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Budget Hotels

It’s no secret that hotels in West Africa are seen as being expensive, particularly if you are “travelling with Rand”.  I have written before about why the prices are high – here in Nigeria we have to provide our own power plants, bore holes and treatment plants for water, sewage tanks, and even some times our own approach roads.  Top that off with the fact that we import virtually everything required to construct a hotel, and our prices work out sometimes double or more what they are in South Africa.

Throughout West Africa, the “parallel” currency is either the dollar or the Euro, and that tends to be the benchmark against which room rates are measured.  When African currencies like the Naira, the Kwacha and the Rand are falling off a cliff, hotel rooms seem to get more and more expensive.

You will no doubt have noticed that in most markets it is the top quality hotels that get built first, with developers and brand owners both wanting to make a statement, and to take advantage of the lack of any alternatives in a market with tired old, badly managed properties, in some cases rejects which were previously branded.  Travellers on a budget were forced to stay in those hotels, many of which really should have been demolished by now!

Over the last few years, as the hospitality space in these cities gets more developed, I have seen a noticeable increase in development in the branded budget space, as developers accept the argument that not everything has to be 5 star, and that there is money to be made from the budget/economy chain scale.

Accor, who have been operating in West Africa for many years, have been one of the pioneers in this space, with their Ibis brand.  Originally a single brand, with hotels in Dakar, Abidjan, Lomé and Douala, it is now a “super brand”, with different categories, from the economy level “blue”, through the original “red” to the upper budget level Ibis Styles (green).  According to their website “Whether you're here with loved ones or on business, your hotel should be a place where you feel good.  In the Ibis family, it is this feeling of well-being that is felt in every detail, right as soon as you come through the door of one of our hotels.”

There are two Ibis red hotels in Ikeja, and a newly opened Ibis Styles hotel in Accra’s Airport City.Looking at the OTAs shows prices at least US$100 per night below the branded competition.

Of course, pay less, get less – the rooms in an Ibis (red) hotel are in the order of 17 square metres, including the ensuite bathroom, which is half or less what you will get in one of the major US-branded hotels.  Small, but always clean, with TV, internet, hot water – the basics.  Don’t pack your cat, you won’t be able to swing it!  Forget multiple restaurants and bars, and be prepared for the barman to ask you to wait for your drink whilst he checks in another guest – multi-skilling of the staff is one of the secrets of success.

Of those big hotel chains, Accor is the only one majoring in the budget sector in Africa – Holiday inn Express are in South Africa, but have resisted spreading the brand elsewhere.  Equally Hilton’s Hampton is not yet dipping its toe in the African waters.  But there are two African chains, Mangalis and Onomo, making their presence felt.  Mangalis, with its origins in Senegal, is developing its Yaas brand, with the first hotel due to open in Dakar this year.  On their website Yaas claim to be “smart and economy hospitality……brilliantly designed to be inspiring, intuitive, playful, colourful, easy and democratic”.  I look forward to finding out what a “democratic” hotel is!  From what I read, the rooms are around 14 square metres, but the TVs are BIG!

Then there’s Onomo, founded by former Accor executives, with hotels in operation in Abidjan, Bamako, Dakar, Libreville and Lomé, and opening soon in Conakry.  Onomo Hotels are “Fusing economicaland ecological hotels…..offering the best of modern technology….giving priority to locally-flavoured dishes…..a platform for African art and creativity”.  They certainly get the award for funkiest website!  And interesting that a budget hotel concept gives a headline for its food and beverage offer – certainly the meals I have had at the Onomo in Libreville were excellent (if more French than local!).As with Ibis, the rooms are small, the facilities limited but the prices are around US$100 or more below those of other branded hotels in the same locale.  For a traveller on a budget, that’s a significant saving, whatever currency you are travelling with.

Trevor Ward

W Hospitality Group, Lagos



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