As the launch of Stelios-backed Fastjet approaches, the status of easyHotel in Africa remains a little murky. Its first property on the continent, at Rissik Street in Johannesburg, was scheduled to open in November 2012. If that is still the case, things are awfully quiet – but Wolfgang Thome writes that the brand was making noises about entering Kenya at the Africa Hotel Investment Conference in September, which suggests plans are still afoot.
EasyHotel’s Africa ambitions are heavily predicated on business travel. Here’s David Lenigas, executive chairman of easyHotel (and Fastjet) backers Lonrho, talking to How We Made It In Africa back in April:
We just see a chronic demand for a really good international standard, high quality budget hotel chain that focuses on business travellers within Africa … We want to build hotels in CBDs or big commercial centres where people can book, stay and go to work.
The vast majority of business travellers are not lounge-hopping, large-living rock stars, but people who need to go somewhere for a meeting, spending as little as possible and making as much as possible. Give them a functional, consistent budget brand that has good locations, loads of capacity and won’t max out expenses.
Jump to Accra and you’d be entitled to ask whether the African Development Bank takes the opposite view. As I mentioned on last week’s minor progress update, the new Kempinski Gold Coast City, opening spring 2013, got a total of $18m in AfDB loans partly on the grounds that it would increase business traffic to the city.
There is some logic there. It will be a statement hotel. It is Kempinski’s first in West Africa, and should spin out plenty of international media coverage. The message is that Accra has money and style, and is open for business.
That is a nice message to send, but it doesn’t automatically translate into an increase in business travel volume. Is KGCC going to change the size and shape of the market, or just poach the visitors that are currently using Movenpick, La Palm and Labadi Beach? Will it cater to untapped demand or compete for a slice of the same pie?
Down at the budget end, Stelios and Lonrho believe there is considerable untapped demand for cheap, business-focused services all over Africa, just as there has been in other regions. Whether or not they ever manage to put an easyHotel in Accra is moot, but there’s little doubt that they think it would work, especially given Fastjet will be based here.
In a sense, the easyHotel/Lonrho and Kempinski/AfDB connections are betting on opposite ends of the accommodation market to attract business travellers. It’s a pity easyHotel remains up in the air; seeing the two projects developed here at the same time would have been an interesting test case. As another luxury property prepares to open, good budget accommodation remains largely unexplored.