Q&A: RIU sets sights on Africa

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Family-owned, Spanish RIU Hotels and Resorts is known across Europe and the Caribbean for its breadth of vacation-oriented resorts that cater to package tours and individual travellers, with all-inclusive or amenity-rich destinations. As its reach expands further into other parts of the world, its loyal customer base is looking for something new and unique. Chief executive, Luis Riu, shares with Business Traveller’s Ramsey Qubein the group’s take on their African expansion.

RIU has opened a number of properties in Morocco, Tunisia and Cape Verde, with more on the way. What attracted you to these African destinations?

All of these are growing in popularity in our traditional source markets (Northern and Central Europe). Cape Verde is a different matter. I was seduced by the country from the first time I set my eyes on the island. The archipelago is considered ‘the African Caribbean’ and RIU saw the opportunity to develop there a high quality offer that presented an exotic alternative to the Caribbean, with the added advantage of being closer. Cape Verde has become a huge success. Our clients have welcomed the product with enthusiasm and our partner tour operators have helped the destination’s growth by connecting it with the main European cities.

How accessible is Cape Verde for those living on the African continent?

There are many flights into Cape Verdean airports from across Europe, including regularly scheduled flights from Lisbon almost daily. There are also regular flights from Dakar.

Many of your African properties exhibit local architecture and design. Your thoughts on this style?

In each country we try to integrate our hotels in the environment and include elements from its cultural tradition in the decor. Our interior designer calls the style of our Cape Verde hotels ‘ethnic’. We choose our destinations considering its beaches, natural richness and beauty, the character of its people and other strategic aspects such as existing infrastructure and political stability. We want our clients to experience a great vacation in our hotel that will be unique to each country in which we are present. The quality standards will be the same in all of our hotels, but 98% of our staff is local, the architecture is distinctive to each destination and the whole experience has to be influenced by the local character.

Do you have plans to open properties elsewhere on the African continent?

We are working very closely with our partner, Tikida Group, in Morocco. We have opened two hotels this year and they will be complemented by a new addition in the summer of 2012. The Riu Palace Tikida Agadir will be a luxurious 462-room resort that will offer the distinguished RIU service and haute cuisine. The hotel will be RIU Hotels & Resorts’ third hotel in Agadir and the sixth from the hotel’s chain portfolio in Morocco. Earlier this year, in Tunisia, we opened the ClubHotel Riu Palm Azur, which is located on the Island of Djerba. This 390-room hotel is the 10th RIU hotel in this African country. There are no concrete plans to expand further at the moment, but we are always evaluating new opportunities.

What do you look for when deciding on a new country in which to open a resort?

Infrastructure is essential. When we built our first hotel in the Dominican Republic, we had to start everything from zero. There was no lighting, drainage, or roads. Political stability and a government open to support the tourism industry are also important. The destination has to be attractive for its nature, has to offer beautiful beaches and has to offer an attractive culture and folklore. And finally, but most importantly, we have to count on the support of our main tour operator partners.

What holds you back from opening in resort locales such as The Gambia, where Sheraton currently has a resort, or Kenya, where there are many beach resorts in Mombasa?

Nothing in particular. We have just not found the correct opportunity and timing. But, never say never. We are always open to new opportunities.