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HICA Features inspiration & investment confidence for Sub Saharan Africa

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The 8th annual Hotel Investment Conference Africa (HICA), which was held last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, shared several messages of investment confidence throughout the region – despite challenging issues such as Ebola and other security risks. The conference, which was held September 14-16, 2014 at the Maslow Hotel in Joburg, is regarded as Africa’s premier hotel investment gathering.

HICA 2014 brought together nearly 300 regional and international hoteliers, investors, developers and senior public sector leaders to network promote hotel projects and engage on matters pertaining to hotel development in the Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) region.

Setting the scene for the conference program was a plenary discussion reviewing the performance of the hotel sector at a global and regional level. “On the whole, hotel development activity in the SSA region remains strong with many international hotel brands continuing to increase their footprint in the region’s hospitality market,” states Mmatšatši Ramawela, Chairman of HICA and CEO of the Tourism Business Council South Africa (TBCSA). “Africa is currently the ‘go to’ area for hotel investors. Hence we see that SSA is now commanding “greater attention” global hotel brands and some of the lesser known hotel groups such as Mangalis, Swiss International and Louvre hotels.”

Major Announcements for the Region:

• During HICA, Starwood Hotels&Resorts Worldwide announced that it plans to add as many as 20 hotels in Africa over the next four years. Starwood’s Neil George, senior VP for acquisitions and development in the Middle East and Africa region. The group said it would add mainly 5-star properties to its existing portfolio of 37 African hotels in Africa and Middle East. Five of the new properties will be in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

• Additionally, Taj International Hotels Limited announced during HICA that it would open six new hotels in sub-Saharan Africa over the next two years. Michael Pownall, General Manager of Taj’s Cape Town, South Africa, hotel said the chain also is targeting Nigeria, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique.

• The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group has prioritised South Africa and Nigeria as is key markets for expansion with more than 20 hotels development planned for each country.

• Marriott International’s acquisition of Protea hotels which put them at the forefront of hotel investment in Africa has been hailed by South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom as an expression of confidence in the Continent.

However, skills development is still seen as a critical challenge for the sector and a threat to the sector’s overall future growth.

Developing future hospitality leaders.

Commenting on the issue of skills, Dr. Diane Abrahams, Director for the School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) at the University of Johannesburg, emphasised that the STH like many other similar institutions was in the process of reviewing their curriculum to ensure that it remained relevant to the current market needs.

“South Africa’s offering has a strong operational focus with management, and recently elements such as leadership and entrepreneurship have become important. However there is a need for a new kind of thinking and perhaps a more multidisciplinary approach to which leans on other fields such as psychology, transport, diversity management and other key elements which can enrich our product offering. We are not quite there yet.”

Other bottlenecks identified include :

• Negative perceptions about hospitality as a career option

• Government policy in supporting educational institutions offering hospitality courses

• Limited knowledge about the Continent and its vast product offerings from a hospitality point of view

• Gap between educational institutions and the hospitality industry.

HICA participants also emphasised the need to focus on the new market entrants coming from the educational institutions and the “up-skilling” of current talent within the hospitality workforce.

Industry workplace psychologist and Managing Director of US-based AETHOS Consulting Group, Dr. James Houran echoed this call. He said in order for the sector to capitalize on the growing domestic and regional tourism markets, the hotel industry needed to develop senior leaders who will effectively manage new businesses and develop multi-tier talent to execute strategies that will meet growing consumer service demands.

HICA’s Hospitality Leadership Challenge: HICA organizers announced a new initiative called the HICA Hospitality Leadership Challenge. The initiative, to be officially launched in 2015, will involve the hospitality industry as well as local and international institutions of higher learning.

Visit www.hica.co.za for more details about the 2014 conference. HICA 2015 takes place September 6-8, 2015 in Johannesburg.

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