“I am launching Inspiring Expeditions to go where people haven’t been before or go differently (..) I’m zeroing in on seeing unusual things and unusual animals while we still have them” said Geoffrey Kent to the New York Times recently. As the founder and CEO of the luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent (350 tours in more than 100 countries), Mr Kent has accompanied Prince Charles in Oman, designed a China trip for Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and experimented with space travel. When it came to list the very few unique places he is yet to see, the insatiable explorer said, “the Congo”.
The Republic of the Congo is widely regarded as one of Africa’s greatest gems thanks to its pristine, untouched, lush nature. As home to the world’s second largest rainforest and to some of the last populations of gorillas and elephants, the Congo is a recurrent, magnetic feature in Western popular culture from Hollywood movies to literature and comics.
Yet, for all its pure natural magnificence and its mythical status, the Congo is one the world’s least visited countries. In 2010 and 2014 the country has received as low as 194,000 and 224,000 international tourists respectively.
On the back of steady economic growth in the early 2000’s, the Congo became a rising platform for foreign investors and international events. Subsequently, the capital city Brazzaville has seen an acceleration in the construction of luxury hotels, including global brands such as Radisson Blu and Kempinski (opening soon).
But today, hit hard by the slump in the prices of oil (which represents 65 percent of Congo’s GDP), the country is in a severe economic recession. According to Unicongo, a local trade association, the occupancy rate at hotels is only 25-35 percent in 2017.
In such a dire situation, with many challenges and unknowns, how does a big-brand hotel make the most of their investment? More broadly, how risky is it to enter and operate in an untapped, unequipped, underserved market?
To find out, I have field-researched in the Congo, visited various hotspots, interviewed several tourists, and investigated inside the Radisson Blu Brazzaville. CONTINUE READING HERE.