Q&A: Testing the African waters

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Traditionally, Marriott has not had a strong presence in Africa. Why is that?  

Having a presence in Africa has always been on our agenda and until recently, we were unsuccessful in finding the right opportunities and partners. We’re happy to report, however, that we have two Marriott-branded hotels opening in the next year. They will open in Kigali, Rwanda and Accra, Ghana. Our Renaissance brand will open a property in Tlemcen, Algeria later this year. Also in Algeria, we have four other hotels under development or construction representing our Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments and Residence Inn by Marriott brands, which are all expected to open in 2014.

Are there other countries on the radar for Marriott?

Yes, we are looking at many markets including Tanzania, Morocco, Angola, Nigeria, South Africa and Benin. We are assessing conditions and working with partners to determine which of our brands are best suited for the opportunity.

With Marriott’s strong portfolio of brands from the upmarket JW Marriott to the value-oriented brands like Fairfield Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, which brand do you foresee having the strongest potential for growth in Africa? 

We don’t look at the African continent as a monolith. As is the case everywhere, each country has its own economic development strategy. In Algeria, for example, we’re entering the country with a portfolio representing five of our brands ranging from our upscale, de luxe Marriott and Renaissance brands, to our more moderately priced Courtyard brand, to our Marriott Executive Apartments and Residence Inn property, for the extended-stay travel segment. Different regions can support a mix of brands based on the hotel products currently in the market and the potential for growth there.

Marriott has launched Marriott Executive Apartments (MEA), a full-service, extended living concept that offers residential living with hotel amenities designed for expatriates or long-term guests. You have had tremendous success in Asia with four properties in Bangkok and two in Beijing among others. Will this be coming to Africa?

MEA is coming to Africa in 2014. We will open in Algeria and we hope to introduce the brand in other African countries in the future. Since the market is so specific, it can change more quickly than our other brands.

With the political disruption across North Africa, how will this affect the pending opening of the MEA in Algiers? What about the operation of new and existing hotels in the region?

We take the long view. The political unrest won’t last forever and tourism, especially for business purposes, will return and thrive. Take Bangkok as an example. You mentioned the success enjoyed by our four Marriott Executive Apartments properties in Bangkok. Yet, as you recall, Bangkok was rocked by political unrest for a number of weeks. Today the situation is back to normal and all four Marriott Executive Apartment hotels in Bangkok are doing very well.

Many of your MEA hotels are opening in markets with few other major brands, such as Kazakhstan and Algeria. Does the MEA concept help to further develop business or tourism within a region?

As you know, our Marriott Executive Apartments primarily serve an international ex-pat visitor and, sometimes, their family who normally spend a significantly long period of time at the destination. This brand works hard to make its guests aware of the cultural and tourism attributes of the city and its vicinity, thereby helping to encourage them to venture beyond their normal day-to-day activity. So, in that respect, yes, the brand does help to further development business within the region.

Marriott is making the investment to become one of the first global brands to enter several African markets like Accra, Ghana (where only a few other major brands operate at the moment) and Kigali, Rwanda (where there is no other international brand). What factors do you look for when entering a new market? 

Many factors influence whether a destination/market is truly a premier opportunity. These include a strong in-bound transportation infrastructure, an available and hospitality-oriented work force, a clear commitment and plan on the part of the local business community to grow its economy and develop tourism resources, so that others want to visit for business or cultural purposes. 

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