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Intercon plans more investments

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 2- The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has announced plans to expand its business portfolio in Africa.

Speaking while marking the hotel’s 40th anniversary, IHG Director of Operations Africa Karl Hala said they were looking at key locations in Africa to increase the number of hotels from the current 19 hotels to 27 or more in the next three years.

 “We plan to develop our Africa network with more than 30 properties in prime locations and high growth cities over the next three to five years, he said.

The group is looking to open in key destinations like Angola, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Senegal.

In Kenya, IHG is set to open the Crowne Plaza Nairobi in the city’s Upper Hill area in December 2009.

According to Mr Hala the 163-room, five-storey hotel will translate to 200 job opportunities.

He pointed out that Kenya was an important business and economic hub for East Africa hence the reason for continued investment in the country. He believes the African market has been more resilient hence the plans to expand.

But the group is not oblivious of the effects of the global economic crisis.

The group has made some changes in its organisational structure to find the best ways to minimise the impact with initiatives such as ‘Green Engage’ – an energy saving endeavour – that has helped reduce electricity expenditure.

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Over the years, IHG has strategically decided to become \’asset light\’ by selling a lot of its hotel assets to concentrate on building better brands. This move was aimed responding more effectively to customer needs to ensure the group is able to become more competitive.

“We needed to understand the type of customers we were targeting for each brand, the products and services we offer to deliver experiences unique to each brand and what type of employees can deliver those promises to our guests,” Mr Hala said.

At the Intercontinental Hotel, Mr Hala said they had not resolved to downsize like most companies but chose to strengthen its human resource by training and empowering its staff.

“Since June 2009 we have recruited 92 staff members, promoted 32 and plan to hire 24 more before year end.”

At the same time, he urged the government to make significant investment in convention facilities to make Kenya an ideal conferencing destination.

He argues, more tourists and businessmen flocking to the country would result in a win-win situation both for government and the hotel industry.

“I believe Kenya has all the trappings to effectively combine business with pleasure which would result in a higher number of tourists into the country,” he said.

The Kenyatta International Confrece Centre remains the only major conference and convention facility in the country and has played host to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) confrence back in August.

Mr Hala however feels lack of more facilities has undermined Kenya’s chances of hosting frequent international confrences.

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“If you look at a country like South Africa, they have several massive convention facilities spread right through the country. That is why you find it plays host to a number of major events in a year,” Mr Hala said.

Already, a number of hotels such as the Intercontinental, come fitted with confernce facilities and have recorded booming business, but Mr Hala feels more could be done.

At the same time, he said significant infrastructure developments would have to be made saying it was a key factor in any investment being made into the tourism industry.

“The biggest challenge in Africa is the lack of infrastructure. If this could be improved upon it would greatly facilitate the business environment and further support growth in the countries we operate in,” he added.

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