With many years of experience in Africa, Trevor Ward, Managing Director of W-Hospitality, a top Africa consultancy service company based in Lagos, Nigeria with office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In this interview with LUCKY ONORIODE GEORGE, Publisher/Editor, African Travel Times magazine, he bares his mind on the state of the hospitality industry.
The Hospitality industry in Africa has grown in the last decades based on several reports by your organisation and others, how much really is this growth?
We show considerable growth in the chains’ pipelines, as in the attached report, a pipeline 30 per cent up on last year. But there is also real growth, not just paper deals – slides 3 and 4 of the attached power point file show the brands’ openings since 2010. And in Lagos, the number of rooms in branded and quality unbranded hotels has increased from 1,073 in 2003 to 4,400 today.
In most cases, your reports dwell on international brands or chains alone to measure the growth of the sector, why so?
Very difficult to track unbranded/independent hotel development, the information we publish is sourced directly from the chains, and is complete – we could never claim to have all the independent hotels in our survey.
How many international brands or chains are operating in Africa?
We analysed this in 2014 and came up with 74 chains with 136 brands – there are likely to be more domestic or purely regional chains. Groups with hotels outside of Africa as well as on the continent (i.e. truly international) number around 40.
Can you also place a figure on the numbers of continental brands or chains?
Around 35 that we have identified, but there are bound to be some purely domestic chains (defined as more than one hotel) that we haven’t identified.
Which region of the continent is most attractive to the international players?
See the pipeline survey – Nigeria is far the largest country, and West Africa the largest region.
How many bed rooms available in Africa?
Not a clue!
I know here in Nigeria that there is no hotel that is owned by any of the international brands or chains; can you give reasons why the likes of Hilton and others only do management business here?
Not true, the Southern Sun is owned by Tsogo Sun, and Sun International has a c45 per cent share in the federal palace. As a rule, the international chains do not own hotels anymore, they are “asset-light”, and this is the case globally. They can expand quicker through signing management agreements and franchises than buying or developing their own hotels. An exception is Accor, which has reversed its previous asset-light strategy, and has been acquiring hotels and groups of hotels.
Is there a country in Africa where the chains or brands build their own hotels?
Yes, City Lodge has built in Botswana, and is building in Tanzania, like Tsogo Sun they are owner operators. The majority of their activity has been in east and southern Africa.
Franchising is now an alternative to full management deals, why is this trend or system growing?
The international chains are still reluctant to franchise, because of the difficulties in maintaining brand standards when they are not in management control. See the pipeline study to see a breakdown of the deals between management agreement, franchise and other [the latter typically owner-operated]. Chains such as Hilton, Starwood, Wyndham will franchise, but selectively, as they have to be confident that the management will deliver.
Can you explain or give some reasons for the likes of Best Western and Swiss International Hotels and Resorts?
Best Western is a solution for [the many] owners who do not want to give up day to day control of the hotel to a management company.
What are the challenges of franchising in the hospitality sector?
Brand standards – Best Western has had many problems with owners who are incapable of achieving and maintaining brand standards. This is a global problem, but Nigerian hotel owners are quite bad at it.
How can we ensure that standard and quality are guaranteed?
The brand owners can only guarantee standards if they are in control of the management, and the funds are available from the owner to renew/renovate and as when required. The two Sheraton hotels in Nigeria are classic examples of where the owner has not provided funds.
Africa Hotel Investment Forum [AHIF] is holding in Lome, Togo later in the month, what do you think should the focus of such gathering be?
The aim is to bring together investors and other parties in the industry, to provide a forum for exchanging information and ideas, and initiating deals, in West Africa. Previous AHIF events have been held in Anglophone countries, with little participation from the West African Francophone and Lusophone countries. AHIF Lome is an initiative to correct this.
That said, what is the quality of the industry generally in Africa?
Vastly improved on what it were 10 or 20 years ago! Whilst the chains can take a lot of credit for that, there are also many examples of high quality independent hotels, such as Sankara and tribe in Nairobi, the George in Lagos.
Manpower is an issue especially here in Nigeria, has the situation improved, if not, what should be done?
There will always be a need for more resources put into manpower development, training at all levels, but with very few exceptions, government has not done what it should do in this regard. The chains have to some extent filled the gap, by training staff, who then move on to other hotels, spreading the word. In Nigeria, there is a growing cadre of trained personnel, coming out of the chains, however training is an ongoing activity, and they then tend to lack any further learning or progression.
Which region of the continental is most advanced in the sector?
In general terms, North, East and South Africa [the country], and far more advanced in terms of development.
Nigeria and West Africa remain mainly business destination, what do you think should be done to attract leisure travellers to this region?
Everything needs to be done! Nigeria has to address many serious challenges if it is to be seen as an international leisure destination – image, visas, the airports, the transport etc. There is far more potential in the domestic market.
What is the state of the hospitality industry now in Nigeria?
Currently, the demand levels are down considerably from 5 years ago, because of all the negative external impacts – Ebola, security, election uncertainty, the delay in appointing the cabinet, oil price reduction, uncertainty about the exchange rate, lack of confidence generally. The supply side however, is considerably better than it was 10 or so years ago, and project promoters are still looking [mainly] at Lagos and Abuja, with many signed deals.
What do we expect from Lomé Conference?
Great programme, good exchange of ideas, great networking, and hopefully some deals initiated, if not signed!