Strengthening Presence

Starwood Hotels & Resorts is one of the big players on the international hotel scene, with a portfolio of nearly 250 properties, including 37 hotels in 19 African countries. That number is set to grow, as Starwood, like most of its competitors, has plans to further strengthen its presence here. Editor Dylan Rogers sat down at Meetings Africa with Martina Boettcher, the group’s Regional Director of Marketing for Africa & Indian Ocean, to get a clearer idea of what the Starwood approach is. There is a flurry of hotel activity on the African continent, in the form of signed deals, new partnerships, buy-outs, new builds, management contracts and a host of renovation projects. Within that there is a queue of big international hotel brands, either looking for a new presence on the last remaining ‘untapped’ continent, or a stronger presence, in the form of additions to their portfolio. Starwood Hotels & Resorts slots into the latter category, and believes it understands exactly what the modern day business traveller is looking for. “It’s an ambience, energy and vibe in a hotel that is not too different from his own lifestyle,” says Boettcher. “Gone are the days where you need to dress up to cross the lobby or are unsure about entering a restaurant because you can’t read the menu. The technical part of it is also important – Wi-Fi, bandwidth, ease of booking, information via mobile devices etc.” There are eight brands in the Starwood stable – Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Le Meridien, Westin, W Hotels, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, and St Regis. According to Boettcher, Sheraton has traditionally been Starwood’s ‘pioneer’ brand, going into new countries first and establishing a presence, before being joined by other brands in the group. Africa saw that with the Sheraton Cairo many years ago, and Egypt is now home to seven Sheratons and four Le Meridiens, with a St Regis, a Westin and a W Hotel due to open in the country over the next two years. So, if Sheraton is Starwood’s market leader or pioneer brand, what does Boettcher think are the other Starwood brands that are a possible fit for the African continent? “Aloft and the W Hotel,” she says. “Aloft for me would be a natural addition to the African hospitality. It’s more playful than the Four Points brand. It’s different by design. It also speaks to a generation. If you look at business people in Johannesburg, they want to have fun, have a beer and play pool – not necessarily sit with a tie on. In Nigeria there is so much innovation, creativity and energy going on – this is exactly what the Aloft brand caters for. The concept is suited to the younger, dynamic countries, particularly with their emerging middle classes.” Boettcher believes that times have changed, particularly in Africa, and that there is a great opportunity for the limited services or 4-star hotel brands. “The market is ready,” she says. “Before, every traveller who travelled to an African destination was automatically looking for a 5-star property. Now, with the economy and security improving, it’s very easy to say let’s move to a different hotel category. I think this is going to be the future in more and more destinations.” And which of those destinations does Boettcher believe qualify as Africa’s latest hotspots? “North Africa, with Algeria in particular,” she says. “We’re opening two more properties there, and we’re looking for a third one as well. There’s Nigeria, obviously, and the countries or regions where we are not present – East Africa certainly being a pressing one. Nairobi is interesting from a business hub perspective, whilst there’s also Tanzania. These are certainly locations we would like to be present in.” There’s plenty in the Starwood African pipeline – nine planned openings, including that of the Westin Turtle Bay in Mauritius this year. There’s also some North African activity, including the re-opening of the Sheraton Cairo after an extensive renovation. Throw in the Starwood new builds scheduled for opening in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and it’s clear that there’s a lot expected of this big hotel group. Keep an eye on their African expansion.
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