Created 2012, the Mangalis Hotel Group has so far expanded three brands in numerous African countries, and its development won't stop there. Its CEO, Olivier Jacquin, has answered Hospitality ON's questions.
It was really a 5-year journey. We started from a blank sheet. One has to be precise when mentioning Africa, since it's a really large continent. In our first development stage, we focused on Sub-Saharan Africa. It took a deep-thinking process about the African market and our concepts. We created ties with high-level partners all along the process: architects, creative agencies, suppliers, logistics' partners... Our mission is to offer a new freshness within African hospitality. Back in 2009, the launch of the Radisson Blu Dakar Hotel created a revolution leading to social networks commenting: "Finally an African hotel where you'd feel like it's in Barcelona." This property offered a contemporary, lifestyle and 'feel-at-home' concept, whereas local hospitality used to be very standardized. This was the modernity that Africa needed.
Why did you choose to split your offer into three different brands so quickly?
With our three brands [Yaas Hotels: lifestyle economy, Seen Hotels: upper mid-scale, Noom Hotels: upper up-scale] we cover 90% of needs. Following market studies, we noted that 62% of worldwide room supply belonged to 2- or 3-star segments; conversely, in Africa and the Middle-East, this ratio is 25%. Africa did not match global demand. Many independent properties have spread throughout the territory, often with limited respect for safety and quality standards. It was thus necessary to launch concepts and brands to meet demand and local needs. In 2014-2015, only 6% of the Saharan African hospitality portfolio was managed by worldwide hotel groups. This data confirmed that the market offered an opportunity to develop new chains.
Are there specific customer expectations depending on the locations where you are active?
Where we are located, 50% of the customer base is international. In hospitality terms, needs are the same as in Europe or Asia: first and foremost, it takes an excellent location. One may have a magnificent luxury hotel, if you're not well located, it will never work out - especially in Africa where cities spread over kilometers and kilometers. The second important thing is to develop a quality product that is up-to-date, stuffed with technology, and above all equipped with WiFi which is now standard. Last, but not least, safety, and appeal through services, entertainment, events... Hotels do have a social role. They are one of the main infrastructures around which the city grows; moreover we contribute to the local economy's growth.
Did you face specific issues regarding the Western vision of hotel development?
Africa is catching up really fast with modernity. There is no gap between Western and African hotel development processes; it happened in symbiosis. However, we've listened to the market. There is a need for smiles, for dynamism. We did not question the model: we adapted it.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
The biggest challenge certainly was the construction part. Climate, distance, logistics... All that is far more complicated than in Dubai, London or Paris. Obviously we also weathered unpredictable events, notably Ebola, that have slowed down the completion of some of our projects. But the partners we choose know Africa well. We know there is gap between the initial planning and the actual delivery.
What's your strategy regarding geopolitical and economic issues on a continent one may call 'unstable'? Did you have to take specific measures in some countries?
In 2015-2016, there were more 'media-covered' terrorist attacks in Europe than in Africa. The African continent is not sheltered from terrorism - nor is the rest of the world. Sure, with Bamako events and Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast, we had to reinforce safety, and keep it in harmony with state-level measures: state-of-the-art scanners, more security personnel, cameras, police forces... Insecurity is not African; it's global.
What is your vision of Africa's hospitality future? Especially in terms of staff and training?
I have a really positive vision: Africa will have one and a half billion inhabitants in 2050. Roads, transportation, planes... There development is speeding up and has contributed to opening Africa up to the rest of the world. Training is key. We lack hospitality schools: major cities need to provide themselves with hospitality and tourism training structures. We took the initiative to hire people originating not only from the hospitality business, but coming from all environments, then we insisted on training. But the African hospitality industry will have to focus on leisure, to boost the momentum that began in the 1980s/1990s. Today, the Middle-East, Asia, some Eastern or Southern European countries have taken over... One destination chases the other, so we need a continual supply of innovation to maintain the destination.
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