African Sun is a Zimbabwean hospitality management company that manages hotels and resorts in Zimbabwe and has a growing portfolio of hotels in Nigeria and Ghana. The Zimbabwe operations portfolio currently forms the largest business under African Sun, comprising twelve hotels and resorts across the nation. Outside Zimbabwe, the group has presence in Nigeria where it operates hotels under management contracts, as well as the Amber Hotel Accra Airport in Ghana. CEO Dr Shingi Munyeza took some time to answer a few questions for Business Traveller Africa.
Q: How would you describe your current offering?
A: African Sun has a mix of city hotels that appeal to business travellers and conferencing guests, and resorts appealing to leisure as well as conferencing business.
Q: Your roots are in Zimbabwe, yet you’ve also branched out into Nigeria and Ghana. Why these two countries?
A: Our growth strategy targets growth and mineral-rich cities where travel is the mainstay, ensuring a good return on investment. Nigeria and Ghana fit perfectly into this category.
Q: How much of an effect has the Ebola outbreak had on travel to these countries and your properties there?
A: As a group, we have experienced cancellations and postponements of bookings into our hotels as a result of the Ebola outbreak. This has affected our business operations in Nigeria, Ghana as well as Zimbabwe as some of our tourist markets are very sensitive.
Q: Your Accra property is African Sun-branded, yet you also work with big brands such as Best Western, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. Please explain that.
A: We use the internationally tried and tested brands such as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza in chosen markets. However, the African Sun brand has gained acceptance in West Africa and our DNA is taking a foothold in this market, thus we have successfully launched our home-grown brand – Amber, a 3-star city hotel brand in Nigeria and Ghana.
Q: Are you seeing business travel return to Zimbabwe, or does it still have some way to go?
A: Business travel is what currently sustains the tourism industry especially the domestic market, which is hugely driven by conferences. We have also seen a growing trend of international and regional conferences for resorts such as Victoria Falls.
Q: What about Victoria Falls and its role as one of Zimbabwe’s premier leisure tourism destinations?
A: Victoria Falls traditionally appeals to leisure travellers because of its leisure facilities and activities. However, it is also fast becoming a destination of choice for business travellers as the trend for international, regional and local conferences is growing.
Q: Is Vic Falls being promoted as a viable MICE destination?
A: The successful hosting of the 20th Session of the UNWTO in 2013 set up Victoria Falls as a MICE destination. Since then, we have seen growth in international and regional conferences coming into Victoria Falls. The Victoria Falls area has the requisite facilities for MICE business. With the expansion of the Victoria Falls airport, there is greater potential for MICE business and more can be done.
Q: What difference will the new Vic Falls airport make?
A: We expect the new airport to enhance the town’s accessibility especially directly from tourist source markets. We foresee the return of more airlines into the destination.
Q: What are your general thoughts on the current state of the African hotel industry?
A: The industry has a lot of potential because the continent is endowed with natural resources and tourist attractions which naturally stimulate travel into the continent. We have also seen a lot of development in hotel infrastructure that is in line with global trends.
Q: Are you concerned by the continuous influx of international hotel brands all looking for an African presence?
A: An increase in international hotel brands is a clear sign that there is a lot of potential that investors are after in Africa. This should be viewed as more investment coming into the region. We have also witnessed growth in African home-grown hotel brands expanding in the region, showing the capacity of Africa to compete with these international brands.
Q: What African countries should we keep our eye on, in terms of business travel growth?
A: Growth in international tourist arrivals has been recorded in sub-Saharan Africa despite the Ebola outbreak, which has somehow suppressed growth in business travel. With more awareness of the geography of African countries we should expect a rebound of business travel into the region. North Africa continues to show signs of recovery and this trend is expected to sustain.
Q: Are there any current global hotel trends worth noting?
A: The hospitality industry is at the core of the globalisation of international business. Hotels globally are becoming innovative and techno-savvy to ensure relevance and presence on the competitive marketplace.
Q: Are there any plans to expand African Sun into other African countries in the next five years?
A: African Sun will seize opportunities for growth as they arise in specific markets with high returns.