Q&A: First Mover Advantage

1180

The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group makes no bones about its aggressive African strategy, and with more and more Radisson Blu and Park by Radisson properties popping up across the continent, it looks on track to make a serious impact on the African hotel scene. The group’s VP of Business Development for the region, Andrew McLachlan, joined editor Dylan Rogers for a chat.

Q: Please confirm Carlson Rezidor’s most recent African hotel openings and what’s in the short-term pipeline?

A: The Radisson Blu Hotel Maputo opened earlier this year. It’s the first internationally-branded hotel in Mozambique’s capital city and definitely one of our flagship properties in sub-Saharan Africa. We expect to open the following hotels over the next six months: Radisson Blu in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson in Libreville, Gabon; and Park Inn by Radisson in Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Q: We’re accustomed to seeing the Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson brands in Africa. Will we see any of your other brands popping up in the future?

A: Not in the immediate future. Our strategy is clear and focused – we aim to develop business travel circuits with Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson continuity in select African economic communities in our upper upscale and upper midscale brands.

Q: Would you characterise the Rezidor African strategy as aggressive?

A: There is definitely a new scramble for Africa among hotel groups and brands. Carlson Rezidor is geared up and very focused on Africa, and we would like to have first mover advantage in new markets. Therefore we have ambitious plans to grow in key focus areas and quickly.

Q: What countries do you think are the current hotspots?

A: Nigeria due to the size of its market and economy, along with the drastic lack of quality hotels. South Africa offers the opportunity for conversions, where we take over already trading hotels which are unbranded or underperforming under a competitor brand. The East African Economic Community is also very exciting due to its size, growing middle class and improved infrastructure and airlift. Angola has the growth potential to do more than just hotels in Luanda, so it’s very important for us to open a hotel in the country. To date, there are no internationally-branded hotels open, so first mover advantage is available.

Q: Are you expecting more competition in the African mid-market segment in the short-term, or will 5-star properties remain the priority for the international hotel groups with an interest in Africa?

A: The Carlson Rezidor split in Africa is 60% Radisson Blu and 40% Park Inn by Radisson, which is normal as we are still newcomers to Africa and we always enter new countries with Radisson Blu first, followed by Park Inn by Radisson. In certain cities due to very poor infrastructure and lack of facilities outside the hotel groups, a midscale hotel is still not viable.

Q: What’s the biggest issue currently facing the African hotel industry?
A: Visas. If governments could fix this issue and make it easier to travel between African countries, it would help business, the airlines, hotels and overall economy.  

Q: What impact do you think the recent Westgate Mall tragedy will have on the Nairobi and even African hotel markets?

A: It has had a direct negative effect on the brand ‘Kenya’ and the Kenyan hospitality industry, especially from a leisure and tour operator point of view. From a business travel perspective, this will bounce back quickly. Nairobi is a key city in Africa and the mega power of East Africa, so business will and needs to carry on like normal.

Q: Your portfolio also covers the Indian Ocean islands – is there a current theme or talking point specific to the hotel industry in this region, or are its issues the same as on the African continent?

A: It’s important that Carlson Rezidor not only grows its business hotel portfolio, but also its resort portfolio, and the Indian Ocean Islands gives us a huge opportunity. To date we have no resorts in Mauritius, Seychelles, Zanzibar, Comoros or Madagascar, so we see this as an opportunity to develop and open Radisson Blu Resorts.

Q: What business travel-specific hotel products or developments can African business travellers look forward to in the near future?

A: With the development of mobile phones, it will be become even easier to find a hotel and book a hotel room in Africa, along with a greater choice of hotel brands and products across more locations.