Emele Onu Lagos

Marriott International, the owner of brands including the Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance, is strengthening its position in west Africa as economic growth in Nigeria and Ghana boost travel and tourism.

Protea Hospitality Holdings, which Marriott agreed to buy for $186 million (R2 billion) in January, was building five-star and three-star hotels in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, adding 400 rooms to the 700 it had in the country, said Danny Bryer, the director of sales, marketing and revenue for Protea.

“With the surging Nigerian economy resulting in companies around the world seeking to do business, demand for quality hotel rooms is expected to increase substantially over the next few years,” Bryer said.

Marriott, the largest publicly traded hotel chain after Hilton Worldwide Holdings, will almost double its rooms in Africa to about 23 000 with the acquisition of Protea, helping it expand in a continent where a growing middle class and rising travel are fuelling the fastest pace of hotel development in the world.

The number of hotels in Nigeria rose 88 percent to 6 200 in the two years to December, according to the country’s tourism development agency.

Economic growth in Africa’s biggest oil producer would accelerate this year from an estimated 6.4 percent last year, driven by services, trade and agriculture, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said early this month.

“Improvements in the nation’s economic outlook are motivations to investors,” Sally Mbanefo, the director-general of the Nigerian Tourism Development, said.

Hotel rooms jumped to 186 000 from 99 000 over the past two years.

Protea’s expansion plans in Nigeria focus on Port Harcourt in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the nation’s capital Abuja and the south-eastern state of Enugu, according to Bryer.

Domestic tourism revenue in Nigeria was targeted to triple to $12bn within a decade, creating more than 400 000 jobs, Mbanefo said.

“If just 20 percent of Nigeria’s approximately 160 million population spend 10 percent of their per capita income of over $2 000 on domestic tourism, we will have an annual domestic tourism market of $12bn,” Mbanefo said.

Hotel investors and operators, finding growth slowing in mature European and US markets, are expanding in Africa as the continent is buoyed by increasing trade with countries including China and rising demand for services such as lodging.

“Protea currently has 10 operational hotels in Nigeria and around 115 in total in seven African countries, with two more scheduled to open in Ghana and Rwanda,” Bryer added.

With the Ghana oilfields also creating demand for business travel, Protea would open a 130-room hotel in Takoradi in the country’s western region later this year, he said.

“For the moment, we’re focused on Nigeria and Ghana, but further expansion into other west African countries cannot be ruled out,” he said.

Ghana’s economy, which had outpaced the average for sub-Saharan Africa for the past 10 years, would expand by 4.8 percent, below the 5.5 percent increase last year, Samir Jahjah, the country representative for the IMF, said last month. – Bloomberg