In 2010, Tourvest consolidated its properties under African Hotels & Adventures (ahaGroup), the division responsible for accommodation and activities with a portfolio of properties throughout South Africa as well as in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zanzibar, Uganda and Kenya. The expanded ahaGroup then incorporated Relais Hotels and continued to manage and market the group’s existing portfolio while also looking at opportunities to expand the properties under management into areas of the country where Tourvest already conducts business. In 2012, the group appointed Managing Director Neil Bald who successfully restructured and centralised the core of the company. Bald chatted to Business Traveller Africa about the recent acquisition of the Three Cities Hotel Group.
Q: Please explain the process that saw Tourvest acquire the Three Cities/AHA hotel group?
A: AHA’s strategy has been to significantly increase the number of hotels and lodges both within South Africa and neighbouring countries. This coincided with Three Cities’ medium term strategy as a group which was to divest of the hotel division by handing it to a large and credible player in the market and focus on expanding their hospitality education. The completion of the the acquisition signalled Tourvest/AHA’s intention to become a major player in the tourism accommodation sector.
Q: Has Three Cities effectively become a division of Tourvest, with a new name?
A: Following the acquisition, Three Cities has retained its name and is still trading under the Three Cities brand. We are currently in the process of identifying the most suitable brand for us to adopt going forward which we are hoping to launch towards the end of April. This will apply to all our properties, both AHA and Three Cities.
Q: What has this acquisition done to the overall AHA/Three Cities offering?
A: The effect has been twofold. Firstly, the portfolio has more than doubled the properties spread across the country, giving the consumer a better selection in both leisure and corporate hotels and lodges. Secondly, with the consolidation we can now offer our hotel and lodge owners a number of benefits including our experience and expertise in the field of property management.
Q: Is it fair to say the Three Cities acquisition has strengthened your corporate travel offering?
A: Yes, AHA predominantly had a leisure focus with its selection of boutique hotels and lodges. Three Cities added a large number of rooms and conferencing hotels to the portfolio, increasing the room total from 735 to 2,249. With our extensive hotel experience and now hotels, we are now able to enter the corporate travel space with enthusiasm.
Q: Are there plans to expand the AHA/Three Cities brand into other African countries?
A: Yes, we are currently in discussions to expand our presence into other African countries.
Q: What else does the group have planned, in terms of growth?
A: Our growth strategy encompasses both hotels and lodges within South Africa and sub Saharan Africa. We are continuously looking to expand our foot print in these sectors. We believe we can be successful in both the lodge and hotel sectors. We plan to grow our hotels in both key and secondary locations. We continue to expand our lodge portfolio in iconic destinations.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on the overall state of the African hotel industry?
A: Africa is booming in the hotel and lodge space. We already trade key destinations in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda. There is a need for experienced ‘local’ hotel companies to operate hotels and lodges.
Q: What effect has the spread of the Ebola virus had on the industry?
A: Unfortunately the Ebola scare was both a real and perceived threat and contributed to the region’s inability to attract its fair share of the global tourism market. Thankfully the outbreak has been contained and restricted to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone where we do not operate. We do expect to see Ebola having less of an impact on bookings in 2015 than it did the year before. We are seeing bookings pick up in the properties that have a large international leisure component.
Q: Besides service, what do you think the modern day business traveller is looking for?
A: The modern day business traveller is looking for convenience and comfort to continue operating their daily business whilst travelling. Reliable network connection and/or Wi-Fi are absolutely crucial. Home-away-from-home comforts such as a large variety of TV channels are expected.
Q: What are your thoughts on the continuous influx of international hotel brands all looking for an African presence?
A: Part of our strategy may include managing and operating international brands. Most investors want confidence in the management company being ‘local’ or at least have a good knowledge of being able to work in Africa.
Q: Are there any current global hotel trends worth noting?
A: There is currently a high use of online media to conduct research for travelling. Websites, social media and sites such as TripAdvisor are very important.