By WEKESA AMOS MASABA
Recently the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Mrs. Doreen Silver Katusime, called me to have a discussion on why Uganda does not have many branded hotel chains like other African countries. I was very impressed by the fact that she was concerned and I must say, we have a very good PS in her. How I wish she was surrounded by more people that cared about such discussions.
Today I just want to focus on highlighting to those interested about what is happening across the continent of Africa in as far as international chains/branded hotels are concerned and probably advise on what should be done by us Ugandans in order to attract those chains of hotels in Uganda. As I write now Uganda has one international five star hotel, the Sheraton Hotel. Plus a few regional chains like Serena, Protea etc. Latitude is building a five star hotel in Makindye Hill now and that will become second in Uganda.
According to both the Knight Frank report 2018 and Abdi Latif Dahir reports December 2017 (please google this) the top 10 African countries with branded chains of hotels are: South Africa with 430 chains, Egypt 300, Morocco 153, Tunisia 103, Kenya 68, Mauritius 60, Nigeria 58, Tanzania 46, Zimbabwe 31 and lastly Algeria 28. Uganda doesn’t even feature amongst the top 15, which in my opinion is something we as Ugandans must be very concerned about. The top 2 reasons advanced in the reports as to why those countries are topping are due to their tourism inflows and that they are popular business destinations.
Kenya, our neighbors have attracted 20 extra chains of hotels according to business daily (that means they will be having 88 chains/branded hotels by 2023) of the 25th June 2018 and all of those chains will be opening up hotels within the next 5 years. Of those, 14 chains/branded hotels will be opening up hotels by next year which means construction is happening as I write this article. Best Western alone is building 6 properties now and the Business Daily quoted W. Hospitality Group on this, a group with reliable data and information in the hospitality space. I also know that the Hilton Group opened 2 hotels in Nairobi in February this year, something I learnt while hosting the Vice President of the same group here in Uganda in the same month.
If anybody wants to know whether a country is involved in international business, they will look at the arrivals of passengers in the different airports of respective countries and also look at the international hotel chains with the levels of occupancies. International trade involves people traveling by air and staying majorly in the international chains or branded hotels because they prefer hotels whose services they experience elsewhere. Chains/branded hotels will not invest or go to any country out of emotions but purely out of business opportunities. For any country to attract hotel chains branding and marketing are very critical in addition to lobbying those chains.
Last year in October, I was invited as a special speaker at The Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) which attracts the biggest players in the hotel investment community and that took place in Kigali Rwanda. I was invited to share my life story and they allowed me share my insights about Uganda and its potential. I played a short video showcasing Uganda’s beauty which attracted a lot of attention and I remember a Ugandan media guy (from the observer) who had been invited for the forum coming to me after the presentation, very excitedly saying I had been trying to convince people about Uganda and no one was interested but things changed after your presentation.
The Rwanda government paid one million dollars to host that meeting (AHIF) and in same meeting Rwanda outlined their vision for tourism and hotel investment. They had a very smart young lady do the presentation of their projects and am sure they attracted a lot of investors minds because they were very clear about the areas of investment. They assured the investment community of their plan to market Rwanda as a premier destination as a way of boosting confidence and we all can see that they are following through with their marketing ideas of Rwanda. I have been invited as a speaker again this coming October in Nairobi which means I must have done a good job last year. I have made inroads within AHIF and how I wish I could meet a key decision maker in Uganda for us to attract these chains or branded hotels. Last year, only one chain (Latitude) said Uganda was on their radar for investment and as a Ugandan patriot, I was so disheartened.
In summary, for Uganda to attract international hotel chains, government must commit to branding and marketing Uganda as a key African tourism destination and then create a lobby group composed of competent people with a lot of international exposure. I also realized that many of these chains or branded hotels prefer partnering with country local investors who have land and some little capital as equity and local knowledge, the reason why government must focus on growing local entrepreneurs. Uganda must move away from basic none productive conversations to result oriented discussions.
The author is CEO, Great Lakes Safaris ltd and Uganda Lodges ltd