Q&A: Strong intentions – aha hotels

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In August 2014, the Competition Commission approved the acquisition of Three Cities Management Company by Tourvest’s Accommodation and Activities division African Hotels and Adventure, signalling the group’s intention to become a major player in the tourism accommodation sector. Following the completion of the acquisition, AHA’s portfolio of contracted boutique hotels, game lodges and lifestyle retreats more than doubled from 20 to 43 properties spread across the country and elsewhere in Africa. As part of the deal, AHA also acquired a majority shareholding in the Alpine Heath Resort and the Greenway Woods Resort in White River Mpumalanga. In the two years since the deal was inked, aha has incorporated the new properties under its banner and is looking for new opportunities. Newly-appointed CEO Neil Bald gives us his views on the hospitality industry.

Q: What’s your view on the state of the South African hotel industry?

A: The South African hotel industry is in good shape although it still experiences ups and downs.

Q: How does aha benefit from being part of the Tourvest group?

A: aha is the accommodation arm of Tourvest and is virtually integrated into the group.

Q: Are you pursuing any new opportunities outside South Africa?

A: aha Hotels & Lodges is actively looking for opportunities in Africa in the major gateway cities to manage hotels and lodges. We are one of the few companies that are able to operate across both the hotel and lodge space and we are capable of adding enormous benefits to owners and developers of both types of properties. The aha Hotel brand also allows for flexibility in design and build which again is important when it comes to costs and achieving the ideal cost per key during construction when compared to other global hotel brands. Our route into Africa would ideally be through management contracts and to be part of either mixed-use developments or being located in key tourist attraction areas. We currently manage over 38 properties for a variety of different owners with great success.

Q: In South Africa, do you believe there is greater opportunity in the five-star or mid-market hotel range?

A: There is a greater opportunity in the mid-market hotel range, however in the lodge space there is opportunity in the four and five-star range.

Q: What is in the aha pipeline?

A: We are currently looking at several highly popular hotels on a management contract to be signed during the next few months as well as being involved in several ‘greenfield’ developments in the major centres in South Africa. We are targeting the centres where aha doesn’t have sufficient room inventory like Cape Town, Sandton, Rosebank, Umhlanga and Pretoria for new hotel opportunities. We are also looking to sign a few exciting contracts in Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia and Zambia.

Q: What do you make of the recent Marriott acquisition of Starwood?

A: I think it is a positive move for the industry at large and guests because there is currently a period of consolidation taking place for hotel companies globally –  look at the recent Hilton and Radisson deals with Chinese investors being announced – so this was just the forerunner for this process. The removal of Starwood as operator from the local market will hopefully open certain opportunities for smaller companies like aha to be considered for management opportunities by owners.

Q: Since taking over Three Cities in 2014, has aha made any changes to the properties previously under the Three Cities banner?

A: All of the ‘old’ Three Cities properties were integrated into the aha brand. All properties were rebranded and aha brand standards were introduced.

Q: Which other properties have been given a refurb in the past two years?

A: Properties that have undergone or are in the process of being refurbished are;aha The Waterfall Hotel & Spa, aha Shakaland, aha Harbour Bridge Hotel & Suites, aha Lesedi, aha Casa do Sol Hotel & Resort, aha Alpine Heath Resort, aha Makalali Private Game Lodge and aha Royal Palm Hotels.

Q: How does aha ensure that its properties remain attractive and appealing to modern day business travellers and MICE delegates?

A: aha prides itself in having good-quality, well-presented hotels.