Companies & Industries

Luxury hotels invade Africa

Five-star hospitality

Kenya's Sankara Nairobi Hotel (Photo: Courtesy Sankara Nairobi)

Kenya’s Sankara Nairobi Hotel (Photo: Courtesy Sankara Nairobi)

Last summer Scott Woroch, executive vice-president of worldwide development at the Four Seasons, announced a major African deal for the Canadian luxury hotel chain. Beginning immediately, the Four Seasons was taking over management of the recently shuttered Westcliff Hotel, a landmark perched on a cliff overlooking Johannesburg, South Africa. When it reopens next summer under the Four Seasons banner, the Westcliff will be the high-end chain’s first urban hotel in sub-Saharan Africa (it already operates a safari resort in Tanzania), securing access to what is one of the hottest luxury markets in the world.

In the hotel business, as in many others, Africa is suddenly, unexpectedly, booming. In 2013 alone the continent is primed to add 207 new hotels and nearly 40,000 hotel rooms, according to research by the Lagos, Nigeria–based W Hospitality Group (not affiliated with the W Hotel chain). More significantly, most of those new hotels—130 of them—will be in sub-Saharan Africa, which has long lagged behind the North economically.

Many of those projects are targeting the highest end of the market. When the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City opens in Accra, Ghana, next summer, it will feature 291 rooms and suites, two presidential suites (each with its own private butler), a massive spa, 6,000 square metres of high-end shopping, a yoga studio and an organic food bar. It is one of five hotels Kempinski plans to open in Africa next year. If all goes as planned, the company—Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group—will have five-star locations in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea by 2015, adding to its existing stock in Chad, Djibouti, Kenya and Egypt.

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Driving much of that high-end demand is Africa’s own swelling upper middle class, says Trevor Ward, a consultant at W Hospitality. Fuelled by a resource boom and a growing services sector, the combined economies of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding the more developed South African economy) will grow at an at annual rate of more than 5% between 2013 and 2015, according to the World Bank.

Increased foreign tourism, too, is playing a role. Annual tourist arrivals have grown faster in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region of the world since at least 2009, according to the United Nations Tourism Organization. For the Four Seasons, the Westcliff deal is just the beginning. The company plans to be much more active in Africa in the coming years, joining upscale competitors like Park Hyatt and Fairmont in the new rush for Africa’s gold cards.