Change – and how we see our neighbours on the continent – were very much part of the second and final day of the Tourism Business Council’s Hotel Investment Conference Africa (HICA 2013).
“My story about doing business on the continent has never been about anything but inspiration, has never been about anything else other than the attitude I carry in myself, has never been about anything else than believing that this continent has a lot to offer.
“It has always been about believing that Africa is the ultimate business frontier,” said business commentator Victor Kgomoeswana.
He quoted Longfellow:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
“And I’ll start with the labouring and the waiting part, because this continent that I love take some labour, and it takes a lot of patience.”
He said that three things determine whether people will succeed when doing business in countries outside of South Africa: “How you think, where you stand, and how you behave.”
But most powerful of all he said that it’s dangerous to view Africa from Sandton: “The only way you will know what I know about Ethiopia is if you fly there, and you start walking the streets.” (I wrote in March about why investors care sourballs for statistics, and why in-country experience is far more effective when making long-term investment decisions: see ‘Choosing your destination: HICA and the investment landscape’ and ‘The great tourism statistics debate.’)
This was a sentiment with which everyone agreed – and they agreed, too, that HICA was a good start for the journey, since it brought together so many people from so many countries across the continent.
“This continues to be one of the premier B-to-B events in the hospitality industry,” said Wiza Nyondo, head of tourism at First National Bank,
He said that HICA was valuable for re-connecting with people, for generating new leads, and for “the whole experience of being in a place where all major hoteliers, researchers, consultants, and government officials are gathered in one place.
“It showcases how important hospitality and tourism are – not only for this province (KwaZulu-Natal) as our host, but for the whole region.”
He particularly enjoyed the focus on tourism growth in Africa: “It’s been fantastic for me.”
Developer Eugene Jackson agreed: “I’m very happy to see the amount of fully integrated hotel industry executives and investors here,” he said.
“My take-away is that South Africa and Africa are going to be on the up-and-up in terms of building more hotel rooms around the continent.”
Grant Thornton’s Gillian Saunders said that she was inspired by Victor’s talk. “We need to embrace Africa, become part of Africa – I think that’s what he was telling us.
“We don’t need to be different: we need to be part of it, and get there, and understand it.”
And HICA isn’t only for the corporates, the chain hotels, and the analysts: HICA newbie Nils Heckscher (Cape Town’s Winchester Mansions hotel) said that it was interesting to learn about travel and tourism in Africa – and although he still didn’t know how he should approach Africa from his perspective as the owner of a single property, he did know that he needs to concentrate on it, and that HICA has broadened his horizons.
“I think this [the African market] is something we have neglected, and a lot of people with disposable income have gone to London, gone to Geneva, gone to Dubai – yet Cape Town’s got a lot to offer as well.”
The mood at HICA this year was up-beat and positive.
“The greatest take-away is to know that the industry is on the upswing,” said Wiza Nyondo.
“Yes, the challenges still remain… but after about three years of negative news in the industry… now you see the optimism, you see the hope, you see the excitement that once again tourism and hospitality are growing.”
And what would he like us to discuss at HICA 2014?
“To take stock of what has happened this year.
“Next year we need to look back to see whether we’ve really walked the talk in terms of investing in cross-border markets, and to find out how far we’ve gone.”
Eugene Jackson would like to see more public officials at HICA 2014: “To understand what the opportunities are, and to appreciate that this is a very important part of the future growth of the continent.
And he’d like to hear more detailed how-to presentations in order to get a better understanding about specific aspects of the industry.
“I think that’s very, very important.”
Gillian Saunders would like to continue exploring the consumer of the future (she spoke this year as a panelist during the session titled ‘Consumer Trends and insights in 2012 and 2013’), and especially she’d like to see us talk about how to access the African consumer of the future.
“If we’ve got this burgeoning, growing middle class in Africa, what are their travel patterns, when will they travel for business, and when will they start to take to leisure travel?”
And Nils Heckscher – who thinks he’ll most likely attend HICA 2014 - would like to see more African case studies.
He’d like to know “Where non-group hotels make a difference, where there are small investment possibilities,” and he’s looking forward to an event where he can, “Exchange views, exchange experiences with similar properties and like-minded people.”
As Victor Kgomoeswana (“How you think, where you stand and how you behave”) said: if you do get out of your comfort zone then, like Longfellow, “You will know that Africa is not an empty dream.
“If your soul is still slumbering to the opportunities that Africa has to offer, it is dead.
“The lives of great men, of great companies and leaders who have come before us – and shown us what Africa can do – should remind us that the only way we’re going to be relevant in time is if we convert the opportunities that Africa has to offer.”
And converting opportunities is exactly what HICA was designed to do.
- HICA was presented at Durban’s Elangeni Hotel by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa – TBCSA: www.tbcsa.travel
- For blog posts about HICA 2013, please visit www.thistourismweek.co.za