International hotel groups, and some small luxury players, are investing in the African tourism sector, banking on its growth. McKinsey reports the continent is one of the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions. On top of this, the UN World Tourism Organization placed Africa in first place as the region with the largest growth (9%), ahead of Europe (8%) in 2018. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated, over the next 10 years, the tourism industry could create 3.8 million direct (and indirect jobs) in sub-Saharan Africa, showing the scope for tourism growth.
Hotel giant Radisson Group is taking advantage of this growth to expand its presence on the continent. It was the first international group to establish an office in Africa in 2000 and is now on its way to establishing 100 hotels on the continent.
The group has already identified Cape Town, Johannesburg and Lagos, in Nigeria, as its three “gateway” cities into Africa, meaning by the end of 2022, the group wants to have at least 30 hotels in the cities. Another city the group is looking to expand into is Nairobi, Kenya, which has the capacity for at least five Radisson Group hotels, according to Andrew McLachlan, senior vice-president, development, sub-Saharan Africa.
Other Radisson hotels set to open in 2019 are in Casablanca, Morocco, and Conakry, Guinea. One in Niamey, Niger, is scheduled to be open in time for the AU Coordination Meeting with Regional Economic Communities in June or July. Abuja, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana, and Dakar, Senegal, are also part of the group’s development plans.
The first hotel in the group’s top-tier portfolio, the Radisson Collection, in Africa is scheduled to open in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2020.
Other hotel groups have established ultra-luxe offerings on the continent, with more planning to come this year. Popular destinations, such South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda, Morocco, Tanzania and Botswana, will see luxury hotels opening in 2019.
Recently, the luxurious Lekkerwater Beach Lodge in the De Hoop Nature Reserve – on Western Cape’s east coast – opened, which owner Colin Bell claims is “rated by many as the most magnificent coastal reserve in Africa”. “The Marine Protected Area offshore of De Hoop is famous for some of the best whale watching on the planet,” he says.
Lekkerwater’s seven rooms will have a view of 5km of secluded beach, to which guests will have direct access. They will be able to enjoy locally sourced produce for dinner, along with fine wines, right there on the sand.
Rwanda is having a moment – a big moment, in fact. Its tourism industry is booming and has already seen various luxe offerings opening in the land-locked country. Wilderness Safaris’ newest hotel Bisate Lodge, Rwanda’s first luxurious and eco-sensitive safari camp, opened in 2017.
Now, other luxury hotel groups are cashing in on the opportunities in Rwanda. Singita Group, which already has hotels in various countries in Africa, such as South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, is set to build one in Rwanda in 2019.
Singita plans to open the luxurious eight-suite Singita Kwitonda Lodge in August. The development will also have a private four-bedroom villa called Kataza House. The lodge, named after a legendary silverback gorilla, is on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, surrounded by a lush and misty landscape of forests and ancient volcanoes. Craftspeople and artisans are being employed in the construction, as part of Singita’s goal to partner with local communities. One of the main attractions will be gorilla trekking.
The One&Only Luxury Resorts seems just as excited about Rwanda. In 2018, it opened One&Only Nyungwe House, set among the tea plantations of Gisakura. The group has plans to open the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest later this year.
Gorilla’s Nest will be near the village of Kingi, on the foothills of the Virunga volcano range, near the Volcanoes National Park. Gorilla trekking will be available, along with viewing of wildlife, including golden monkeys, elephants and exotic birds.
Zanier Hotels’s Sonop in Namibia will open its doors in July 2019. The luxury hotel is being built on boulders and will have a 360-degree view of the Namib Desert. Activities will include desert tours on foot, horseback or electric mountain bikes, as well as stargazing and an open-air cinema.
Later in the year, The Ritz-Carlton will open the Ritz-Carlton Rabat Dar es Salam, set in renowned golf course the Royal Golf Dar es Salam, in the centre of the Moroccan capital. Landscaped gardens and an oak forest will be the setting for luxury amenities, including five restaurants and lounges, as well as a spa.
Natural Selection’s Tuludi is set to open in the Khwai Private Reserve, Botswana, in July. Guests will be able to experience the floodplains, waterways and wilderness of the Okavango Delta. Tuludi will feature seven tree-house-style rooms, with interiors that mix traditional and contemporary décor.
While the tourism sector is affected by various factors on the continent, such as economic growth, political stability and ease of movement groups, such as the Southern African Development Community and East African Community, are making inter-region business easier according to McLachlan. This increases business travel, creating a need for quality and luxury accommodation on the continent, of which there is a shortage.
“If you take a city like Lagos, it only has 12 000 rooms of any sort of form of quality in a city of 20 million people. We have 12 000 rooms just in Sandton, as an example,” he says.
He adds more Africans are travelling internationally and, when they return, they expect to have the same standards and quality they experienced elsewhere.
However, many African countries are beset by problems such as poverty, health concerns and terrorism, which put people off travelling to the continent. After the terrorist attack at a Radisson Blu in Mali in 2015, McLachlan reassures that due diligence is done and risks and potential threats are considered and dealt with whenever the group moves into a new territory."
McLachlan goes on to say countries such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are off limits, despite their natural beauty. “We not blindly going to just go into countries that we feel are politically still not safe to do business,” McLachlan says. “So, we are not going to be a pioneer and go and try and create a new resort destination, because it’s got a fantastic, unspoiled beach.”
“I think, overall, Africa is in a good state,” he says - and we have to agree. Not only are there new luxury offerings opening up in the continent’s most popular destinations, cities new on the tourism map are showing up asking to be explored. And it seems it’s just the right time for exploring.