State of African Market

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Paddy Brearley is an absolute ringer for the late British celebrity chef Keith Floyd, and at times I had to remind myself that it wasn’t cooking tips I was after, but rather a take on the African hotel and business travel industry, as publisher Richard Lendrum and myself met him for a late morning snack and cup of tea in Johannesburg.

Brearley is a straight talker, and very soon we’re onto the state of his industry.

“The whole world is in transition and if you look at what’s happened in our market, in the luxury, upper-end market in South Africa, the tourists aren’t coming, Europe is in trouble, there’s the possible double-dip recession, tornadoes and hurricanes in America etc. So, where do you look? Some people are saying, ‘go domestic’. But, the domestic market is also struggling with cash or disposable income”, he says.

But, don’t write him off as a complete pessimist. It’s not all ‘doom and gloom’, says Brearley.

“It’s cyclical. In two years time we’ll all say, ‘wow, we went through that and got through it’. But, it is tough at the moment and it impacts everywhere. Job creation, for example, is also very difficult at present. If you’ve got occupancies 50% less than last year, then to create jobs and even preserve jobs, is very hard”, he says.

“Maybe the PR of the 2010 World Cup will come through and then next year and the year after that will be great”.

Brearley, though, has some sobering thoughts for SA Tourism.

“If you’re an overseas tourist, what’s going to make you come here? Is it price, is it Big Five, is it the scenery? This country has everything to offer, but it also has a few negatives – for example, cost of air travel and the price of our hotels. But, you’ve got to market the positives”.

Legacy Hotels & Resorts, though, are not placing all their eggs in the South African basket. They already have a presence in Ghana and are looking forward to the impact of their new property in Nigeria (it was due to open in early October).

“It’s a sexy little hotel. It’s small, but it will be the top boutique hotel in Lagos”, says a confident Brearley.

“Our focus has to be corporate in Africa. That’s where the market is. We probably have to increase our resources – more sales people – because it’s a big continent and it’s not an easy continent to service”.

“We’re not in East Africa, but we’d love to be. We just have to find the right product, with the right people. But, we’re probably looking more at West Africa at the moment, because that’s where the oil is”.