Industry Update
Opinion Article20 September 2017

Africa set to benefit from global loyalty network

Conferencing, meetings and events capacity on the rise across the continent.

By Danny Bryer, Area Director, Sales, Marketing and Revenue Management, Protea Hotels by Marriott

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Business travel across the African continent is, well, big business. Not only is it on the rise, but the foundations that support it are growing apace. From improved air access to increased hotel capacity for conferencing, many nations across the continent are shaping up for a competitive future. With the development of business travel facilities, leisure travel opportunities are also growing.

Who's travelling?

There's continent-wide development taking place, countries such as India, China, Singapore and more are partnering with African countr ies to hasten the development process by building networking capabilities, transport solutions and construction projects at an unprecedented rate. Protea Hotels by Marriott is deep into this new wave of Afrocentricity, with 65 acquisitions and property developments in the pipeline, geared towards ensuring that the infrastructure is there to support material growth.

Regional travel is also growing, and, with the hotel developments, frequent travellers will benefit from loyalty programs. Marriott Rewards, the world's biggest loyalty program with over 100 million members – and a million new members every month – is ideally placed to suit the super-traveller. Elite members spend anything between 25 and 100 bed nights per year in hotels, so the loyalty program can provide accommodation at a premium to those businesses who require accommodation representation in many different countries.

You could be in Ghana one month and Kenya the next, ten years ago the headache of making travel arrangements made the trips thankless, full of red tape and often resulting in having to stay in sub-standard accommodation. With global companies entering into the equation, there's more parity in between establishments, and a greater chance that the business traveller will have their preferences and expectations met. The point is, big players have noted that the need has been there to develop in under-developed spaces, and these needs are rapidly being fulfilled. Gone are the perceptions that countries in Africa will never compete with "the West", the reality is that with infrastructural developments, African countries are increasingly capable of holding their own against countries to the north, east and west.

Besides the benefit to the end user, the traveller, entire local economies are benefiting from these hotel developments. Getting a hotel up and running, or refurbishing an existing hotel has an extensive ripple effect througho ut many sectors, from construction to design. Architects and interior designers, graphic designers and tech specialists, marketers and advertisers and the many tiers to the supply chains of bedding, food and beverages all benefit. With growth and expansion come much-needed employment opportunities, and, again, with a global chain, it's possible for team members to develop world-class skills and expose them to international employment opportunities.

Picture for a moment how many people it takes to staff one hotel. Then multiply that by 65 and the numbers become mind boggling. Thousands of individuals and their families will have the opportunity to enjoy job security.

Conferencing, meetings and events

Affordability is at the heart of planning when it comes to business travel, especially in event planning and logistics. Having more facilities available for conferencing reduces the need for extended flights, and having more flight routes available p rovides ease of access to more destinations. The travel and business network is growing at a furious pace. Couple the infrastructure that facilitates this with massive growth in internet access and business people are able to conduct more business online – saving time and money.

Take a look at Rwanda, currently the jewel in the continent's crown for the rate at which it has brought its citizens online, providing the means of access to the internet. In a country with few natural resources, online access means access to trade opportunities that may not have otherwise been available. Besides e-commerce, computer literacy gives locals the opportunity to become global citizens. In the 23 years since the horrific conflict that tore the nation apart, they've reimagined themselves as the country showcasing the possibilities for development in Africa.

"Bleisure" travel a secondary benefit

Business travel is on the rise, as is leisure travel. With growth in the volumes of middle-class black travellers the tourism industry is set to boom. More than old-school safari experiences, people want to have immersive experiences across the many countries within Africa with the vast array of cultural offerings. Across borders there's such variety that we'll start to see each nation being individually identified – no longer will international travellers refer to Africa as one homogenous place, but, with improved access and facilities to each country, differentiation will occur: travellers will get to know the difference between Ethiopia and Botswana or South Africa and Tanzania.

The route to Africa is opening up, and, if you haven't explored for both business and leisure purposes, it's time to get going.

Danny Bryer

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