Property developers should seek early professional advice when embarking on hotel projects

An African awakening in the hotel development arena might be an understatement as hotel projects, contracts and deals are concluded at a rapid pace in many well-disposed countries across the continent. Countries like Nigeria, DRC and Angola are entering the radar of major hotel investment, whilst destinations such as Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa still enjoy their place in the sun. 

Guy Stehlik, CEO of BON Hotels, says that property developers who are embarking on hotel projects would save themselves anguish and financial distress if they approached professional, experienced hotel management companies or hoteliers as early as possible.

“I’ve experienced it time and time again: desperate property developers reaching out to us after the hallmark DIY steps have been exhausted on their hotel project. Two or three trips to China’s ‘one-stop hotel design’ shops later, without taking any cognisance of developing a hotel with the markets it will serve in mind, and a few too many plunges into his own capital, funds have dried up – 30% into the project and the dream has become a nightmare.”

According to Stehlik, the most common errors occur at the offset of the design and architectural planning of the hotel. Hotel space requires a specific planning, flow and dynamic in order to use the space effectively. Consideration for storage, office and administration may be overlooked, parking and regulations are ignored, reception areas are poorly planned and food and beverage facilities are not cohesive. “A common mistake, and one that I’ve seen frequently when considering projects in Africa, is poor planning of space. Food and beverage is often a critical victim. Pool bars, roof bars, restaurants for breakfast, restaurants for lunch, coffee shops, you name it – multiple food and beverage facilities that will certainly result in a staffing, procurement and operational disaster.”

The hotel guest has become a significant critic and guest requirements should not be overlooked. Room design must include sound-proof doors, decent bathroom facilities and fittings, hotel-appropriate televisions, correct hotel mattresses, curtaining and linen. 

Stehlik notes that the BON Hotels group have often had to walk away from what could have been very successful hotel developments because they did not see viable solutions to the project “other than demolishing the entire building at whatever stage we found it and starting again – we have left owners dumb-founded and desperate and elected to walk away. We’ve seen some of the best locations in Africa destined for failure by inexperienced property developers.”

Hotel management companies should get involved early, from conceptualisation, architectural planning, projections (which will assist in funding), feasibility assessments. Hotel projects can result in a superior return on investment, but relying on personal or amateur hotel experience can see any property developer come a-cropper.

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