Market update: Morocco and Sudan

Hotelier Middle East journeys to Morocco and Sudan and finds that the GCC and the local African market is contributing to a positive outlook, along with the increase in the number of airline routes to these countries

The Arancino Terrace at the Four Seasons Marrakech
The Arancino Terrace at the Four Seasons Marrakech

The interest in the potential of the African continent as a whole is rising month on month, and according to new figures from the annual W Hospitality Group Hotel Chain Development Pipeline Survey, the number of planned hotel rooms in Africa has soared to 64,000 in 365 hotels, up almost 30% on the previous year.

North Africa, according to this report, achieved a 7.5% pipeline increase this year, which was overshadowed by strong growth in sub-Saharan Africa, which is up 42.1% on 2015. In 2011, the number of pipeline rooms in the five countries of North Africa was about 25% higher than that in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, it is less than half.

The report was released ahead of the African Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), which is set to take place in Lomé, Togo on June 21-22 2016, at the new flagship Radisson Blu Hotel du 2 Février. The second AHIF will take place on October 2-4 at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda.

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W Hospitality Group managing director Trevor Ward said in a statement: “There are two reasons why development activity in North Africa is now somewhat subdued.

“Firstly, the markets there are more mature and have already seen much development, so there are fewer opportunities for new hotels.

“Secondly, there is the political turmoil — in Libya, which has seen a 40% drop in the pipeline, and also Egypt, parts of which are experiencing drastic reductions in the number of tourists.”

SUDAN

Sudan has also faced its fair share of turmoil recently, but hoteliers have reported that the country is slowly making efforts to improve its tourism and hospitality prospects. HMH — Hospitality Management Holdings has deepened its presence in North Sudan since it expanded its footprint in the country with the addition of Coral Port Sudan Hotel and Ewa Khartoum Hotel & Apartments, and took over the management of Coral Khartoum Hotel in 2009. The chain is set to grow, with Ewa Port Sudan Hotel & Apartments expected to open in Q3 2016.

HMH — Hospitality Management Holdings CEO Laurent A. Voivenel reports that the hospitality market is showing positives, despite geopolitical challenges.

He says that the government of Sudan has pledged $1 billion a year to boost the country’s tourism industry, while air transportation has grown tremendously over the recent years.

Corinthia Hotel Khartoum general manager Nicholas Borg agrees and says that the government is creating economic activities and policies that encourage business opportunities, and adds that in turn, the Middle Eastern market has become increasingly important.

Borg also adds that more airlines are developing routes to countries within the African continent. “As air travel becomes more accessible and reasonably priced, we have become increasingly appealing to business travellers as well as leisure-adventure seekers that are looking for an untouched and different destination that can offer facilities matched by developed countries.”

Voivenel concurs: “Flights to and from the GCC countries are increasing largely due to the expansion of low-cost carriers in the region. Benefitting from the growing number of flight connections, inbound and outbound tourism to and from the Middle East is growing too.

“According to a report issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Wild Life, 591,350 tourists visited Sudan in 2013 spending US $735,501 million. This is naturally pushing the demand for quality hotels, particularly serviced apartments and mid-market properties.”

Borg continues: “An emerging market that we are catering for at the hotel are foreign travellers that come to Sudan to engage in adventurous activities. Sudan has a lot to offer in this regard and travellers are intrigued by the natural beauty of the country, particularly the Nile as well as the country’s historical and archaeological sites that date back to the era of the Black Pharos.”

One tourism segment that Borg thinks should be capitalised on is diving tourism. “Sudan is definitely seeing numerous developments and interest among adventure seekers from United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea and even the USA; as long as there is accessibility and promotion the business will continue to grow,” he adds.

Voivenel says 2015 was a positive year for HMH’s properties in Sudan. “We saw a slight improvement in the occupancy compared to 2014 which was in line with the industry results. The RevPAR increased by 6.3% while the average daily rate was up by 6.7% at Coral Khartoum Hotel.” He adds that Coral Port Sudan Hotel and the newly opened Ewa Khartoum Hotel & Apartments also did well.

Voivenel says North Africa offers excellent opportunities due to its huge natural resources, a growing middle class and improved infrastructure and facilities. “The history of civilisations here goes back millennia. A key challenge or obstacle hotel companies face in Africa is a fragmented continent which in turn means dozens of different legal systems and languages. Therefore, it turns out to be a difficult place to do business where developments are very slow. Having said so, this does not change the fact that it is a land of opportunity and it is the perfect time to capitalise on the demand for quality mid-market hotels.”

Borg says that overall more and more operators have started routes to Sudan, out of which the hotel industry has benefited. “For the past three years we have seen a double digit increase in our performance. Our ratings on TripAdvisor were also very encouraging and the hotel was once again awarded a certificate of excellence. There is still a lot of scope for growth and we feel that 2016 will be yet another record year and we aim to attract and cater to a more diverse market this year.”

He says his main challenge at this point as a general manager is available space. Over the course of 2015, the hotel added three additional meeting rooms and in 2016 it will invest in new catering facilities in the hotel gardens to create an open space outdoors for guests. “Several projects are being rolled out in the upcoming months to provide a more secure environment, improve data communication and the general facilities at the hotel and each room,” Borg adds.

Voivenel acknowledges there are global and regional economic and political factors that could affect business in 2016 in a challenging manner. “However, North Africa just like the rest of the continent holds enormous potential for quality mid-market and budget hotels in view of the growing domestic and regional business travellers,” he adds.

Borg also touches on the challenges. He says: “There is no industry that is transparent to the challenges that the world faces. These range from political, social and security issues. Nevertheless, one has to always be objective and seek to turn challenges into opportunities. During my years in the tourism industry I’ve learnt that hotels that watch the market closely and find different ways to meet current demands will always survive and continue to stay on top.”

MOROCCO

According to the annual W Hospitality Group Hotel Chain Development Pipeline Survey, Morocco has 33 hotels and 5,681 rooms in the development pipeline this year, and ranks fourth in the top 10 countries by number of rooms. Nigeria, Angola and Egypt are in the first three spots with 10,222, 7,560 and 6,660 rooms respectively.

Known for its culture and history, Morocco has perhaps had better luck with wooing tourists to its country. Four Seasons Resort Marrakech general manager Félix Murillo stresses that the country is one of “the most sought-after international travel destinations for visitors from around the world”.

Murillo adds: “In terms of trends, more and more guests to Morocco are looking for enriching experiences that extend beyond just a luxury stay in a five-star hotel. They seek experiences that integrate elements of wellness, cultural insight, contemporary art scene and much more.”

He also says his property has done well. “From a hotel perspective, we experienced growth across all segments compared to 2014. However, in terms of the local tourism and hospitality industry, Marrakech in general has seen a slight drop compared to last year mainly due to the international geopolitical situation.”

However, after opening her property in October 2015, Mandarin Oriental Marrakech director of sales and marketing Emilie Pignol reveals that in Morocco, even with a decrease in certain source markets, others have taken their place.

“We have noticed a decrease in the number of visitors from historical markets such as France, Italy and Spain. However, that has been complemented by an increase of Middle Eastern visitors to Marrakech, as well as Moroccan residents looking for luxury weekend breaks without leaving Morocco. Great Britain and the US markets remain relatively stable,” Pignol explains.

Murillo says the French market remains a major contributor for the country followed by the UK, USA, and Germany. “At the Four Seasons Resort Marrakech in particular, we have witnessed a growth in guest arrivals from Africa, the GCC region as well as the local market,” he adds.

Pignol also advises that the market tends to be unpredictable due to its last minute nature. She says the key is for hoteliers to diversify sources of business and to be open to exploring new opportunities in other markets, such as China.

“Hoteliers must also be aware of regional developments in related industries that can have an impact on hotels in Morocco. For example, Qatar Airways’ partnership with Air Maroc to launch a direct flight between Doha and Marrakech as of July will definitely help to develop business from the Middle East,” Pignol adds. There is huge potential, she says, in leveraging developments in the airline industry and capitalising on new markets to diversify sources.

“The top challenge for the market is maintaining consistency in terms of service for luxury hotels. At Mandarin Oriental we invest and focus heavily on on-going training to ensure we stay at the forefront in the industry,” she says.

Murillo concludes: “The North African hospitality market is transforming and changing at a very rapid pace owing to a number of socio-economic factors. The needs of both business and leisure travellers are evolving rapidly as well. However, with changes come challenges and the opportunity to innovate and set new benchmarks in the industry. Also, certain attributes of this shift remain unaffected such as the region’s time-honoured appeal among travellers.”

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