Lately there was a heated debate on linkedin about the outfit to have when you travel. The author of the post – a sales rep – was showing a photo of himself with two colleagues in a plane. All had perfect smiles, crisp shirts and blue/grey ties.
Numerous comments lamented that “people fly in pyjamas and flip flops these days!” as they put it. They argued that your next client or next employer, might be the person seating next to you at the airport, in the plane, at Starbucks. And you surely don’t want to miss an opportunity because you have no etiquette.
The other half of the comments argued that in the face of “anti-comfort trends in the today’s air industry (less legroom, smaller seats, etc.)“, your travel will be a misery if you fly all-dressed up. Casual wear was their preference.
What’s your opinion? What’s your preferred outfit when you travel?
The Triangle d’Or, a shopping district in Casablanca, is becoming the premier destination for luxury in Morocco. Upscale stores are opening one after the other, well-off residents are moving in. But the district’s expansion is also chaotic. For retailers, the challenges that come with a highly-prized presence in the Triangle are becoming more acute every passing day.
If you have been one of the thirty million annual visitors to Paris, then you may have strolled at Le Triangle d’Or, a neighbourhood considered as one of the world’s top destinations for ultimate luxury. Bordered by the Champs Elysées, Avenue Montaigne and Avenue George V, the Triangle d’Or enclave is home to Yves St Laurent, Balenciaga, Dior, Vuitton, Givenchy, Chanel, Gucci among other flagship stores. There, shopping is a journey into haute couture, contemporary art and rich heritage.
Le Triangle d’Or is also the nickname of the Quartier Racine, a district in Casablanca that houses high-end fashion and sophisticated lifestyle brands. Bordered by the grand boulevards Anfa, Zerktouni and Ben Kaddour, the place fosters a cosmopolitan art de vivre thanks to a cluster of elite hoteliers, restaurateurs, art gallerists, beauty specialists and interior designers.
Behind the anchors Yves St Laurent, Cerrutti, Chopard, Bulgari and Cartier, the line-up of tenants is growing and diversifying steadily. American and British brands are moving in, so are A-list real estate agents and international schools.
Here is however where the Casablanca story is different: initially the district was never intended for intensive commercial use. It was expected to develop gradually, in the shadow of existing hubs such as the Badr Market, one of Casablanca’s most popular traditional markets.
But it literally woke up one day with a tight group of big name retailers, a pair of flattering profiles in the press and a reputation for attracting riches. This triggered a rush of retailers and businesses, which in turn generated a high demand for commercial- and residential space. According to a local leading real estate agency, the Triangle d’Or remains the most expensive neighbourhood in Morocco year after year.
Expansion, a rough ride
The Triangle d’Or is now much more than Rue Aïn Harrouda – Casablanca’s most expensive street, and Rond Point des Sports – the square serving as the gate to the district. The territory now extends to several blocks around Avenue Sijilmassi and Boulevard Taoujtate. New upscale buildings are popping up like mushrooms, redefining the district’s frontiers, serving as the catalyst for an inexorable gentrification.
As new, well-off residents are moving in, both the architectural character and the social fabric of the neighbourhood are changing in a frenetic, fragmented, even brutal fashion.
Developers typically acquire a piece of land or an existing apartment building, and move forward with their construction or renovation project. Focused on short term objectives, they operate in an isolated way and are not integrated into a comprehensive development plan.
Apart from Rue Aïn Harrouda and Rond Point des Sports, both featuring modern design and an array of furnishings, there is a sense of piecemeal development in the area. A typical street features modest apartment buildings, low-profile one-storey houses with fading facades on one hand, and newly built commercial and residential properties with glass windows and automatic gates on the other hand.
Among the new residents, a category is particularly affected by the lack of a comprehensive revitalization scheme: retailers. The increased traffic volume that they generate exacerbates the already prevalent, acute, decade-long issue of the lack of parking facilities in Casablanca city centre.
One day I happened to witness first-hand a heated argument between a shopper and a gardien. Gardiens (or gardiana when it’s a woman) are the thousands of independent car valets who park and guard your car across Casablanca. In many areas, they are not optional, as upon your arrival, they aggressively “propose” their services in exchange for a handful of dirhams. In addition, they reserve the vacant space for prospective clients. As a result, in many parts of the city, you cannot park without gardiens.
One day, after shopping, the man had returned to his car only to find that it had suffered severe damages on the front side. He had suspected a hit-and-run driver. But on this particular day, he decided to observe from afar the practices of the gardien operating in the area where he had parked his car. What he saw was not only an awful spectacle at the expense of another car, but also convinced him that that gardien was responsible for his own misfortunes. He confronted him and threatened to call the police. The argument was extremely tense, breaking the discrete atmosphere of the place, colliding with the well-mannerisms of the residents, shoppers and tenants; forcing them to stop their quiet dealings and witness the scene.
For now, retailers, too focused on the short term, too content to be present in the much coveted place where the wealthy and the powerful converge, dine and shop; don’t regard the traffic congestion and parking related issues as specific to the Triangle, let alone as barriers to business. They blame the city council or isolated, unfortunate circumstances.
But being on the frontline, they are the ones who face visitors and shoppers’ exasperation with the growing difficulties to come and stay in the Triangle. They realize they will be the first to face the consequences of the lack of modern amenities from parking facilities, appropriate signing, enhanced walkways to upgraded lighting, outdoor sitting areas.
It will be interesting to see in the coming years if and how they will switch from a wait-and-see attitude centered on capitalizing on the Triangle’s prestigious cachet, to an active role of makers and promoters of an enhanced Triangle experience, based on improvements in the functionality, safety and attractiveness of the district.
A SELECTIVE LIST OF TENANTS
Bella Pelle (Tods, Salvatore Ferragamo, etc.), Cerrutti 1881, Fendi, Frou Frou, Furla, Hackett, Karen Millen, Kooples, La Perla, Lee Cooper, Marina Rinaldi, Max Mara, Missoni, Nadoushka, Sandro, Studio 14 (Balmain, Valentino, Lanvin), Yves Saint Laurent
Beaux Ongles , Bosch, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Descamps, Dolce Caffee, Fit Avenue, Galerie d’art Marsam, Gray Boutique Hotel & Spa, L’Atelier du Sourcil, La Vie Claire, Les Frères Gourmets, Loft Art Gallery, Madurel, Mystère, Richbond, Riva Foncière, Tchaba Tea, Urban Living, Yellow Korner, Zanussi Kitchen
Until recently, as the relationship between Africa and China kept on growing both in depth and scope, air travel and hospitality remained relatively immune to the transformations seen, say, in agriculture, infrastructure, retail, and other sectors that are priority destinations of China’s investment. There were only a limited number of Chinese routes operated by African carriers and virtually no African route serviced by Chinese carriers. Almost everywhere across Africa, China built lots of dams, bridges, roads, a few airports, but no hotels.
Enter Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s most profitable airline according to the global aviation industry association IATA. Data from OAG, an air travel intelligence company, show that of all the few African carriers catering to the Chinese market, it is Ethiopian who captures the lion’s share in the continued growth of the number of Chinese travellers to Africa. In terms of annual capacity, it went from 100,000 in 2007 to more than 350,000 in 2015.
A key enabler of Ethiopian’s leadership is the ideal geography of its hub, Addis Ababa International airport (ADD). In just a decade, ADD has seen an acceleration of the growth of the passenger- and cargo traffic and has become the epicentre for Chinese travellers in Africa.
It is anticipated that ADD will further grow as the leading gateway to Africa for at least two other reasons. One, Air China, a leading carrier in China, is finalizing its entry or redeployment in Africa. For this development to be commercially sound in a market deemed as fragmented, it has showed an inclination for using ADD as a hub.
Two, as part of China becoming the world’s fourth largest source of outbound travel by 2020 (with 100 million outbound travellers, according to the World Tourism Organization’s projection), the number of Africa-bound Chinese tourists will increase. Again, it is anticipated that they will see ADD as a platform leading to a wide array of African destinations.
Mr Feng, who originates from Jinhua, in the Zhejiang province, eastern China, and runs a small company in the agri-business in Yaoundé Cameroon, travels to China a dozen of times per year, going through ADD on each trip: “There are definitely more and more Chinese people coming. Years ago, they used to come from just a few places [in China], now all China meets here. Then from here Chinese people spread across Africa (…) It used to be only seasonal construction workers. Now I see all type of people, families, women alone, well-to-do people. Sometimes we talk, I get ideas about destinations in Africa. So my fiancée came to visit”. Him and his fiancée – who still resides in China – have visited various places across Africa over the last eight years. He says the fact that Ethiopian Airlines hired a full Chinese cabin crew was a game changer. “My fiancée was overwhelmed! More and more Chinese newcomers in Africa means more Chinese needs, more Chinese changes“.
But Chinese travellers landing in Addis Ababa International come face to face with a huge problem in the form of extremely lengthy layovers, numerous delays, cancellations and mismanagement in a string of areas. As a result many passengers find themselves stuck, stranded with very few options to kill time. The scenes of Chinese fliers sleeping on the floor, in corridors and concourses, and virtually anywhere they possibly can has become familiar.
This situation clearly points to the lack of hotels at ADD. Of the four major airports receiving Chinese passengers (Johannesburg, Cairo, Nairobi, Addis Ababa), ADD comes out as the least equipped in hotels, both in terms of number and calibre. Currently stranded passengers must resort to a handful of international four/five star hotel chains and a sizeable offering of motel-like, average quality hotels. In absence of a commuter train, guests must still rely on taxis and buses to get to a hotel.
Re-enter Ethiopian Airlines: the company is building a 40,000 sqm, 4-four star hotel on the site of ADD. The contractor is AVIC, a Chinese company, the financial backer is Eximbank of China. Both are stated-owned companies acting as vehicles for investment and foreign trade in Ethiopia, Algeria, Tanzania and other parts of the continent. The Ethiopian Airlines hotel will be the closest hotel to ADD, reachable within minutes via a connector.
Mrs Bao, says her time at ADD became lengthier over the years as her business trips became more frequent between Dar-Es-Salam, Tanzania – where she runs a prosperous furniture business – and various cities in China. “Sometimes I have layovers of five, seven hours, other times it’s ten, twelve, even fifteen hours. I stay at the airport. I am always very wary of leaving because visas, transfers, luggage and other issues cause such a waste of time (…) I cannot wait for new things to do at the airport and new hotels where I could just walk in and out”.
In 2014 she had siblings and relatives move to Tanzania to help her with the business. “I see more and more Chinese people coming to Africa” she says, “they are coming with their habits, they will want many things where they will be spending time and money. Because of that, there will be great changes in Africa.”