Regional focus $67.10

RevPAR across Africa in the fi rst eight months of 2019.


Or they were. The pandemic has brought huge problems for hoteliers the world over, of course, but Africa has arguably suffered more than most. Hamstrung by poor infrastructure, occupancy numbers have spiralled even faster than in more prosperous regions. Yet the future of the continent’s hospitality sector still looks positive. Starting from a lower rate of demand has its advantages, especially when confidence from investors is already improving. Even so, with bureaucracy still rampant and coronavirus vaccines for most a distant fantasy, there’s plenty of work to be done – for government officials and hotel developers alike.

A complex continent As we begin our conversation, Trevor Ward gives me a verbal slap on the wrist. “I’m going to tell you off,” he complains of my introductory question, wondering about the development of hospitality in ‘sub-Saharan’ Africa. “You just can’t generalise about what’s going on,” explains Ward, owner of W Hospitality Group, a Lagos-based consultancy. A fair point, even if you just glance at a map. Between rainforests in the middle of the continent, snowy highlands in the east and the Namibian desert – where temperatures can reach 45°C in summer – the lands south of the Sahel represent a kind of climatic anarchy. The same is true, of course, for culture. Dozens of religions jostle for space in thousands of languages. Politics spans the gamut from despotism (Equatorial Guinea) through dictatorship (Rwanda) to democracy (Mauritius). Yet if the African continent is a place of bounding diversity, it would also be fair to say that, until recently anyway, it was becoming a target for significant investment. In 2019, the 46 countries south of the Sahara saw their collective economies expand by 3.6%, with some doing far better. Governance has been improving, too. According to work by Freedom House, 61% of sub-Saharan Africans lived in countries that were either partly or totally free in 2016. Four years on, that figure had risen to 63%. Taken as a whole, these factors probably help explain the impressive rise of African hospitality. At the end of 2018 Jumia Travel placed Africa as the second-fastest expanding tourism region in the world after Asia- Pacific, with a growth rate of 5.6% that year. Beyond basic socio-economic improvements, this


Growth of Africa’s tourism industry in 2018.

Jumia Travel 16

enthusiasm can be understood in several ways. The first, says Ramsay Rankoussi, is down to business. “A lot of business activities are being created, which by consequence translate to business demand for travel,” explains Rankoussi, head of development for Africa at Radisson. Wayne Troughton, CEO at HTI Consulting in Cape Town makes a similar point. With GDP in several sub-

Saharan countries exploding, investors and entrepreneurs from both inside and outside the continent urgently need safe and comfortable places to sleep. It helps, Troughton continues, that many cities are starting from a low base. Despite having the same population as Zagreb or Denver, the Gabonese capital of Libreville still only has a few internationally branded hotels. The rise in business demand has spurred the

development of new tourism hotels. As wages rise and the middle class expands, people are looking for hotels to relax. A good example is Lagos, where government subsidies and an influx of weekend tourists from the countryside have led to the development of over a dozen new tourist hotels. Obviously, all this activity would be impossible without decent infrastructure. But here, too, Africa has been making progress. Ward rattles off a list of airlines, including RwandAir and Ethiopian Airlines, that are “increasing their range” in the continent, bolstered by better airports. After visiting a new terminal in Ghana, Ward was left “open-mouthed” by what he saw. Between the tight organisation and the jazz band playing in the lobby, he says he “couldn’t believe” he was in Africa at all.

Staying on track Over the past year, stories of hospitality’s struggles in the age of pandemic and lockdown have become cliché – even trite. Yet if Africa’s relative lack of development means there’s colossal space for new projects, disruption can also cause problems. Just look at the figures: by May 2020, around 20% of hotels in North America had locked their doors. Across Africa, that had risen to 80%. Meanwhile, RevPAR across the continent was just $34.28 in the first eight months of 2020, compared with $67.10 over the same period in 2019. One reason for this, implies Ward, is the continent’s reliance on air travel. Ghana’s new terminals might glisten, but if border closures stop anyone from actually flying there, you’re in trouble considering overland roads are often so poor. Ward, for his part, warns about the healthcare

muddles the continent faces. Though Western countries hope to immunise most citizens by the summer, welcoming them back to hotels shortly thereafter, that seems like a vain hope even in fairly wealthy African nations. If South Africa still can’t secure a reliable supply of jabs for its 60 million inhabitants, after all, what hope is there for Malawi or Madagascar? All this, says Ward, may dampen enthusiasm among visitors. Combined with sclerotic bureaucracy and onerous customs regimes, African hoteliers are obviously in for a rocky trail. Still, it’d be wrong to imply that sub-Saharan Africa has collapsed in the wake of coronavirus. At Radisson,

Hotel Management International /

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