Can human capital development keep pace with hotel investment in Africa? Earlier this month at the Africa Hotel and Investment Forum (AHIF) in Nairobi, Belinda Nwosu FIH co-hosted a roundtable with Laurent Schatzmann of the Swiss Education Group, Moyo Ogunseinde of Uraga Real Estates, and Thomas Seghezzi of the Swiss Alpine Hospitality Education Group (SAHE).
The conversation revolved around the theme ‘Invest, Create, Conserve.’ We heard about the billion-dollar fund to develop AccorHotels in the region, the current economic and political drivers influencing sub-Saharan Africa, expansion plans for the hotel chains, the development of the regional brands, and several sustainability initiatives.
How I wish we had the same passion about developing local talent to drive these investments!
Laurent introduced the idea that human capital development strategies need to be incorporated into the investment strategies of hotel companies. Without this, the risk of running aground is much higher.
I added that research shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, reliance on expatriate talent remains the default setting in the majority of international and regional brands.
Thomas then made a case about bringing good quality hotel education to Africa through synergies with international partners such as the Swiss. Now, who could deny that Swiss hotel education tops the charts?!
Moyo, as co-developer of the Radisson Blu Victoria Island in Lagos, spoke about how they became the first international hotel chain to engage a local (Kenya is local!) as the General Manager. She said that having gone through several European GMs, the benefits of having a local in that position were very satisfactory: his experience and knowledge about hotel operations, and his keen understanding of the cultural nuances of the environment, have all been critical in influencing the hotel’s performance.
Let’s face it, when push comes to shove, every investor or potential investor will at one time or another have hit the brick wall of ‘where are the right people?’
So many issues were raised which brought to light the need to engage in a more robust discussion about how to move forward. We are addressing the elephant in the room, right?
One participant mentioned the need to identify people with the right attitude rather than just picking the glossiest CV. Experience does not equal good attitude. Another pointed to the ‘white privilege’ mentality that pervades recruitment decisions – if it’s white, it’s right – on the part of African owners. Then there was the battle for government support for education. Just how does one have a strategic human capital development plan without the support of government and a state-of-the-art hotel school? And so, the debates raged on until we had exhausted our allotted time.
What were the main take-aways? We were happy to have several investors in the room. Now it seems that via the forum (AHIF and the human capital development session) the message is beginning to get through that education is part of their strategies. Mossadeck Bally, Founder and CEO of Azalaï Hotels Group (a regional hotel chain) said he would love to see a world-class hotel school in every country on the continent. If only governments felt the same!
Developing human capital in Africa requires a concerted effort between investors, operators, governments and educational institutions. Maybe if we provide more opportunities for knowledge exchange, international experience and the best hotel education (either on the continent or elsewhere), we just might begin to address the gaps. What is clear, though, is this WAS an opportunity for knowledge exchange within an investment forum.
And what about the future which means connecting with all the young people we need to nurture in order to sustain the industry? Perhaps in the future, we could we have more hospitality schools engaging with investors at the forum. We had a glimpse of how this would pan out with the student career workshop that was hosted on the last day of the forum. What a rewarding interaction!
Our elephant had by now been well-acknowledged and stood at centre stage! However, the conversation about human capital development is ongoing and by no means has it been adequately addressed. But, at least this forum has created some noise around the continent about what we need to be doing.
Belinda Nwosu FIH is a research consultant at W Hospitality Group