Passionate hoteliers

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According to W Hospitality Group’s ‘2014 African Hotel Chain Development Pipeline’, Carlson Rezidor holds the largest hotel pipeline on the continent, with 30 hotels and 6,300 rooms under development. No surprise then that the group’s Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Office Olivier Harnisch was in Johannesburg recently, and made himself available for a coffee with editor Dylan Rogers.

Olivier Harnisch has a vision for Carlson Rezidor, and it’s one he’s not afraid to share with the rest of the world.

“We want to be known as passionate hoteliers,” he says. “The hotel business is different from others, I believe, in that you cannot be a successful hotelier if you’re not passionate. Likewise, a hotel company cannot be successful if it does not consist of passionate hoteliers.”

That is good news for the African continent, because to say that Carlson Rezidor is serious about Africa would be something of an understatement. Recent openings include Radisson Blu hotels in Maputo (Mozambique), Lusaka (Zambia) and Freetown – the first 5-star hotel in Sierra Leone – and a Park Inn by Radisson in Cape Town. Future openings include Radisson Blu hotels in Nairobi (Kenya), Libreville (Gabon) and Kigali (Rwanda), and Park Inn by Radisson hotels in Cape Town (South Africa), Abeokuta (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon) and Kigali (Rwanda).

“The continent is a huge focus for us,” says Harnisch. “The growth opportunities are much higher, not only from a number of hotels perspective, but also from an economic growth perspective, which is higher than markets in Western Europe for instance.”

That’s not to say that Harnisch doesn’t have an appreciation for just how different – and often challenging – it is to do business on the African continent.

“The countries are all different,” he says. “They all have their own legal frameworks, their own work customs, and of course the different languages. The pre-opening process is also more intensive, with the timeline between the planning and opening of a hotel a couple of years longer than it is in Europe.”

It’s well-documented that Carlson Rezidor has a bursting ‘African pipeline’, one that sees it currently heading up the development race ahead of the likes of Hilton, Marriott and Starwood, but Harnisch is not shy to reveal exactly where the group is looking, as it looks to convert those development plans into viable concerns.

“Nigeria and South Africa are key countries for us,” he says. “We do also see longer term potential in Egypt and Libya (Tripoli), once the political situation stabilises. Africa is very much about the capitals. There are countries where we see tremendous potential in the capital, but not so much in the secondary cities, such as Botswana.”

The key, though, remains the lack of quality hotels on the continent, and is one of the major factors in the likes of Carlson Rezidor, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, IHG, Accor, Best Western and Kempinski, all wanting a slice of the African pie.

“The interesting thing is that the hotel supply is limited, so there’s opportunity for an international hotel chain to do good business here,” says Harnisch. “There’s opportunity virtually everywhere in Africa for us, and this is just the beginning.”

It’s been another busy year for Carlson Rezidor, with two new brands launched, in the form of Radisson Red for the upscale lifestyle select segment, and the Quorvus Collection for the luxury market.

“In the longer term, we see Radisson Red also coming to Africa, and in some destinations Quorvus,” says Harnisch. “Quorvus is more a collection of luxury hotels, rather than a brand. In a country like South Africa, there are really three markets where Quorvus would fit – Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Radisson Red is a select, upscale hotel where the infrastructure within the building, the layout and the furnishing is upscale, but the services are more select, more limited. This brand appeals to the ‘Millennial Generation’, and is highly technologically orientated. Those hotels could be in virtually any market going forward.”

Africa currently sits in Carlson Rezidor’s Middle East & Africa region, but Harnisch admits that the continent is growing in importance for the group, and it’s just about time for Africa to make the step up.

“We feel the time is now coming to consider Africa its own area, and it will happen sometime in the near future,” he says.

Dylan Rogers