Pushing the boundaries of African hospitality

According to the annual African Hotel Chain Development Pipeline Survey from W Hospitality Group, there are 75,000 branded rooms in 401 hotels in the pipeline across Africa

On the occasion of the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) (https://www.AHIF.com) this week, Filippo Sona, Managing Director, Global Hospitality Drees & Sommer (https://www.DreSo.com/), asks whether Sub-Saharan Africa is ready for an iconic hotel asset that will shape the image of African tourism.

According to the annual African Hotel Chain Development Pipeline Survey from W Hospitality Group, there are 75,000 branded rooms in 401 hotels in the pipeline across Africa – a growth of 51% in total pipeline rooms since 2015. The big global chains dominate, with Marriott International representing 81 hotels; Accor 57; Hilton 55; and Radisson Hotel Group 47 hotels. The countries with the largest pipelines are Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Ethiopia.

The pipeline is healthy, brand penetration is strong and Africa is without doubt a market on the hospitality industry’s agenda. However, when it comes to hotel development in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are still a number of issues to overcome to bring this pipeline to fruition.

Investors are well versed in feasibility, which is a banking requirement, and they are savvy when it comes to architecture, but there can be major gaps in their understanding of the full process involved in bringing a hotel to life. There’s a significant need to develop expertise around project management, design, compliance, fire and life safety systems, and MEP, or for developers to partner with those that do have this knowledge.

For example, we’ve seen developers begin construction without a project manager or interior designer on board, meaning hotels go up through shell and core, and simply stop. In these cases, owners often attempt to furnish their hotels with below-par design and products, far removed from the brand standards of their partners.

The international brands know the market and what’s required, but too often, they provide technical services remotely, and without the detailed guidance this market requires, leading to a – potentially very costly – disconnect.

Owners need more support at every stage of the journey to realise this exciting pipeline, whether that be through a brand resource on the ground or through partnering with independent consultancies with local expertise, track records and in-depth industry knowledge.

At Drees & Sommer, we believe a more sophisticated way of approaching development could also bring investors a huge opportunity to step up the game and develop bold new hotels that can compete globally – and possibly even change the tourism landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa.

From midmarket to luxury

Much of the current pipeline is focused on the midmarket; hotels with typically 120-140 keys aimed at the business traveller or domestic tourist. Luxury hotels exist in some markets, such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in the North, as well as Nigeria, Tanzania and of course, South Africa, but when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, this segment is largely untapped.

There are reasons for this; funding requires significant equity and interest rates are high, but beyond that, there’s arguably a lack of vision. Hotels are being developed to meet a need now, but in such a rapidly developing marketplace, will this type of properties still be relevant in 10 years’ time? Could it also be time to embrace the luxury segment and build an iconic asset? Is sub-Saharan Africa in need of its own wow or iconic effect, as witnessed in Dubai?

This was one of the questions I put forward to a panel of brand leaders at the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) today, as we debated the criteria for assessing new projects on the continent, the potential business models, and the most sought-after profile of local partners.

There’s already one incredibly exciting project underway, extensively covered in local media, that will bring Kenya its tallest building, with an international brand yet to be disclosed. Located on the beach in Watamu near Malindi, Palm Exotica is a 61-floor luxury mixed-use building set to comprise a 270-room five-star hotel, a high-end shopping mall, executive offices and apartments, a casino and restaurants. Designed by Italian architect Lorenzo Pagnini and funded by a group of foreign investors, the project is still in the planning phase but looks set to transform Watamu into a 21st century tourism destination in Kenya.

With projects like Palm Exotica now on the horizon, sub-Saharan Africa is likely to gain more attention from investors that have previously perceived Africa as offering either wildlife lodges, or mid-market business hotels. Watamu isn’t on the tourism map currently; if all goes ahead, it will be. Where else do opportunities like this lie?

There will be challenges of course; connectivity being the obvious one, as is the need to develop sustainably, enhancing rather than impacting natural assets. But, in such a competitive continent, fuelled by rapid developments in technology and a growing middle class, surely it’s time to push the boundaries of Sub-Saharan Africa’s hotel landscape. The question is; who will be bold enough to do so?

Drees & Sommer.