Lifestyle hotels: why Africa can lead the way

Trendy millennials and the disruption to the hotel market by AirBNB and others has led to a boom in demand for lifestyle hotels

August 29, 2018

Here the experience goes beyond four walls, offering an individualised view into a trendy neighbourhood or a sense of community within a historic town. Hotels are increasingly moving away from boring brand standards to deliver a refreshed and ‘cool’ look to their offering. Moreover, guests and owners are buying into it.

Africa often lags global hotel trends, yet in the lifestyle segment, there are plenty of interesting brands and projects taking shape. Many of these concepts recognise that Africa is unique, vibrant, colourful and exciting – and hotel groups are curating their brands accordingly. Aside from a pure lifestyle offering, many of the core (read: boring) brands are increasingly being adapted to incorporate more lifestyle elements. The refurbishment Pullman in Dakar is a great example of this, with design centered around contemporary African art. ONOMO Hotels have placed contemporary African art at the centre of their brand architecture.

Sure, the supply of lifestyle products from the big brands accounts for less than one per cent of supply in the region, but this is changing. Radisson Hotel Group recently opened one of their first Radisson RED’s in Cape Town and are eying locations across the continent for the brand. Accor is increasing their lifestyle offering, and there could be some Mama Shelters on the horizon. Marriott has been looking at a number of W Hotels, Alofts and similar. Will this satisfy the taste of the millennial (or millennial at heart…) – free WiFi, pet-friendly hotel, cool urban locations, complicated coffees, and artisanal gins (or are we on to rum already?).

There are some great local and regional lifestyle hotels coming up. Mangalis already has Yaas in Dakar; LUX recently opened the Kelly Hoppen designed Lux Grand Gaube in Mauritius, Hallmark House in Johannesburg in collaboration with Sir David Adjaye, one of Africa’s preeminant architects.

With Africa being the origin of so much exciting and colourful culture, food and music, why can’t Africa be the origin of new and exciting hotel concepts? The market dynamics certainly seem to support it:

  • Africa – the birthplace of diversity. Cultural tourism is on the rise, with an in interest in art, culture and history. Africa is becoming a hotspot for the adventurous young traveller looking for unique places. The attraction of Africa as a unique, authentic, and memorable destination is unmissable. What a great opportunity to weave hotel concepts with the rich cultures of African cities, particularly contemporary and authentic African culture.
  • Experience, Experience, Experience. Millennials are impatient. Good is not good enough anymore. These travellers want excitement, intrigue and to be part of the vibe. They want to share and show off their room and their surroundings across the multitude of social media channels and can relive these moments through Instagram and Facebook. So creating spaces that allow for the perfect selfie would be #winning.
  • City, Cuisine, Community. Millennials are already well integrated into the workforce, and they are increasingly taking to the skies and travelling the world for the corporates. They no longer want just a room, a bed and room service. They want to be part of the neighbourhood. They want to live and eat like a local. They want to experience the culture, cuisine, and community of the area. Creating collaborative and creative spaces is essential.
  • The value orientation of the traveller is changing. It is not about price; it is about value. Everyone loves the added value, and lifestyle hotels embrace this. Free and fast WiFi, keyless doors, online check-in, attract the tech-savvy traveller. Free breakfast as part of the package and eliminating unnecessary fees capture the market. Millennials are loyal and are especially loyal to those that give back.

As African art, culture, and community begin to gain popularity, African inspired lifestyle hotels will continue to carve out a niche for themselves, frequented by youthful, and curious guests who crave an authentic, connected experience as opposed to the curated and somewhat isolated traditional hotel stay. The time has come where a hotel guest can have not only peaceful night’s sleep to look forward to, but for local delicacies such as Suya, (Nigerian mixed-grill) in exciting urban settings spaces, with like-minded travellers who shape the African continent and the face of African hotels and hospitality.