The Africa Hotel Investment Forum Kicks Off in Kigali

· @laureneveritt ·

The Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) opened yesterday at the Radisson Blu Hotel and Convention Center in Kigali, Rwanda, and will run until October 6. The event brings together investors and government officials as well as local and international hospitality industry professionals to discuss the current state of the industry in Africa and future opportunities.

In the opening remarks, speakers were optimistic about the industry’s prospects in Africa, particularly East Africa. Matthew Weihs, managing director of conference organizer Bench Events, pointed out that arrivals are up 11% in East Africa, signaling an influx of travelers and tourists to the region.

From 630 hotel rooms to 10,000 

Francis Gatare, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, shared Weihs’ enthusiasm for the promise of the sector. Rwanda’s hospitality industry has grown from 630 hotel rooms in 2003 to over 10,000 rooms today. Moreover, the services sector now comprises approximately 49% of the country’s GPD, and the tourism sector is Rwanda’s leading source of external revenue, Gatare said.

“I want to reiterate that tourism is a major instrument to achieve the goals of the longterm development of our country,” Gatare said in reference to Vision 2020, Rwanda’s master plan for development.

Marriott expands in Africa and celebrates opening of Kigali hotel 

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, was also on hand to discuss the industry’s growth. Marriott has become the leading provider of hotel rooms in Africa after acquiring South African hotel chain Protea Hotels and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. The company celebrated the opening of its Kigali Marriott Hotel yesterday, October 4, and today announced six new hotel deals in Africa. With the new hotels, Marriott will have 37,000 rooms in Africa. Sorenson is optimistic that investing in Africa’s hotel industry will prove to be a smart move in the longterm.

He attributes much of the industry’s growth to the rising middle class. “We have seen 2 billion people leave poverty behind, and for the first time, [they] have resources to do more than simply think about food and shelter … and many of those people want to travel,” he said. He also credits the easing of visa restrictions with improving travel and tourism on the continent.

Investment in infrastructure creates new opportunities and jobs 

The growth of the tourism and hospitality industries will also require investments in infrastructure, according to Gillian Saunders, the global leader for hospitality and tourism at Grant Thorton. This includes investment in airports, roads, and ICT.

In Rwanda, plans have been drawn for a new international airport in Bugesera, 28 kilometers from Kigali. The airport is expected to ultimately create 6,000 new jobs.

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