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 Ahmed Raza On Moving to Nigeria
Radisson Hotel Group General Manager, Ahmed Raza (Image: Supplied)
Ahmed Raza is an experienced operator with a demonstrated history of working in the hospitality industry. Skilled in catering, hospitality industry, menu costing, property management systems, and MICROS. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Ahmed shares his experience on moving to Nigeria, the hospitality business, impact of Covid-19 and much more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Moving to Nigeria to work, what’s different?
Ahmed: I have been very blessed and fortunate to be able to see the hospitality industry in different places including Asia, the US and now Africa. Every country, every culture has a completely different style and something that makes it its own. I think the hospitality culture is definitely growing in West Africa. Being in Nigeria, it is a very hospitable country. Nigerians are very warm and friendly, they are hustlers and go-getters and bringing that and refining that service culture is something that is really starting to pick up here.
It is a huge service driven country and I have seen a lot more people wanting to engage in proper training and getting proper experience so that they are knowledgeable about what it is that they are selling so in time the service industry is going to match up with its international competitors. That is what I believe, we are not there yet, there are a lot of things that need to change and happen but the nice thing about it is that groups like Radisson Hotel Group are dedicated to implementing the proper training programs for its teams and staff.
Alaba: How is Radisson different from your previous experience?
Ahmed: Radisson Hotel Group is flying high in the hospitality industry. Today it stands as one of the largest hotel groups in the world, with more than 1,400 hotels in operation or under development. The Radisson brand stands out for me because it believes that people are at the centre of a successful hospitality business. The foremost way to be a responsible company is to have ethical business practices at the core of our culture. Our ethical standards can be seen every day in the way we treat all our stakeholders from customers and team members to suppliers and other business partners.
Alaba: Talking of this period of COVID-19 pandemic, how are you managing?
Ahmed: From the onset of the pandemic, it was clear to me that this was a rare and massive change. Along with the team we decided to focus on bringing positive results and understood that the only way of succeeding is to become agile and dynamic. We engaged with all our guests and bookers in a way of looking forward to the end of the crisis, building lasting relationships that would benefit the hotel in times to come.
Radisson Hotel Group was the leading chain in developing Safety Protocols in order to prepare for guests to return. This association with the Swiss-based SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing, and certification company, led to a full review of the best health and safety practices. The outcome was the 10-step and 20-step protocols that ensure that all aspects of wellbeing and safety of both the staff and guests are the primary focus of what we do. Those tools gave us the confidence to put go-to-market strategies that resulted in additional business for the hotel, increasing our market share substantially.
Alaba: What is the extent of the impact COVID-19 has on the hospitality sector in Nigeria?
Ahmed: These are uncharted waters; we have gone back to the times of Ebola. Although this was mainly localized around the West African region but with a phenomenally higher fatality rate of over 90% compared to Covid of around 10%. The hospitality and aviation industry were the first and have been the worst hit so far. This is mostly because the industry is primarily involved in the provision of accommodation, transportation, entertainment, food, and other services to individuals who move from place to place for business and pleasure. Restriction of movement was one of the first steps taken to combat the virus, and then the eventual closure of borders and domestic travel.
In fact, it is estimated that travel will decrease by 40-50 per cent after the pandemic restrictions are removed. It is also important to note the shift of the pandemic epicentre from China to Western Europe and US which are the hotel’s industry’s major source markets and therefore the economic impact to the sector is far reaching. Keeping in view the fact that the total contribution of tourism in Nigeria to the country’s GDP is 35%, it accounts for huge economic and social losses from this sector alone.
Alaba: Radisson Blu Victoria Island has just carried out refurbishment, how much of a game changer is this for you
Ahmed: The hotel has rolled out a comprehensive strategy of innovation and renovation concentrating on the safety of the guests to accelerate the anticipated recovery from the pandemic. Radisson Blu Anchorage Lagos has embarked on an ambitious renovation exercise to the tune of a substantial investment with the sole aim of guaranteeing the safety and convenience of guests during and post the coronavirus pandemic. The rooms are wearing a new colour, blends meant to continuously brighten the mood of guests while the gym and the pool have been redesigned with modern equipment for guests’ pleasure.
Alaba: How do you sustain this position?
Ahmed: Through continuous improvement – innovation transfers across the brand e.g. Hybrid Meetings, Carbon neutral meetings, training, strong marketing and PR machinery.
Alaba: What is the percentage of Nigerian guests that come to your hotel?
Ahmed: 75% – to be confirmed
Alaba: With vaccines on the horizon, how hopeful are you for normalcy to return?
Ahmed: Our typical customers are the top corporates looking for personalised experiences and service. We like to call this a rollout of the micro-vacation. With vaccination rates being up, the domestic leisure travel segment is breathing life into Nigeria’s hospitality industry, we are on the road to full recovery. There is a lot of pent-up demand, especially in the luxury segment of hotels. For example, we are seeing extremely high demand in Lagos for leisure, our rates have not dropped. For domestic travellers, we are offering flexibility in their booking dates and a wholesome, future-ready experience tailored to the ‘new normal’ that we are all faced with today.
Alaba: In your projection, what direction will the hospitality business be taking in 2022/2023?
Ahmed: It is important to remember that the hospitality sector is no stranger to crisis. Our industry has survived countless challenges and periods of economic downturn, and COVID-19 is no exception. Industry experts predict that the industry might begin seeing a rebound in typical demand within 18 to 24 months. Understandably, hotels will be expected to adopt heightened cleaning standards moving forward, as cleanliness will be a critical factor in a guests’ decision to book a hotel room.
Secondly, technology. Love it or hate it, the hospitality business cannot ignore it. Hospitality providers will need to serve guests in a significantly more connected way, striking the right balance between automated solutions and human interaction. So much change. And so much of it is driven by the most important person in hospitality: the guest. Every brand operating in this dynamic and innovation-friendly market wouldn’t have it any other way.
Alaba: What is your favourite local meal, any special hobbies?
Ahmed: Suya and Pepper Soup anytime of the day, I have a great passion for Tennis. Currently play at club level to unwind from the daily routine.
Alaba: What legacy do you want to leave after your time here?
Ahmed: There is no doubt that the success of this hotel, and customer satisfaction is the best legacy I would like to leave behind.
Radisson Hotel Group announces a transition in its African leadership team
Radisson Hotel Group Bert Fol and Sandra Kneubuhler (Image: RHG)
Radisson Hotel Group announces a transition in its African leadership team with the appointment of Bert Fol as Regional Director for Africa, focusing on English Speaking Africa and the promotion of Sandra Kneubuhler to District Director for South Africa, in addition to her role as Country Director of Sales.
Sandra Kneubuhler, Country Director of Sales and District Director, South Africa.
Kneubuhler, a South African national, started her hospitality career in 2001, holding various positions in Zambia, Switzerland, Thailand, and Qatar before returning to South Africa. In 2005, she assumed the role of Corporate Trainee at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, progressing within the group in roles such as Sales Manager, Revenue Manager and acting GM before launching the group’s Global Sales Office as the Global Sales Director: Africa, a position she held since January 2015.
Drawing on her extensive sales experience and local market insight, Kneubuhler joined Radisson Hotel Group in February 2019 as Country Sales Director for South Africa. Developing and leading the Group’s dynamic sales structure. Ever since Kneubuhler and her team have delivered exceptional results, especially during the challenging pandemic period.
In her new role, Kneubuhler assumes the additional responsibility of overseeing the operations for all Radisson Hotels in South Africa, working closely with the Group’s Regional Director for English-Speaking Africa, Bert Fol.
“Since joining the Group three years ago, Sandra has demonstrated through her passion for the industry remarkable results. Even when faced with the most difficult circumstances due to the pandemic. As a Group, we firmly believe in balanced leadership and developing our talent. And with a team player like Sandra who is powered by passion and forward thinking, it was a natural next step in her career progression which we believe will prove rewarding in every aspect.” says Bert Fol, Regional Director, Africa, Radisson Hotel Group.
Bert Fol, Regional Director, Africa
Fol, a hospitality veteran with 30+ years’ experience in the hospitality industry, worked for some of the largest and most prestigious global hotel chains. Before joining Radisson Hotel Group in January 2014 as Cluster General Manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel, Bucharest and Park Inn by Radisson Bucharest. In addition to his role as General Manager, Fol also had hotels in Turkey reporting to him in his capacity as District Director.
Since 2017, Fol has successfully led Northern Africa and thereafter, the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa as Regional Director. Within his capacity as Regional Director, he will now lead the operations in English-speaking African countries.
“With Bert’s wealth of industry knowledge and his standout leadership qualities, he has made strides for the Group within numerous key markets. I have no doubt that he will be equally successful delivering results in his new area of responsibility.” said Tim Cordon, Area Senior Vice President, Middle East & Africa at Radisson Hotel Group.
Abuja Culinary School Launches The Tertiary and Secondary Education Culinary Art Project (SECA)
Abuja Culinary School Students and Facilitator (Photo: Supplied)
The Abuja Culinary School The SECA (Secondary Education Culinary Arts) initiative is a project that aims to train 1 million secondary and tertiary school students in Culinary Arts Education. This gives students across the world access to their comprehensive online lesson module consisting of lecture notes. And more than 25 learning videos of different dishes, including pastry, continental dishes and African dishes for a period of one year 100% free.
The Abuja Culinary School is on a mission to open up the culinary industry and its boundless opportunities to the young ones. It believes this opportunity will pique their interest in pursuing a career in Culinary Arts. and raise the next generation of food industrialists, food technologists, food designers and chefs. They also believe it will increase their students’ ability to earn an income. And raise a generation of thinkers who will proffer solutions to food problems and break new frontiers in the culinary arts industry.
As one of the top culinary schools in Nigeria, The School’s vision is to see the culinary industry in Nigeria, develop, impact, and uplift people. The importance of knowing how to cook like a true chef is rewarding health-wise and economically. The hospitality industry accounts for billions of dollars in revenue yearly. So, why not get a skill that helps you get a chunk of that money.
Do you want to become a skilled Chef, food technologist, food designer or food blogger, baker, a restaurant manager or owner? The Abuja Culinary Courses, ensure you get the right skills and culinary education that will set you apart from others. With different courses that are a good fit if you are joining the food and hospitality industry.
Register with this Link
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