For too many years, African hospitality leaders have worked incredibly hard to maintain operational standards when critical products are unavailable to be sourced on time due to a myriad of reasons, from changing trade restrictions, poor transport infrastructure, currency fluctuations, and supply chain breakages. This week leaders across the hospitality sector have descended into Nairobi city, the vibrant capital of Kenya and hub of East Africa, to join the annual African Hospitality Investment Forum to discuss growth opportunities in the region, and to share their learnings from the last year including developments across the trade and operational landscape. Attending is Toggle Market’s CEO, Fuad Sajdi, and VP of Africa, Abraham Muthogo Kamau, where they have been leading discussions on leveraging local and regional sourcing, and the innovative ways the sector is reducing operational costs. Supply chain challenges in Africa have been one of the primary obstacles for economic growth and diversification, with businesses continuing to pay inflated prices for nearly every consumable and operational product that is not locally grown or manufactured – where even then it is more profitable to export outside the continent than to cater to the regional market due to weak intra-trade regulations. Today there are promising signs that this status quo is changing fast. The African hospitality industry is in the throes of a massive transformation. The catalysts? Ground-breaking trade measures, rapidly evolving technology, and a fresh generation of visionary leaders. These forces are challenging the traditional “business as usual” mindset and reshaping the African hospitality landscape. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the largest free trade area globally since the formation of the World Trade Organization, is set to significantly bolster intra-African trade. By reducing trade barriers, it allows a more fluid movement of goods, services, and people across borders. The ripple effect will be profound, with the hospitality sector one of the many industries reaping the benefits of this regional integration. Breaking with the Past The lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic have been harshest on the world’s largest continent which has for so long relied on suppliers in far flung countries, most heavily on goods from China, European Union (EU) countries, United States and India. Take for instance South Africa which remains the largest importing country in Africa at 17% of all imports in the region. Its largest import partners in 2023 were China at 21.9%, followed by United States at 8.8%, Germany at 7.3%, India 5.8% and the UAE 3.6%. The next largest importing countries are Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and Ghana. The elephant in the room is that Intra-African trade still stands at only 15.2%, a poor showing when compared with intra-continental trade figures for America, Asia, and Europe, which stand at 47%, 61%, and 67%, respectively, and which should be at the head of the pan regional efforts to support trade and business. Much of this is due to multiple trade restrictions that exist in the region and between neighbouring countries for instance. The recent World Bank 2022 AfCFTA report shows that the borders between African countries rank among the most restrictive in the world and is the main reason there is relatively little intra-African trade and investment. The impact of this in real terms is putting the break on the growth of regional businesses while limiting the flow of the international supply chain which in turn heavily relies on intra-African trade routes (where goods are transported across several borders by land routes) due to poor infrastructure and lack of trade and custom harmonisation. For locally grown African hospitality investors and operators, the supply chain challenges remain acute, and ramifications have meant consistent delays in the growing pipeline of projects, along with sometimes turbulent price fluctuations on shipping and logistics services, as well as effects of weakened domestic currencies. Our research across Toggle Hospitality clients in Africa has shown examples of multiple duties paid in this way to receive goods crossing several borders resulting in highly inflated pricing for essential products and equipment. Trade Cooperation and Collaboration The good news is that there are signs across all industry sectors of more joined up thinking and increased regional cooperation. For instance, amongst East African nations there has been a noticeable increase in activities across both government backed and private sector efforts through the multiple alliances that exist such as the East Africa Business Council, the East African Chamber of Commerce and Trade, and the East African Association. In addition, the highly lauded and anticipated rollout of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is geared to be the largest free trade region in the world based on the number of countries – at once connecting 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at US$3.4 trillion and with a major potential as well to lift over 30 million people out of the poverty line. For this to succeed there will need to be mutual and significant policy reforms and trade facilitation measures to reduce red tape, simplify customs procedures, and make it easier for African businesses to integrate into global supply chains. The upside is a boost of income gains around $300 billion. The role of technology and the importance of a knowledge-based economy will increasingly be a driving force for transforming economic prosperity. The latest report from UNCTAD has warned that neglecting the high knowledge-intensive services, such as information and communications technology services and financial services, will be a key reason holding back export diversification in Africa. A new generation of hospitality leaders in Africa making waves One of the most exciting outcomes of more regional integration is the rise of home-grown hotel chains that are now expanding beyond their respective national borders. In 2022, intra-African travel accounted for 40% of the total number of hotel guests in the continent, up from 34% in 2019, according to the African Development Bank. This increase is partly attributable to the easing of travel restrictions and the growth of African hotel chains. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), forecasts 134 million visitors by 2035. These figures make it the second fastest growing region in tourism after Asia Pacific. This new wave of hospitality brands is being led by a dynamic generation of African leaders who understand the local markets and are at the forefront of developing more viable value-based networks and forging stronger regional partnerships. These individuals are harnessing the benefits of the AfCFTA, using innovative practices to enhance the hospitality experience with a unique African flavour that can cater better to the African consumer needs while at the same time offering global standards of service. For example, today over 80 percent of safari lodges in South Africa are managed by indigenous brands and a part of the tourism sector that generates around 70 percent of hospitality revenue. This segment is growing rapidly across the region. “There is a major paradigm shift taking place with progressive trade policies and cutting-edge technology. This new generation of leaders are poised to redefine the essence of hospitality in Africa. We are delighted to be participating this year at AHIF 2023 which continues year on year to help shape the African hospitality industry and spotlight investment opportunities,” said Abraham Muthogo Kamau, VP of Africa at Toggle Market. Technology is a driving force behind this transformation. Digitization is permeating every facet of the hospitality experience from reservation systems to room service, with growing numbers of hotels now using a form of smart-room technology or employing AI-driven services such as chatbots for customer service and offering mobile apps for reservations and in-stay services. The integration of technology has also enhanced efficiency and sustainability within the sector. African hotels can see up to 30% increase in energy efficiency and 25% reduction in water usage, thanks to the adoption of smart technologies. Although Africa only receives 5% of the regional share of worldwide tourism this number is rising after the Covid slump with 2022 seeing 47 million tourists returning to the continent after the high of 69 million in 2019. UNWTO forecasts 134 million visitors by 2035 making it the second fastest growing region in tourism after Asia Pacific. There is also robust and growing domestic tourism within Africa as increasingly middle-class families and younger travellers opt for more local and regional travel. The supply chain, too, has been revolutionized by both trade facilitations and technology. A recent survey revealed that the average lead time for supply delivery dropped by 15% in 2022. This improvement is due to more streamlined cross-border processes and the implementation of digital supply chain management systems. Moreover, the increased use of this technology has led to more resilient and responsive systems. More hotel chains can now track their supply deliveries in real-time, forecast demand more accurately, and react swiftly to changes in the market. The wave of change isn’t confined to the large chains alone. It’s being felt in every corner of the industry, from boutique hotels in Accra that blend modern design with traditional Ghanian culture, to eco-friendly lodges in the Maasai Mara that champion sustainable tourism. As intra-African trade continues to flourish and the technological landscape evolves, the African hospitality sector is preparing for an exhilarating future. This new era is being ushered in by ambitious, tech-savvy leaders who are ready to shake off the old and bring forth the new.