Mar­riott’s smart and bold African moves

Group bought Protea Ho­tels in 2014 which opened the doors for ex­pan­sion into con­ti­nent and the Mid­dle East

African Independent - - BUSINESS - ADRIAN EPHRAIM

THE BUR­GEON­ING ho­tel in­dus­try in Africa is not news. The con­ti­nent’s pos­i­tive growth over the past five years has been well doc­u­mented, and so too have the for­tunes of sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa’s ma­jor ho­tel mar­kets South Africa, Mau­ri­tius, Tan­za­nia, Nige­ria and Kenya.

But it is worth re­peat­ing, for em­pha­sis and ap­pre­ci­a­tion, that last year 365 ho­tel chain de­vel­op­ments were re­ported with more than 64 000 ho­tel rooms added, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the W-Hos­pi­tal­ity Group.

That’s an in­crease of more than 29.3% on the growth shown in 2015. The in­vest­ment pre­dic­tions for this year are over $1 bil­lion and nearly $1.8bn more for next year. The num­bers are mind-bog­gling in such de­pressed economies as can be found in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

It’s clear that the ho­tel in­dus­try may be ap­ply­ing a bit of fore­sight when it comes to Africa’s op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ac­cord­ing to PwC’s 7th edi­tion of the Ho­tels Out­look: 2017-2021 the rev­enue for the South Africa, Mau­ri­tius, Tan­za­nia, Nige­ria and Kenya mar­kets as a group is fore­cast to rise to R59.2bn in 2021 from R3bn in 2016.

De­scribed as “the con­ti­nent of op­por­tu­nity for the 21st cen­tury”, Africa con­tin­ues to be an at­trac­tive in­vest­ment propo­si­tion for many global cor­po­rates in­clud­ing the ho­tel in­dus­try.

It is es­ti­mated that by 2030, Africa’s top 18 ci­ties are likely to have a com­bined spend­ing power of $1.3 tril­lion.

Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, a lead­ing ho­tel op­er­a­tor on the con­ti­nent, op­er­ates more than 140 ho­tels with close to 24 000 rooms across 12 life­style brands in 20 coun­tries in Africa. With over 50 ho­tels cur­rently un­der de­vel­op­ment, Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional is set to add more than 11 000 rooms with a pro­jected target of over 200 ho­tels with more than 35 000 rooms across op­er­at­ing and pipe­line ho­tels by 2022

But be­yond the num­bers there are ma­jor play­ers, and be­hind those ma­jor play­ers is a pas­sion for hos­pi­tal­ity. The Cape Town Mar­riott Ho­tel Crys­tal Tow­ers is one of the group’s shin­ing stars.

Con­ve­niently lo­cated in­side Cen­tury City, it re­cently un­der­went a re­brand­ing and re­fur­bish­ment, and stands out as an ex­am­ple of what the re­nais­sance in African hos­pi­tal­ity looks like.

“Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional ac­quired Protea Ho­tels in 2014. This was a mile­stone in the his­tory of Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional in the Mid­dle East and Africa.

“The ac­qui­si­tion turbo-charged Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional’s pres­ence on the con­ti­nent and bol­stered the com­pany into emerg­ing as the largest in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tor in Africa,” says Alex Kyr­i­akidis, pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mid­dle East and Africa, Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional.

The ho­tel’s re­birth is not co­in­ci­den­tal, but it’s per­fectly timed to take ad­van­tage of the con­ti­nent’s growth. Over the past decade, Africa’s GDP has more than tripled. Africa re­ceived 58 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals last year, with the num­ber ex­pected to grow fur­ther in com­ing years. The con­ti­nent’s grow­ing mid­dle class is said to be as many as 300 mil­lion peo­ple.

“While some of Africa’s largest economies have seen a slow­down in re­cent times, we have re­mained cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that this will sta­bilise. The eco­nomic pres­sure leads to own­ers of un­branded ho­tels and un­branded high end residential seek a ‘flight to safety’ and this has led to a surge in con­ver­sions to in­ter­na­tion­ally well­known brands,” says Kyr­i­akidis.

With eco­nomic growth comes op­por­tu­ni­ties for travel, whether for busi­ness or plea­sure.

In response, Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional is ex­pect­ing to add 30 000 rooms in Nige­ria, South Africa and Egypt.

Mar­riott has been a pi­o­neer­ing force in the in­dus­try and the con­ti­nent, and its his­tory in Africa can be traced back to the Sher­a­ton Cairo in 1971 and Cairo Mar­riott in 1985.

The com­pany to­day has a strong pres­ence in Al­ge­ria, Dji­bouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mau­ri­tius, Morocco, Namibia, Nige­ria, Rwanda, Sey­chelles, South Africa, Tan­za­nia, Tu­nisia, Uganda and Zam­bia.

Not con­tent or idle, Mar­riott is now eye­ing mar­kets like Benin, Mada­gas­car, Mali, and Sene­gal – a move that puts them among the Afro-op­ti­mists on the con­ti­nent.

“To­day we live in a very highly volatile po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment where in­sta­bil­ity seems to be the new nor­mal. I have of­ten re­ferred to this as ‘The Per­fect Storm’. The re­al­ity of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor is that de­mand fluc­tu­ates with busi­ness ac­tiv­ity and consumer con­fi­dence.

“My an­swer to this is, in short: make your­self more com­pet­i­tive, build on op­er­a­tional syn­er­gies that lower your costs and yes size does mat­ter,” Kyr­i­akidis says.

“In a world of mas­sive uncer­tainty and im­mense op­por­tu­nity, our ap­proach is to be both smart and bold.”

Smart and bold are themes that spring to mind when vis­it­ing a Mar­riott prop­erty, from the dé­cor to the fa­cil­i­ties. The Cape Town Mar­riott Ho­tel Crys­tal Tow­ers is mod­ern and trendy, and ideal for the trav­eller who ap­pre­ci­ates qual­ity ameni­ties, cylin­dri­cal show­ers and warm, pink light­ing un­der the bed.

Mar­riott ap­peals to the in­ter­na­tional trav­eller and re­cently an­nounced a joint ven­ture with the Alibaba Group, de­signed to el­e­vate the travel ex­pe­ri­ence for Chi­nese con­sumers.

“This joint ven­ture com­bines the power of Mar­riott’s global port­fo­lio of brands and hos­pi­tal­ity ex­per­tise with Alibaba’s dig­i­tal re­tail lead­er­ship, pro­vid­ing a gate­way to reach Alibaba’s over 500 mil­lion mo­bile monthly ac­tive users,” says Kyr­i­akidis

Of its fu­ture, Kyr­i­akidis is op­ti­mistic about brand Mar­riott, and a ma­jor part of that fu­ture in­volves dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy.

“Tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing the way peo­ple re­late to brands. Ho­tel groups have no choice but to in­no­vate. To­day, mo­bile apps are be­ing used as ev­ery­thing from a dig­i­tal concierge to ac­cess­ing big data. Geo-lo­ca­tion can make it easy to sell guests some­thing that is lit­er­ally right in front of them.

“Tech­nol­ogy also al­lows us to per­son­alise a guest ex­pe­ri­ence based on the data we col­lect from the way a guest in­ter­acts with tech­nol­ogy and uses it,” he says.

“Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional has been at the fore­front of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion to trans­form the guest ex­pe­ri­ence.”

JEWEL IN CROWN: The Cape Town Mar­riott Ho­tel Crys­tal Tow­ers.

Crys­tal Tow­ers is mod­ern and stylish.

Alex Kyr­i­akidis, pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mid­dle East and Africa.

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