Opening keys in Africa

Next time the African savannahs beckon, you may just be surprised by a big whiff of Indian hospitality. As it gets more and more crowded at home, several branded Indian hotel chains are checking into Africa.

One of the early explorers is Sarovar Hotels, the pioneer of the branded mid-market segment in India, whose managing director, Ajay Bakaya, has been criss-crossing the continent, signing deals to manage properties there.

On May 23, Bakaya was in Nairobi, launching the luxurious Lazizi Premiere. The doors of the five-star hotel inside the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport were opened by no less than the President of Kenya. With this, Sarovar now has three hotels in Nairobi bearing its flag, the other two being mid-market hotels — the Heron Portico and The Zehneria Portico. A fourth Sarovar-managed hotel is also coming up in Nairobi, says Bakaya.

Sarovar’s Africa story began a decade ago in Tanzania, when it began managing a 126-room three-star business hotel — New Africa Hotel — in Dar es Salaam. “Last year, we stepped into South Sudan when we took over the management of the Panorama Sarovar Portico in Juba,” says Bakaya.

Another Indian player making sorties into Kenya and Tanzania is Bangalore-based Royal Orchid Hotels, founded by Chender Baljee, whose 32-suite Malaika Beach Resort at Mwanza has spectacular views of Lake Victoria. The chain has been prospecting around Dar es Salaam to create a resort that can be a wedding destination.

Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris too has been expanding its footprint in Africa, though at a slow pace. However, it did time the opening of its property in South Africa very well, just before the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Taj’s presence in Africa is not really surprising though — its parent, the Tata group, has been in the continent across 20 countries for over 40 years.

Since hotels tend to follow the trade route, the new push into Africa by other Indian hoteliers is quite logical. In the last five years, trade between India and Africa has doubled to touch nearly $72 billion. With talk of an Asia-Africa growth corridor — a joint India-Japan proposal gathering steam, the trade link will only grow, so it’s a particularly good time for Indian hoteliers to look across the Indian Ocean, especially as Africa is highly under-served in terms of hotels.

“Almost 17% of the guests at my Kenya hotels are Indian business travellers,” says Bakaya. At the Lazizi Premiere, an Indian general manager, Satya Roychowdhury, is at hand to greet guests. All the Sarovar hotels in Africa serve Indian food, and the rooms offer Indian channels on the television sets.

Right now, the region that Indian hoteliers are venturing into are countries in English-speaking East and West Africa, as this is where not just Indian businessmen but Chinese and American companies are headed to as well. And while Africa has plenty of resorts and lodges in the game parks to cater to leisure tourists, there is a woeful dearth of business hotels in the cities.

But the Indian hoteliers will have competition, as the western hotel chains are stepping up their presence in Africa. Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director, Middle East and Africa, Marriott International, signals the group’s interest when he points out that “African economies have sustained unprecedented rates of growth”. The combined Marriott-Starwood entity, he says, is targeting a projected growth of 150,000 rooms, in 38 countries across the Middle East and Africa by 2022.

Chitra Narayanan is an editorial consultant with BusinessLine, who writes on consumer behaviour but keeps an interested gaze at the travel and hospitality sector

 

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