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Tue 14 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Eyeing African investments

Wessel Witthuhn of IFA discusses the company's on-going hospitality investment plans in the region.

Wessel Witthuhn, IFA’s president for Africa and the Indian Ocean, talks about the company’s ongoing hospitality investment plans.

What projects does IFA have on the boil at the moment and with which partners?

Within Africa and the Indian Ocean we've got the Seychelles, Zanzibar and Kenya, then South Africa and Namibia - that's [what is] up and running already.

In Dubai, we've obviously got Kingdom of Sheba on The Palm, in Thailand we've got Raimon Land in Bangkok and we're looking at Brazil now. In New York, we've got something coming up and we've got the Yotel concept up and running as well; that's about it for now.

Partner-wise, we're with Yotel, Kempinski, Four Seasons, Sheraton and obviously Fairmont. We've also had discussions with Ritz-Carlton.

What are the traits IFA looks for in an operating partner?

There are number of deciding factors. For example, in Namibia we looked at Kempinksi purely for the fact that it's a country with German history so it made sense to have a German hotelier - 85% of the tourists that come into Namibia are from Europe, and Germany in particular.

Fairmont we've always believed in, with their brand mix that they've got, which is Fairmont, Savoy and Raffles. And we've also allied ourselves with Fairmont for what they call a fractional product, which you can exchange.

For example you can buy a fraction at Zimbali, then you can exchange it with a fraction in Dubai. So that opened up a whole new avenue as well.

Sheraton's always been involved in Portugal, where we opened about 15 years ago now.

Then we've got Kempinski in Lebanon as well; because of the directness within Dubai and things like that, we thought they'd do well over there.

We've got the Yotel concept, as we mentioned, and we're going to open up a Yotel in New York - a big city centre one, with something like 700 rooms - and then we'll see what happens in Brazil.

IFA seems to place a lot of emphasis on having local partners; how do you go about finding partners in new countries you are expanding into?

If I think about the partners we've got today, they've all approached us, so we've been quite lucky in that respect.

The benefits are huge; I mean, we're going into a new country we don't know; we don't know the ins and outs of the place. So why re-invent the wheel when you can work with somebody who already knows how things work, from the cultures to the laws to the way people think?

Up to now it's probably been one of our biggest successes - having local partners.

Generally they have land and that becomes part of the deal; that was how it happened in Namibia. Then we've got the expertise in development and we bring in an international operator, where the local partner may not have had that connection. It's a win-win situation.

Which markets would you say are performing the most strongly right now?

The residential market that has been coupled to a hotel seems to work for us really well.

We never build just a free-standing hotel, it's always linked to a residential component. The market for residential elements that are coupled with a hotel seems to work really well for us.

And it's the added value that appeals - if you buy an apartment anywhere and it's just yourself there's no true value in the sense that you can't exchange it, you have to maintain it, and so on. Here the hotelier does it for you.

In the Kingdom of Sheba project, you're introducing a timeshare element as well; what was the attraction of including that?

We got the license from RCI in the Middle East. Timeshare works well in America, it works well in South Africa, the fractional products for example are new products within South Africa so that's a new market we're going into, but the people understand timeshare.

And that's a market which we feel is untapped in the Middle East; we're the first ones to use timeshare there.

Where are you seeing the greatest demand right now - and as a result where can we expect to see IFA expanding in the future?

We are expanding quite rapidly within Africa, presently looking at Mozambique, Angola, going into the Indian Ocean we're looking at Madagascar, Mauritius and probably going into Zambia, so Africa we believe is a good market.

Latin America is also an upcoming market, hence us going to Brazil now to sort out a development there.

Everybody understands the Dubai market - and regarding the Far East market, we also believe Thailand's got huge prospects.

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