Q & A: Aggressive African Expansion

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You’re planning on opening a lot of properties across Africa over the next few years. What are your thoughts on your African expansion and your attitude towards doing business in Africa?

 It’s extremely positive. Africa is the place where we are working hardest at the moment. We see tremendous opportunity. With regards North Africa, a little bit of opportunity, but mostly Sub-Saharan Africa and that’s the reason for us being extremely busy. The only problem is opening properties in time. It’s been very difficult and it’s quite a challenge. So, for the remainder of the year we are looking at Tete in Mozambique, which opened on the 18th of June – that’s a Park Inn. Then, we are hoping to open the property in Lusaka in August. We are also hoping to open a property in Maputo this year, because Maputo is going to be sold from the present owner to hopefully a new owner.

But, you were initially looking at Libreville, Abeokuta, Freetown and Kigali?

Libreville is already going. We have the hotel at the Okoume Palace, which we took over in January. So, we are running the Okoume Palace, but it has not been rebranded yet and there is going to be a $45 million investment.

And Freetown?

We are working on Freetown, but it is going to take a bit of time as well. Freetown is not going to open this year anymore.

You’ve mentioned Lusaka, Maputo, Tete, Freetown and Libreville. What about Abeokuta and Kigali?

Both Abeokuta and Kigali were meant to open this year, at the end of the year. But, I’ll be a bit more cautious and say that it’s now going to be the first quarter of next year.

What’s taking so long and is this something that is slowing the progress of new hotel investments in Africa?

In my opinion you can blame the owners, because it is not us and it’s very often not the construction companies either. It is the owners and the unexpected issues and problems. For us it’s not necessarily very nice that you have to wait so long for the opening of a hotel. I mean, we’ve been working now on Lusaka for quite some time – Lusaka should’ve opened, if I’m not mistaken, last year. Maputo should have opened and these are two properties that you could open within a couple weeks, as they are more or less finished.

Do these factors threaten Africa making a success of the hotel business?

No. First of all, I’m convinced that this will all get better. Then, I think that the development is such that it cannot be stopped.

So, do you think there’s still plenty of interest in Africa, being the last ‘untapped’ continent in the world?

The opportunities are enormous. I mean, if you travel around yourself, you can now see in major cities that there are basically very few hotels. That’s not even talking about the secondary cities. So, generally speaking, there’s a tremendous untapped market. We have tremendous opportunities.

Does that apply to business and leisure travel, or one or the other?

With leisure travel, it depends. Business, definitely. Leisure travel depends on the country in question. You know, there are certain countries where there is no leisure travel yet, and there is no infrastructure for leisure business. But it will come. As I said, we took over the property in Libreville in Gabon and they are working very hard. The government is working very hard and putting things into place – lodges etc and other hotels for the leisure market, as well. So, they are working on it, but it will take time. It’s not going to happen overnight.

So you would say the future for African business travel looks incredibly bright?

Incredibly bright. For example, we’ve seen that in places where we have opened hotels, such as the property in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s doing very well and I’m convinced that will be the case with the new properties we have opened in Maputo and Tete. The latter is in the extreme north of the country, but that’s where the mining industry is, and it’s going to do very well. So, we are extremely eager to expand and to expand fast.