African hospitality leaders have worked incredibly hard to maintain operational standards when critical products are unavailable to be sourced on time due to a myriad of reasons, from changing trade restrictions, poor transport infrastructure, currency fluctuations, and supply chain breakages.
This week leaders across the hospitality sector have descended into Nairobi city, the vibrant capital of Kenya and hub of East Africa, to join the annual African Hospitality Investment Forum (AHIF) to discuss growth opportunities in the region, and to share their learnings from the last year including developments across the trade and operational landscape. Attending is Toggle Market’s CEO, Fuad Sajdi, and VP of Africa, Abraham Muthogo Kamau, where they have been leading discussions on leveraging local and regional sourcing, and the innovative ways the sector is reducing operational costs.
Supply chain challenges in Africa have been one of the primary obstacles for economic growth and diversification, with businesses continuing to pay inflated prices for nearly every consumable and operational product that is not locally grown or manufactured – where even then it is more profitable to export outside the continent than to cater to the regional market due to weak intra-trade regulations.
Today there are promising signs that this status quo is changing fast.
The African hospitality industry is in the throes of a massive transformation. The catalysts? Ground-breaking trade measures, rapidly evolving technology, and a fresh generation of visionary leaders. These forces are challenging the traditional “business as usual” mindset and reshaping the African hospitality landscape.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the largest free trade area globally since the formation of the World Trade Organization, is set to significantly bolster intra-African trade. By reducing trade barriers, it allows a more fluid movement of goods, services, and people across borders. The ripple effect will be profound, with the hospitality sector one of the many industries reaping the benefits of this regional integration.
Breaking with the Past
The lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic have been harshest on the world’s largest continent which has for so long relied on suppliers in far flung countries, most heavily on goods from China, European Union (EU) countries, United States and India.
Take for instance South Africa which remains the largest importing country in Africa at 17% of all imports in the region. Its largest import partners in 2023 were China at 21.9%, followed by United States at 8.8%, Germany at 7.3%, India 5.8% and the UAE 3.6%. The next largest importing countries are Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and Ghana.
The elephant in the room is that Intra-African trade still stands at only 15.2%, a poor showing when compared with intra-continental trade figures for America, Asia, and Europe, which stand at 47%, 61%, and 67%, respectively, and which should be at the head of the pan regional efforts to support trade and business. Much of this is due to multiple trade restrictions that exist in the region and between neighbouring countries for instance.
The recent World Bank 2022 AfCFTA report shows that the borders between African countries rank among the most restrictive in the world and is the main reason there is relatively little intra-African trade and investment.
The impact of this in real terms is putting the break on the growth of regional businesses while limiting the flow of the international supply chain which in turn heavily relies on intra-African trade routes (where goods are transported across several borders by land routes) due to poor infrastructure and lack of trade and custom harmonisation.
For locally grown African hospitality investors and operators, the supply chain challenges remain acute, and ramifications have meant consistent delays in the growing pipeline of projects, along with sometimes turbulent price fluctuations on shipping and logistics services, as well as effects of weakened domestic currencies. Our research across Toggle Hospitality clients in Africa has shown examples of multiple duties paid in this way to receive goods crossing several borders resulting in highly inflated pricing for essential products and equipment.
Trade Cooperation and Collaboration
The good news is that there are signs across all industry sectors of more joined up thinking and increased regional cooperation. For instance, amongst East African nations there has been a noticeable increase in activities across both government backed and private sector efforts through the multiple alliances that exist such as the East Africa Business Council, the East African Chamber of Commerce and Trade, and the East African Association.
In addition, the highly lauded and anticipated rollout of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is geared to be the largest free trade region in the world based on the number of countries – at once connecting 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at US$3.4 trillion and with a major potential as well to lift over 30 million people out of the poverty line.
For this to succeed there will need to be mutual and significant policy reforms and trade facilitation measures to reduce red tape, simplify customs procedures, and make it easier for African businesses to integrate into global supply chains. The upside is a boost of income gains around $300 billion.
The role of technology and the importance of a knowledge-based economy will increasingly be a driving force for transforming economic prosperity. The latest report from UNCTAD has warned that neglecting the high knowledge-intensive services, such as information and communications technology services and financial services, will be a key reason holding back export diversification in Africa.
A new generation of hospitality leaders in Africa making waves
One of the most exciting outcomes of more regional integration is the rise of home-grown hotel chains that are now expanding beyond their respective national borders. In 2022, intra-African travel accounted for 40% of the total number of hotel guests in the continent, up from 34% in 2019, according to the African Development Bank. This increase is partly attributable to the easing of travel restrictions and the growth of African hotel chains.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), forecasts 134 million visitors by 2035. These figures make it the second fastest growing region in tourism after Asia Pacific.
This new wave of hospitality brands is being led by a dynamic generation of African leaders who understand the local markets and are at the forefront of developing more viable value-based networks and forging stronger regional partnerships. These individuals are harnessing the benefits of the AfCFTA, using innovative practices to enhance the hospitality experience with a unique African flavour that can cater better to the African consumer needs while at the same time offering global standards of service. For example, today over 80 percent of safari lodges in South Africa are managed by indigenous brands and a part of the tourism sector that generates around 70 percent of hospitality revenue. This segment is growing rapidly across the region.
“There is a major paradigm shift taking place with progressive trade policies and cutting-edge technology. This new generation of leaders are poised to redefine the essence of hospitality in Africa. We are delighted to be participating this year at AHIF 2023 which continues year on year to help shape the African hospitality industry and spotlight investment opportunities,” said Abraham Muthogo Kamau, VP of Africa at Toggle Market.
Technology is a driving force behind this transformation. Digitization is permeating every facet of the hospitality experience from reservation systems to room service, with growing numbers of hotels now using a form of smart-room technology or employing AI-driven services such as chatbots for customer service and offering mobile apps for reservations and in-stay services.
The integration of technology has also enhanced efficiency and sustainability within the sector. African hotels can see up to 30% increase in energy efficiency and 25% reduction in water usage, thanks to the adoption of smart technologies.
Although Africa only receives 5% of the regional share of worldwide tourism this number is rising after the Covid slump with 2022 seeing 47 million tourists returning to the continent after the high of 69 million in 2019. UNWTO forecasts 134 million visitors by 2035 making it the second fastest growing region in tourism after Asia Pacific. There is also robust and growing domestic tourism within Africa as increasingly middle-class families and younger travellers opt for more local and regional travel.
The supply chain, too, has been revolutionized by both trade facilitations and technology.
A recent survey revealed that the average lead time for supply delivery dropped by 15% in 2022. This improvement is due to more streamlined cross-border processes and the implementation of digital supply chain management systems. Moreover, the increased use of this technology has led to more resilient and responsive systems. More hotel chains can now track their supply deliveries in real-time, forecast demand more accurately, and react swiftly to changes in the market.
The wave of change isn’t confined to the large chains alone. It’s being felt in every corner of the industry, from boutique hotels in Accra that blend modern design with traditional Ghanaian culture, to eco-friendly lodges in the Maasai Mara that champion sustainable tourism. As intra-African trade continues to flourish and the technological landscape evolves, the African hospitality sector is preparing for an exhilarating future. This new era is being ushered in by ambitious, tech-savvy leaders who are ready to shake off the old and bring forth the new.
Marcus Lee on How South Africa Can Attract More Chinese Tourists
Marcus Lee, CEO of China Travel Online
As international travel from China begins to pick up again in 2023, South Africa has a real opportunity to attract Chinese tourists and give the economy a much-needed boost. But change is needed to really take advantage of this opportunity.
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, Chinese travellers led the world in international travel, embarking on 155 million journeys and injecting USD 255 billion into the global economy, as per UNWTO data. Despite this staggering figure, South Africa only attracted a meagre 0.6% of these affluent travellers.
Fast forward to 2023, and the landscape of international travel is markedly different. China’s cautious reopening has cast a spotlight on Africa, with South Africa emerging as one of the first three nations on the continent to roll out the welcome mat to Chinese visitors in the post-COVID era.
It’s worth noting that as of Q4 2023, international flight routes from China to the rest of the world had only recovered to around 30-40% of pre-pandemic levels. This presents a great opportunity for South Africa to bring these visitors to its shores.
Marcus Lee, the CEO of China Travel Online, offers some insights ahead of his talk at WTM Africa 2024, which takes place from 10 – 12 April at the CTICC in Cape Town.
Improving flight connections
A significant challenge in South Africa’s tourism sector is the absence of direct flights from China to popular South African destinations like Cape Town, which can inconvenience Chinese tourists who prefer direct routes.
“Connectivity is a crucial aspect that South Africa must address to fully tap into the potential of the Chinese travel market,” states Lee. “Improved flight connectivity can significantly reduce travel time and inconvenience for Chinese tourists.”
Adaptation to the preferences of Chinese travellers
South Africa’s current efforts in becoming ‘China Ready’ may have room for improvement, according to Lee. This means adapting to Chinese preferences, which includes language-friendly services, cultural understanding, and amenities catering to Chinese customs and traditions. Offering training programmes and initiatives could help South African businesses and professionals better understand and meet the expectations of Chinese travellers.
“Professional Chinese input plays a vital role in making destinations more ‘China Ready,’” he says. “Seeking guidance and expertise from individuals or organisations well-versed in Chinese culture, preferences, and travel behaviour is essential.”
Enhanced Promotion and Marketing Strategies
While South Africa has a presence in China and engages in promotional activities, there is still a need for more effective strategies. Lee explains, “To attract Chinese tourists effectively, we need a comprehensive approach. That includes not just online marketing but also offline activities like attending exhibitions and roadshows. These efforts can boost South Africa’s visibility among Chinese tourists.”
Not only should South Africa step up its promotional efforts, it’s crucial to create travel packages tailored specifically to Chinese tourists and diversify the country’s tourism offerings to cater to different preferences, from luxury to more affordable experiences.
With China opening up for international travel again, there’s a real opportunity for South Africa to tap into the Chinese tourist market. As one of the first African countries to welcome back Chinese visitors, making travel easier, understanding their culture better, and using smart marketing are key strategies.
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.