north-eastern regions. There is a high risk of street crime and visitors should not walk alone at any time. Keep a copy of your passport on you and other copies separately. Avoid displaying any valuables. Crowds gather quickly, so move away if you’re involved in a car accident. Refrain from taking photos in public, particularly of official buildings, borders and airport. Congolese francs can’t be converted or taken out of the country.
All travellers require a yellow fever certificate. There is a high risk of malaria and HIV, rabies, sleeping sickness and bilharzia. Immunisation against typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A and B is recommended.
Population: 71 million
Time zone: Eastern DRC – GMT+2; Western DRC (Kinshasa) – GMT+1
Plugs: Two and three-prong round sockets
Dialling code: +243
Currency: Congolese franc and US dollars. Exchange rate: US$1=911CDF
Languages: French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Air France – airfrance.com
Air Zimbabwe – airzimbabwe.com
Arik Air – arikair.com
ASKY Airlines – flyasky.com
Brussels Airlines – brusselsairlines.com
Camair-co – camair-co.cm
Compagnie Africaine d’Aviation – caacongo.com
Ethiopian Airlines – flyethiopian.com
FlyCongo – flycongo.com
Korongo Airlines – flykorongo.com
Precision Air – precisionairtz.com
Stellar Airways – stellarairways.com
SAA – flysaa.com
SA Express – flyexpress.aero
TAAG – taag.com
Turkish Airlines – turkishairlines.com
Faden House – fadenhouse.cd
Fleuve Congo Hotel – fleuvecongohotel.net
Grand Hotel Kinshasa – lonrhohotels.com
Grand Karavia (Lubumbashi) – lonrhohotels.com
Hotel Cana – hotelcana.com
Hotel Invest – hotelinvests.com
Hotel Le Voyageur – voyageurhotel.com
Hotel Lubumbashi – hotellubumbashi.com
Hotel Memling – memling.net
Hotel Royal – hotelroyaldrc.freshcreator.com
Hotel Venus – venushotel.cd
Sultani Hotel – sultanihotel.com
Avis – avis.com
Europcar – europcar.com
Hertz – hertz.com
Access to Africa – access-to-africa.com
Carlson Wagonlit – carlsonwagonlit.com