Leading hospitality advisory and brokerage consultancy, HTI Consulting recently hosted its second Pan-African ‘Virtual Hotel Club,’ a digital forum that saw the operations directors from major brands active in the African hotel space share their unique insights around hotel re-opening strategies and ‘lessons learnt’ during the current global pandemic.
An introductory session saw key data delivered by CEO of HTI Consulting, Wayne Troughton, followed by a panel discussion involving the representatives from major hotel brands including: Accor, Hilton, Radisson Hotel Group, Cresta Hotels, Onomo and Valor Hospitality Partners.
Tourism’s fight for recovery
“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the African tourism Industry has been both overwhelming and immediate,” stated Troughton. “When comparing figures to last year, Q1 2020 saw a total of 67 million fewer tourist arrivals to African countries, coupled with a loss of $80 billion in export revenue and 100% of destinations imposing travel restrictions of some kind,” he said.
“Data provided by STR Global reveals that hotel occupancy rates (Jan – Jul 2020) fell a staggering 79.2% to 16.9% across Africa, ADR (Average Daily Rates) dropped 9.8% to US$ 93.98, whilst RevPar (Revenue Per Available Room) fell 75.8% to US$15.91,” he continued. “The obvious impacts of lockdowns and the closing of international borders are clearly illustrated in these numbers,” he said. “But, in the past few
weeks we’ve finally begun to see reassuring signs as restrictions are lifted, international borders reopen and many hotels come back online,” he said.
“From an international travel perspective, its encouraging to see airlines such as Emirates, Qatar and Kenyan Airways resuming several flights to African destinations, and Ethiopian Airlines already operating at 40% of pre-Covid capacity. Hopefully these resumptions signal the start of an upward trend, although airlines such as KLM, AirFrance and Lufthansa are still blacklisted in some Africa countries due to EU
Covid legislation,” he stated.
Still more encouraging, Troughton acknowledged, was that STR Data (Jan – Jul 2020) revealed that most branded hotels across East, West and Southern Africa have reopened doors. Occupancy rates in West Africa in July showed Nigeria (22.1%) as more resilient than other markets due to higher domestic demand, whilst in East Africa, Ethiopia was the best performer (increasing to 25.7% in July from a 16.7% low in April) compared to neighbours Tanzania and Kenya who lack similar international business demand.
Unsurprisingly, South Africa suffered the lowest occupancy rates in the Southern African region YTD July. International border closures and strict interprovincial travel lockdowns saw the vital regional hub experience a fall of -48% points in occupancy rates from 57.2% in January to 8.7% in July. It appears the country has now managed to flatten the curve and international borders open on 1st October, though with many key source markets experiencing worrying second wave outbreaks, the results of these openings await to be seen.
“Though the large majority of branded hotels, within the STR portfolio, across Africa have reopened, the current crisis continues to affect travel and tourism businesses of all sizes, from the largest international airlines to the smallest independent hotel owners,” said Troughton. “Immediate responses have understandably focused on designing plans for short-term survival. As the crisis evolves, however, the industry is now identifying key priorities and procedures to facilitate recovery in the medium to long-term.”
Navigating new pathways to open doors
In the panel session, participants shared some of the motivations and considerations around hotel reopenings:
Samantha Annandale (Regional Operations Director, Onomo Hotels) kicked off discussions, stating that the key motivation behind Onomo’s decision to reopen certain properties was, naturally, focused on breakeven parameters. “A tremendous amount of work went into establishing these base figures, as well as incorporating the vital human elements aligned to each property,” she said. “Further considerations centred on lockdown regulations and assessing the overall ‘appetite for travel,” she continued. “We were also keenly aware that in remaining ‘risk averse’ for too long, we potentially risked losing market share and support.” The Onomo group focuses predominantly on 3-star corporate city hotels or hotels near airports, which they all own and operate themselves.
Jan Van der Putten (VP Operations Africa &; Indian Ocean, Hilton Hotels) emphasised that ascertaining demand and opportunity were also some of the critical factors behind the group’s decisions to reopen hotels. “Ultimately, we knew there was no one recipe,” he stressed. “Issues such as cash flow and obtaining the owner’s agreement as to the right decision for each location remained imperative to us.”
Craig Erasmus (VP Operations, Accor Hotels) was in agreement regarding the importance of discussions with each property owner concerning the reopening of certain properties. Much attention was given to aspects such as safety, sanitisation and ensuring properties were completely prepared to ‘right-side to the new normal’ in implementing new hygiene protocols, he said. “How certain hotels are segmented against each other was another important factor,” he explained. “In Gauteng, South Africa, for example, four of our Accor Hotels have one owner, so the decision to open only one of these hotels served as an appropriate initial response.” Twenty-eight out of 67 Accor hotels across the African region continue to remain closed.
William McIntyre (Regional Director Southern Africa, Radisson) stated that the core of the group’s approach to dealing with the Covid crisis centred upon analysing the ‘cost of closure.’ “We subsequently made the decision that, apart from 4 hotels closed at owners request, we stayed open!” he said. “What this meant was that, in South Africa’s Lockdown Level 5, our properties were able to assist stranded foreign nationals and essential services personnel,” he said,
“We hosted call centre business who needed to ‘spread out their work force’ and, instead of setting up in cubicles, they worked in hotel rooms. We shut down certain sections and outlets of properties and changed our operating structures. We also utilised guest rooms differently by setting up way-lay stations, factory-type settings and corporate quarantine areas,” he explains. “And, in every circumstance, we managed to mitigate the costs of dormancy!” he said. “But it was hard!” he confesses. “We’ve learnt lessons and dealt with scary situations but, ultimately we’re happy we stayed open,” said McIntyre. “On the up side, we’ve cemented some new key relationships that will help take us into the future.”
According to Osbourne Majuru (Group CEO, Cresta Hotels) the reopening of Cresta hotels in various regions was tackled on a leveled, case-by-case basis. The group owns and leases properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. “All leisure properties, such as those at Victoria Falls, Chobe and the Okavango Delta, were closed from March until now,” he stated. “But scenarios differed from country to country and our operating team had to take various factors into account,” he said. “The recovery trajectory for hotels varies for individual properties, even those within the same market. For example, two hotels in the same city—one previously filled with domestic business and another with mainly inbound international demand—will see their occupancy and market mix rebound differently.
In areas where lockdowns weren’t that stringent (Zambia) we were able to keep certain wings of hotels open. In other areas, such as CBD’s or parliamentary areas (Harare, Zimbabwe), we opened sections earlier,” he said. “In Gaborone, Botswana, we saw no value in opening three properties at once, so we opened one that relies on local business.” Forty percent of the group’s property portfolio (and its leased properties) currently remain closed.
Euan McGlashan (Owner, Valor Hospitality Partners) emphasised the different approaches prevalent in different international regions, stating, “In the USA, our hotels almost never shut down. At its worst, hotels there were closed for something in the region of a week! ‘Staycation’ markets were running full capacity in the summer. On the other hand, the group’s UK portfolio was shut for 4 months (nearly 5) but has just opened, he remarked. Relevant to African markets, he gave 3 definitive criteria for reopening:
1. Government support (‘In the USA, govt. support effectively meant we could pay employees, taxes and mortgage’).
2. Cost of opening vs. closing.
3. Not being last to market to open. (‘Spier Hotel in SA remained online with food and beverage purchases’).
Green Shoots of Recovery – Rooted in Lessons –
“At Valor we’ve always known that culture is everything to us,” said McGlashan, “But this pandemic has just further cemented that fact,” he said. “We knew we simply couldn’t leave staff behind! Gaining profitability by cutting staff and leaving them unemployed is not the answer and we’ve tried to keep everyone with some form of income,” he stated.
“There are certainly some green shoots out there; movie crews and businesses are shortly returning to South Africa, for example. Guest sentiment and travel sentiment is that there is a pent-up demand for travel and we anticipate that by mid next year we’ll see a lot of activity in South Africa, in particular.”
Annandale believes the current crisis has brought about real tenacity and resilience in the hospitality industry. “Onomo’s processes and planning with regards to implementing new safety protocols, reopening hotels and maintaining operations has undoubtedly been a collective effort – from stakeholders, shareholders, employees and third-party suppliers,” she said “There’s been a real spirit of togetherness,” she says. “Service providers have stepped up, our employees (who have not always been on full pay), have also assisted us tremendously in keeping things going and thereby preserving jobs. ”
McIntyre expressed that one of the toughest aspects has been the financial and emotional wellbeing of employees and staff. “One of the hardest things is knowing that, at Radisson, we are working as hard as we can, adapting operations to the best of our ability, and knowing that there are still thousands of staff waiting to come back to work; waiting for unemployment benefits,” he said. “Aside, from this, the challenging nature of changing our operations so drastically and bargaining over centralized costs is another burden we had to overcome.” “But,” he said, “the dedication and effectiveness of our sales teams and staff was amazing and, ultimately, there are lots of heartwarming stories to come from this!” “We ultimately took a positive view on what was happening, took the decision to close away – and we just adapted! By the 1st October we’ll be fully open across the whole region.”
Majuru agreed that, for Cresta Hotels, the toughest aspects were dealing with human coping strategies and mental health issues. “These are never to be underestimated,” he said, “We’ve been working with the WHO who’ve brought in doctors and therapists to help staff. We’ve also addressed the stigma associated with Covid, especially in Africa.”
“As part of our reopening strategy we are integrating a process where we work to integrate staff back into the workplace. But from an operations point of view – will we go back to the staff to room ratios that we had? We don’t know! In many instances too, we found it easier for hotel staff to stay at the properties and therefore we went into salary negotiations around certain cash reserves.”
Annandale agreed that, along with the positives that have come from working together with external parties and stakeholders, Onomo will “do everything to provide an even better experience than pre-Covid, and do it with due diligence!” Together with the other panelists, she stressed the importance of continuing to create a welcoming environment for guests that centred around a safe yet familiar environment.”
“At HTI Consulting we continue to believe in the tourism potential in the African region and strongly encourage further support from governments and brand managers to allow owners to minimise further losses and support recovery” stated Troughton. “For the time being, the complete reopening of countries and tourism markets and the various possible scenarios remain very uncertain. Hotels need to continue with their reopening strategies and adapt to new markets and changing conditions – through product innovation, hygiene protocols and cost containment –
in order to survive this transition period.”
“African hotels can expect significant uncertainty during the transition period. Customers will need more flexibility in case situations change, and some may be fearful of committing to advance purchase rates with inflexible terms,” he said. “Whilst preparing for the comeback, industry professionals must not forget one fundamental rule that built their past success: knowing their guests’ concerns, adapting operational processes to new market requirements, and continually building competitive advantage around them,” he concluded.
Radisson Hotel Group unveils Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle, its second brand in Morocco
Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle (Source: Saadiyah Hendricks)
Radisson Hotel Group is proud to announce the debut of its second brand and third hotel in Morocco with the signing of Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle in partnership with Al Hoceinia Hospitality. With construction already underway, the hotel is scheduled to open in 2023 and will consist of 133 guestrooms and suites.
Located in the heart of Casablanca’s vibrant and exclusive Gauthier district, one of the prominent corporate, financial and entertainment districts, Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle is just 2.5 km from the glistening La Corniche, the charming Old Medina, and Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world. The hotel will offer a unique view over the Arab League Park and will also form part of La Citadelle, a new, premium mixed-use development which will comprise of residences, offices and retail outlets.
Ramsay Rankoussi, Vice President, Development, Africa & Turkey, Radisson Hotel Group, said, “Morocco is a strategic bridge between Europe and the rest of Africa, and a key focus market in our African development strategy. We aim to grow our Moroccan portfolio to over 15 hotels within the next three to five years, and Casablanca is a key city where we are looking to expand our footprint to more than five hotels. Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle is the Moroccan debut of our fastest-growing brand in Africa, and marks our third hotel in the country, joining our other two successful properties, Radisson Blu Hotel, Casablanca City Center and Radisson Blu Hotel, Marrakech Carré Eden. We expect to introduce each of our remaining three brands but also cover all segments, from business hotels to resort properties, as well as serviced apartments. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our partners, Al Hoceinia Hospitality, for their trust as we look at working together to reinforce our presence across Morocco with additional properties.”
Hamza Laghrari, Managing Director of Al Hoceinia Hospitality, Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle managing company said, “It is with great pleasure that we commence this journey and long-term relationship with Radisson Hotel Group and together introduce the upscale Radisson brand to the Moroccan market. The hotel which will be equipped with the latest innovation to accompany the changing expectations of business customers, will provide a new and an ideal venue for business and leisure guests and an enhancement to the city of Casablanca. As part of our group’s diversification strategy, the tourism industry is an important growth sector in which we see opportunities in the near future, and we are pleased to partner with Radisson Hotel Group to introduce this property and eventually many more. We aim to open a total of five hotels by 2025 in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech and Tangiers.”
The Scandinavian-inspired, upscale brand, Radisson, will make its Moroccan debut with the new build, 133-room hotel, consisting of contemporary superior rooms and suites. Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle will enable guests to focus on a work/life balance and find harmony in their travel experience, while enjoying the hotel’s modern, state of the art technology, and design. Various cuisine options will be available at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, patio as well as its panoramic rooftop restaurant. Meetings and event venues will include a large conference and function room as well as five meeting rooms. Perfectly equipped for guests to strike a healthy balance, the hotel will offer both a fitness room and a rooftop pool.
Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle (Source: Saadiyah Hendricks)
Radisson Hotel Group’s top priority is the continued health, safety and security of its guests, team members, and business partners. The Group applies its Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol created in collaboration with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, and recently unveiled its new comprehensive testing program as the first hotel group to roll out a rapid testing service for meeting and event attendees at properties across its EMEA portfolio.
Radisson Hotel Group renews partnership with SGS and continues global application of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol
Radisson Hotel Group is proud to announce the extension of its partnership with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity, and the continued global roll out of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol to further strengthen Radisson Hotel Group’s existing rigorous sanitation, cleanliness and disinfection program across its portfolio around the world.
In 2020, Radisson Hotel Group worked closely with SGS to conduct a thorough review of all existing health and safety processes and worked with a team of experts to develop and validate the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol, a comprehensive series of 20-Step and 10-step protocols for hotels and for Meetings & Events. These enhanced protocols which include comprehensive health and safety procedures such as increased cleaning and disinfection especially in high touch point areas, sanitizing stations, team member personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing measures and hybrid solutions for meetings, improved air circulation, and strict food safety procedures, have all been validated by SGS, building on local requirements and recommendations to ensure guests’ safety and peace of mind from check-in to check-out. In addition, Radisson Hotel Group has adapted the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol specifically for Resorts, with attention to services like sports, spa facilities and kids’ clubs.
The Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol is an official cleanliness and disinfection label which can be used by hotels only after an in-depth centralized validation process has been conducted by SGS. In addition, selected hotels receive the additional SGS Disinfection monitored & Cleaning Checked label upon completion of a comprehensive local audit including on-site testing using the latest technology.
“At Radisson Hotel Group, the health and safety of our guests, team members and partners continue to be a top priority. The world has been fundamentally changed by COVID-19, so it is key that we continue innovating and striving to deliver a clean and safe environment to all who walk through our doors, stay in our hotels and conduct meetings in our properties. SGS has been a key partner to ensure our hotels are providing the best and latest health and safety measures, and we are proud to renew our partnership for a second year,” says Federico J. González, CEO, Radisson Hotel Group.
Frankie Ng, CEO of SGS, adds that: “Expert and documented validation by SGS of health, safety and prevention protocols related to COVID-19 has allowed the Tourism industry and Radisson Hotel Group to inspire trust and confidence to travelers around the world. The goal of our continued partnership is to ensure that the highest hygiene standards are met, and to protect guests as well as Radisson Hotel Group team members and partners.
As part of the Group’s ongoing commitment to the safe return of travel and to allow for a swift return to business, Radisson Hotel Group recently launched its new comprehensive testing program as the first hotel group to roll out a rapid testing service for meeting and event attendees at properties across their EMEA portfolio. In addition, hotels will be able to direct guests to an easily accessible and affordable PCR testing location. The comprehensive testing program for guests is groundbreaking in its coordinated approach across EMEA to reinstall confidence and peace of mind to travelers as the world returns to business by providing a safe environment and seamless testing facilitation.
Radisson Hotel Group continues play a key role in the development of the World Travel and Tourism (WTTC)’s “Safe Travels” and “Seamless Travel” health and safety protocols, a global framework and stamp for a safe return to business and to create consistency across the Travel and Tourism industry. The WTTC’s Safe Travels stamp is currently endorsed by over 200 destinations around the world.
Reimagining the Future of Sustainable Tourism in Africa
At Spurt! We are always looking to amplify solutions to critical and specific challenges in Sub Saharan Africa. This week, we reviewed Why Tourism Desperately Needs a New Performance Metric Post-Pandemic by Lebawit Lily Girma. The wake of COVID-19 and its effects on the Tourism sector has unearthed realities that the sector’s metric for success needs to go beyond the numbers; the arrivals and GDP contributions. There’s a solid case for other sustainable ways for measuring success that is as inclusive and effective in capturing the real value add brought by tourist activities. The ongoing equity issue and the colonial legacy entrenched in the sector have to be front and centre to address these.
Tourism is one of the most important economic sectors. According to the UN, It employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more. Due to the anchor role it plays in boosting economies, it is imperative that key stakeholders, with the government taking a leading part, take active steps in safeguarding the growth and sustainability of the sector. The sector’s importance notwithstanding, transparency
It is always subjective what the actual cost of a destination is. In Africa, there’s a pervasive question around the trickle-down effect of the money spent on tourism to the local communities and any transformative change that has occurred over time. Historically, the tourism value chain has always been fragmented. According to a McKinsey report, there has been limited coordination among the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up a large portion of the sector.
The information champions a more proactive government involvement in the industry through fostering creative alliances between the public and private sector. This cross-sector collaboration can act as an integral leadership centre in tackling emerging issues in the industry and mainstream responsible tourism. The Brookings Institution report on Africa’s tourism potential lauds the governments of Morocco, Mauritius, Kenya, and South Africa to prioritise the tourism sector as a critical driver of growth, allocating resources towards the development of the tourism sector.
Responsible tourism allows local communities to earn a modest income from the tourism activities while supporting conservation efforts. As Lebawit rightfully points out, all efforts geared towards building back the sector better will not be complete without local communities’ inclusion. As the call to decolonise the tourism sector become more substantial, it is becoming clear that innovative and localised tourism is key to a solid and resilient industry. Creative organisations like Turn Up Travel in Kenya are revolutionising responsible tourism through curating unique experiences through striking a balance between destination selection, commerce, conservation and community. More local organisations like Turn Up need to find the root is taking centre stage in diversifying the sector.
At Spurt, the conversation on championing responsible tourism excites us. Local MSMEs are front and centre in the drive to reimagine how a sustainable sector would look. We aspire to be the platform for fostering the growth of scalable local businesses in sub-Saharan Africa that adhere to the best performance and ethical standards. With our research and analytics capabilities, strategic advisory, stakeholder engagement, and implementation support, we are eager to work with local companies like Turn Up by convening, developing, and exciting the best young African thinkers passionate about working for their continent’s economic development.
Written by: Spurt!