That was the view of the African Export Import Bank’s Kofi Adomakoh, who attended a recent gathering of top executives, working on the agenda for the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), Africa’s top event for hotel investors.
The main findings were that African markets were progressively being seen as open for business and regardless of perceptions of eminent risk, the continent was not considerably different from others.
Yet, the forum felt that the continent’s complexity and rich diversity pointed to the need for flexibility when it came to business strategy.
Three factors for success
Three main factors considered most likely to distinguish success from failure when doing business in Africa were:
- Appreciation that every country in Africa is unique
- The importance of receiving support from local experts
- Placing a high value on relationships.
Several executives agreed that it was vital to remember that every country in Africa was unique, and in order to do business successfully, every single country needed to be understood in its entirety.
Hilton Worldwide’s Michael Cooper said investors should “remember that Africa is not one country”.
“Collectively we must continue to put pressure on all African governments for open skies and visa-free travel,” he added.
There was a strong consensus that appreciating local players, receiving support from local experts and building strong local partnerships was critical for business success in Africa.
Aecom’s Kevin Underwood said that “any development project must have a local sequence and one must understand the culture of the African countries”.
Colliers International’s Filippo Sona advised that companies should contact local companies and get local expertise to develop in Africa. “Use local resources,” he said.
Prime Assets’ Al-Karim Hamir said: “You definitely have to have a local partner to learn and climb the ladder.”
Talent is key
To be successful, it was also necessary to identify, nurture and retain talented and committed local staff. “Having local feet on the ground is essential and creating teams of excellence is important - the stronger your professional team is the better,” said Rezidor Hotel’s Andrew McLachlan. “Like a strong football team, you need to pick the best in every role”.
The group noted the importance of collaborating with various organisations: from all levels of government, to the investment world. “The only way to grow your business effectively is to have really strong relationships,” said Kingdom Hotel’s Lourie Kruger. “When you don’t have the infrastructure like you do in other markets, those relationships make everything much more efficient.”
“Sit together,” said GIZ’s Klaus Lengefeld. “Many organisations are investing a lot into sustainable development but do not work together with the hotel investment world”.
Other factors that emerged included investing in people, focusing on positives, being patient and persistent, having realistic expectations and being prepared for any hidden costs or surprises. Also, experienced foreign investors repeatedly noted that nowhere else was there such a direct correlation between careful planning (and flexibility about plans once formed) and a successful outcome.
All of the above named executives would be present at the AHIF, taking place at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, form September 29 to October 1, where they would be discussing these issues and many more questions in depth.