Western tourists may be staying from Africa because of ebola, but the world’s hoteliers are rushing in. That bodes well for the future of African travel.
The Africa Hotel Investment Forum is an annual two-day meetup of African governments, business leaders and hotel operators. This year’s event was held last week in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa.
This isn’t one of those conventions held mainly to give business people an excuse to party. Deals get done here. And the deals coming out of this year’s forum were major.
Nine hotel corporations signed to build 41 new hotels across Africa over the next six years, nearly a dozen in the next three years.
We’re talking Wyndham, Inter-Continental, Accor, Marriott. Also in the mix, Best Western, Starwood (the folks who own the Sheraton brand), W Hotels, Carlson Rezidor (the folks behind the Radisson Blu hotels) and Hilton Worldwide.
All of them household names among the world’s travelers. All of them heavy hitters in the hospitality industry. And all of them looking to step up their game on the Mother Continent.
Meanwhile, you now have multiple African nations all but climbing over one another in hopes of hosting this forum next year.
This is part of an ongoing hotel building boom across Africa. There were more than 200 hotel projects — to create some 40,000 new rooms — in the works even before last week’s deals became public.
If I sound excited, it’s because I am. While there’s no guarantee that all of these places will actually get built, enough of them will to perhaps change the face of African travel and tourism.
Clearly, the world’s hoteliers are looking past the current ebola outbreak and are making plans for the long-term. That in itself is a good thing.
Most of these new hotels are being built with business travelers in mind, as well as MICE tourism.
(MICE has nothing to do with rodents. It stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events.)
Business types aren’t the only ones who need nice places to stay. So do diplomats. The African Union has its headquarters (seen above) in Addis Ababa, where this year’s forum was held. And several of those hotel deals were for new hotels in Addis.
So what does any of this hotel boom have to do with you, the potential Africa visitor who’s not looking to swing business or political deals?
Potentially, a lot.
Currently, the top form of African vacation travel by far is safari travel. Has been for decades. The best safari operators have it down to a science, an art form, and it annually draws travelers from around the world.
But not everyone interested in Africa is necessarily interested in safaris. And those who aren’t often forgo Africa for other destinations.
The other reasons to visit the Mother Continent are almost too many to list — history and heritage, music, art, food, fashion, film, education, adventure, culture, religion.
But the travelers looking for those things need places to stay, preferably in the cities where they’re most likely to find what they’re looking for.
For this kind of traveler, even the most luxuriously appointed safari camp out in the bush probably won’t work.
Having more and better hotels means that African countries will be able to offer travelers more lodging in their urban centers. Keeping those rooms filled — and adding more of them — will give those nations incentive to do something they have long needed to do — diversify their attractions for the leisure traveler.
African travel and tourism will never reach their full potential until they can offer the traveler a broader range of options and attractions. Building new and better hotels could be an important first step toward achieving that.