Q & A: African Enthusiast

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Best Western International began in 1946 as an informal referral system among member hotels. Since then the group has grown to include more than 4,000 hotels in over 100 countries around the world, with the same ‘member helps member’ attitude. Karl de Lacy, International Development Manager for Best Western International, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer for few questions for Business Traveller Africa.

Q: Is the Best Western model different to that of a ‘traditional’ hotel group?
A: Best Western is not a franchise model, however we do provide our hotels the same brand recognition, global exposure, loyalty club and standards. Best Western International does not manage hotels but we do provide the only option on the market for an experienced hotel owner to maintain control of his hotel while enjoying global exposure and brand recognition which we offer. In addition, our agreements are considerably shorter and our costs considerably lower, which means our focus is on delivering revenue to our hotels so they see no reason to go elsewhere.

Q: What is the Best Western view on Africa, in terms of development potential?
A: With the growth of the economy in many of the countries in Africa, we believe the opportunity is there for independent hotel owners to promote their hotel as a Best Western branded property through our global reservations system, loyalty club, advertising, and take advantage of our training and quality standards.

Q: What is the group’s current African footprint?
A: We have hotels in Cape Town (South Africa), Nairobi and Mombasa (Kenya), Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), Cotonou (Benin), Lagos, Port Harcourt and Benin City (Nigeria); Accra and Takoradi (Ghana) along with properties in Morocco and Algeria. 

Q: What is in the Best Western African development pipeline?
A: We are looking forward to the opening of our first hotels in Ethiopia and Uganda next year, along with a Best Western Plus hotel in Stone Town Zanzibar. We also have additional properties to come in Nigeria and Ghana. With strong leads for various other destinations around the continent, such as Zambia, Togo and the potential to add properties in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, we are confident the brand will continue to grow.

Q: What is the difference between the Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier brands?
A: The Best Western brand is our midscale 3-star brand with our promise of service and great value along with a clean, comfortable stay. Best Western Plus hotels enjoy well-appointed rooms and premium amenities to suit any travel occasion and Best Western Premier hotels have a distinct style, offering deluxe amenities and a refined level of service and comfort. These are our upper midscale and upscale brands which include 4- or 5-star hotels.

Q: What, for you, are the current African hospitality hotspots?
A:
Right now a lot of the activity is happening in East Africa. Nairobi (Kenya) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) are busy destinations, and Kigali (Rwanda) is a growing market.

Q: What global hospitality trends are you currently seeing?
A: The move to mobile technology is a key trend that hotel owners and operators need to be ready for, from having mobile-enabled sites to a seamless transition from a guests’ desktop experience to tablet or mobile phone will be key. The social feedback sites which hotels have to be watching will continue to grow and influence the next generation of business and leisure guest.  Hotels need to be ready to meet the demands of the millennial traveller who are the significant drivers of this change.

Q: In your opinion, what is the current state of the hotel industry in Africa?
A: The industry is at a very early stage of development with opportunities all over the continent. While the more mature markets will continue to see growth, the newer stable countries will start to see the benefit of international travel and tourism coming into these destinations.

Q: What impact has the Ebola crisis had on your properties in Africa?
A: Our hotels in West Africa have seen a drastic drop in international business. This is to be expected and we are hopeful that the WHO will be able to provide positive updates in the affected areas in the coming weeks.

Q: Besides service, what do you think is critical for your African properties to offer the modern day business traveller?
A: The key items which we ask our hotels to focus on are to ensure that the hotels are clean and well maintained. This is a key focus of our hotel inspections and by providing our hotels with self-assessment tools, this ensures ongoing quality assurance. It is also important to provide a reliable internet connection, which feeds into the trend towards hotels getting ready for a new market opportunity from millennial travellers. With the prevalence of wireless devices guests expect to be connected on an ongoing basis throughout the duration of their stay.