Top priority continent

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Marriott International announced this week that it would be operating two properties in Ethiopia; the Marriott Executive Apartments and the Courtyard by Marriott. The Marriot Executive Apartments which are located near the UNECA are scheduled to open mid next year while the Courtyard by Marriott, which is currently under construction around the Bole Medhanealem area is scheduled to open in the next 2 to 3 years.
Alex Kyriakidis, President and Managing Director of Marriott Middle East and Africa sat down with Capital’s Eskedar Kifle to talk about the two properties as well as further opportunities in Ethiopia;

Capital: Tell us about your company.
Alex Kyriakidis:
Marriott International, in 2014, transformed its presence in Africa. In April of this year, we acquired Protea, the long established hotel chain in Africa, for USD 200 million which makes Marriott now the number one hotel chain across in Africa with 120 facilities in 10 countries.
If you add to those operating hotels our 27 hotels that are under construction, then it means by 2020, we will have nearly 150 hotels in 17 countries across Africa. That is the largest footprint in the industry. And crucially with that growth comes the opportunities for employment; the 5,000 new rooms will require 2,000 new associates to join Marriott.
This is going to be the difference because with the footprint we have now; we will be able to develop our people that much quicker, making  them ready to open our new hotels.
To give you an example that is very local, next year, we are looking to open our first Marriott right here in Addis Ababa in the Marriott Executive Apartments which are owned by Sunshine Construction.
Clearly, to train the team and have them ready to open the doors and welcome our guests, the way we will do it is, recruit from the local market several months before the opening, take the team to some of our established hotels for training and development and then bring them back for the preopening and soft opening period to assume the leadership responsibilities for the hotel.
We are looking to grow very fast in Africa; the continent is a top priority for growth for Marriott and particularly focusing on the fastest growing economies which of course Ethiopia is the number one.
Capital: Tell us about the hotel you are opening here.
Kyriakidis:
It is a Marriott Executive Apartments; it has fabulous restaurants, a pool, and gym, I went to see it this week and it is coming along very nicely, it is right next to the light railway that will cross Addis Ababa and we are hoping to open middle of next year.
We also have a Courtyard by Marriott under construction. That will be the next property to open. With that, we are just going up above ground level, so probably in 2 to 3 years that one will open as well. So those are the two and we are looking for other opportunities in the country.
Capital: Are the hotels that are being opened on a franchise basis or management?
Kyriakidis:
In this case; Marriott International will be the manager so we will be responsible for the operations in everyway.
Capital: Can you tell us about the investment?
Kyriakidis:
We don’t disclose our owner’s investments; we leave it up to them. But let me give you an answer across Africa, with 27 hotels that have 5,000 rooms under construction, our owners will be investing USD 1.5 billion to bring these hotels to opening. That just gives you a bench mark for investment right across our portfolio In Africa.
Capital: You have been attending the African Hotel Investment Forum, what has been your perception so far?
Kyriakidis:
I have to be honest with you; I have been attending conferences and sponsoring conferences for 40 years of my career and it is a genuine pleasure to see the Prime Minister of the country together with the Minister of Tourism, stand up and chair the conference and say how important travel and tourism is to this country. And where ever we see that happen, then the industry grows very quickly and very successfully when it has sponsorship from the very top of government right across the country.
This for me and for us at Marriott as sponsors and supporters of this conference, was hugely positive to see the leadership of the country come and say this industry is very important because a successful travel and tourism strategy will inevitably mean, with the growth here in the airlines that are coming in and out of Addis Ababa and else where in the country, the growth and employment opportunities will be very significant for Ethiopia.
Capital: A lot of hotels are coming to Africa. Would you say that the continent is currently the market for the hospitality sector?
Kyriakidis:
Let me give you the strategic rational as to why we at Marriott invested USD 200 million in Africa to acquire the Protea chain join us, we are looking at a continent of 1 billion people that by 2050 will grow to 2 billion if you look at the African Development Bank projection. By then, one in 4 people on our planet will be African.
To get there you will see growth in every segment of the population including the middle class and with it will come a demand for travel and tourism. As people generate more disposable income, the first thing they want to do is travel domestically, see families and friends, then regionally and then internationally. We have seen it in China, we have seen it in India and unquestionably, we will see it in Africa.
Within Africa, we have some economies on steroids of which Ethiopia is one. So you are absolutely right, for Marriott International, Africa is a huge focus and today we can say that we have 21,000 people in Africa, if you include the Marriott and Protea teams which we didn’t have six month ago, those 21,000 people grow to 30,000 when our hotels that are under construction open. This will give us a huge platform of talent that will support Marriott’s growth in Africa and that platform will connect us to the next generation African traveler which is a key success factor in our growth in this continent.