W Hos­pi­tal­ity Col­umn

Business Traveller (Africa) - - CONTENTS - Trevor Ward MD: W Hos­pi­tal­ity Group www.w-hos­pi­tal­i­ty­group.com

Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Trevor Ward gives us his take on the West African ho­tel in­dus­try

Awhile back I wrote in this col­umn about ho­tel brand­ing, and how the big in­ter­na­tional brands don't, as a gen­eral rule, own any of the ho­tels that they put their name on (with one or two ex­cep­tions).

Mostly, in Africa, ho­tel groups man­age the prop­er­ties that they brand, so that they can di­rectly con­trol the qual­ity of the prod­uct and the ser­vice, and de­liver on the brand prom­ise. In the US, that's not so much the case, and the brands man­age very few of their ho­tels, re­ly­ing on the owner to man­age the ho­tel, or on the owner ap­point­ing a ‘white-la­bel” (i.e. un­branded) op­er­a­tor to man­age the prop­erty.

Here in Nige­ria we have some ho­tels that have been work­ing un­der the same brand for many, many years. There's the Sher­a­ton in La­gos, which opened more than 30 years ago – the Sher­a­ton brand has changed hands a few times, but the name on the ho­tel has re­mained the same. And then there's the Sher­a­ton and Hil­ton ho­tels in Abuja, which date back to the early 1990s. The Golden Tulip in Ac­cra dates back to 1990, and there are oth­ers which just go on and on – pre­sum­ably to the sat­is­fac­tion of all in­volved.

But at the same time, there has re­cently been a dizzy­ing turn and turn­about of brands where some ho­tels are con­cerned. Some of those changes are ev­i­dent to the trav­eller, oth­ers not so, but which nev­er­the­less af­fect you.

One of the first ho­tels in West Africa to de-brand was the Eko Ho­tel in La­gos. Did you know that, back in the 1970s, this ho­tel opened as a Hol­i­day Inn? Then it be­came a Meri­dien, was for a short time man­aged by Ac­cor, then a Meri­dien again, and in 2004 the own­ers de­cided to ‘go it alone', run­ning it them­selves with­out any sup­port from an in­ter­na­tional brand or man­age­ment com­pany. Funny though, many peo­ple in La­gos still re­fer to it as the Eko Meri­dien, al­most 15 years later.

An­other ho­tel that de-branded a cou­ple of years ago is the Ac­cra City Cen­tre Ho­tel. It was a Novotel­branded and man­aged ho­tel for many years, and in fact Ac­cor, the owner of the Novo­tel brand, still has a share of the own­ing com­pany. But, like the own­ers of the Eko, the own­ers in Ac­cra de­cided not to con­tinue with Ac­cor/Novo­tel, and the ho­tel is now un­branded.

Talk­ing of Meri­dien, it seems to have ex­pe­ri­enced more ‘brand trans­fer' than oth­ers – in Nige­ria it also ex­ited what is now the NICON Lux­ury Ho­tel in Abuja, the Ibom Golf Re­sort in Akwa Ibom State, as well as its ho­tels in N'Dja­mena and Douala.

Then there are the ho­tels that switch brands. Apart from the Eko Ho­tel, the most fa­mous in­stance of this is the re­brand­ing ear­lier this year of the Re­nais­sance Ho­tel in Ikeja, La­gos to Radis­son Blu. The own­ers of that ho­tel de­cided that they would be bet­ter off with Radis­son than Mar­riott (own­ers of the Re­nais­sance brand), and achieved a very smooth tran­si­tion back in Jan­uary.

Other ho­tels that have changed their brands are two of the Protea ho­tels in Abuja, as well as the one in Warri (an oil city in Nige­ria), to the BON brand, and a Protea ho­tel in Ikeja to man­age­ment by Man­tis, un­der the name L'Eola.

What's been go­ing on at a macro-level is that the ho­tel chains are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing brand own­ers, and thus ‘own­ers' of their cus­tomers – that's you and me. One of the rea­sons that Mar­riott ac­quired Star­wood in 2016 was to buy all those Star­wood SPG card hold­ers – the com­bined to­tal of Mar­riott Re­wards and SPG is now a stun­ning 100 mil­lion peo­ple, with whom Mar­riott can, and does, com­mu­ni­cate on a reg­u­lar, one-on-one ba­sis, pulling us to­wards the Mar­riott prod­uct, en­tic­ing us to book di­rect (and please, oh please, they say, not through an On­line Travel Agent). The more brands that Mar­riott, and Ac­cor, and Hil­ton et al have, the greater their abil­ity to en­tice us to be loyal to them.

There's still room for the smaller play­ers. In con­ver­sa­tions with some se­nior Hy­att ex­ec­u­tives last month, I got the very clear im­pres­sion that they don't want to be big, and dominating – but they would say that, wouldn't they! South­ern Sun, part of Tsogo Sun, is an­other small player, at least by global stan­dards, that has a long-stand­ing and strong pres­ence in sev­eral markets out­side of South Africa – and that's a chain that ditched their fran­chise re­la­tion­ship with Hol­i­day Inn many years ago, to develop their own brand.

On the mi­cro-level, re-brand­ing is of­ten a case of eco­nom­ics. The man­age­ment com­pany is there to earn fees from op­er­at­ing a ho­tel, and the owner is there to en­hance prof­its by en­gag­ing a com­pany ex­pert in man­ag­ing and brand­ing ho­tels. Where there's a mis­match, the deal tends to stum­ble and fall. The owner doesn't be­lieve the ho­tel chain is act­ing in their best in­ter­est – and the chains aren't go­ing to con­tinue op­er­at­ing a ho­tel when it is un­eco­nom­i­cal for them and, in many in­stances of de­brand­ing, they're not get­ting paid.

In the US, re-brand­ing is very com­mon; you go to sleep in a Sher­a­ton and wake up in a Hil­ton! That's not hap­pened that of­ten here yet – but as the branded sup­ply in­creases, ex­pect more ac­tiv­ity on the round­about of ho­tel brand­ing. ■

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