Rahul Chaudhary is the executive director of Chaudhary Group, a minority (40 per cent)shareholder of Ubumwe Grande Hotel. Chaudhary participated in the just-concluded Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) in Kigali. He talked to The New Times’ Julius Bizimungu about the global, regional and local hospitality industry, and what can be done to take the sector to the next level.
Tell us about Chaudhary Group and its work in the East Africa
Chaudhary Group is a privately owned entity, established in Nepal 150 years ago and operates 12 businesses across the globe, from fast-moving consumer goods, and financial services, to consumer electronics, infrastructure, and hospitality. We have been in the hospitality industry for the last 20 years. We already have presence and started out in South Africa and Zambia. We’ve investments in South-East Asia, the Middle East and East Africa.
Presently, we operate 110 hotels in 75 countries. Already, with partners from the region we set up our Zinc Hotel brand in Rwanda (trading as Ubumwe Grande Hotel), which will be officially launched in next two to three months.
We are interested in EAC and Rwanda in particular as part of the strategy to invest in emerging markets. Though the region has been facing challenges, it offers a lot of opportunities.
For instance, Rwanda has huge potential in terms of its growth trend, tourist arrivals, infrastructure development, growing financial sector and other aspects that strengthen investor confidence. Besides, Rwanda is safe, secure, and one of the most investor-friendly economies in the region.
So, Rwanda has always been one of the places in the region where we wanted to invest. We are using the country as a launching pad for our investments in EAC. With two shareholders from Rwanda and Uganda, we started works on Ubumwe Grande Hotel about three years ago. The project will cost about $40 million.
Later, we plan to expand and invest in real estate, particularly low-cost housing, renewable energy, as well as banking and education. Ubumwe Grande Hotel is a 4-star facility, with 157 rooms, restaurants, bars and banquet and conference facilities, among others.
Our main goal in setting up the hotel in Rwanda was to foster economic growth, as well as create new jobs.
We also want to bring to Rwanda and the region world-class quality service...This is what we want to bring to Rwanda’s hospitality industry given our long experience in Asia. We also want to establish a hospitality school in Rwanda to help bridge the skills gap the sector is facing currently.
What should Rwanda do to improve the industry?
Rwanda has made big strides in developing the hospitality industry, but it is important that the country gives more support to sector investors besides putting in place the necessary infrastructure. There is also need to diversify the tourism sector and promote other products to attract more people to come visit.
Equally important is investing in aviation industry as connectivity plays a significant role in the hospitality sector. More connectivity means more arrivals, which translates into increased demand for hotel rooms. Rwanda is on track to achieving this after it recently acquired new world-class planes.
What do you think needs to be done to improve the tourism sector?
Rwanda has done an enormous job marketing itself as a top meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) destination. I think that is why it was able to land some of the biggest conferences in the region in the past one year, including the World Economic Forum, African Union Summit, Global Africa Investment Summit, and the recent Africa Hotel Investment Forum.
By hosting these big events, you’re bringing together entrepreneurs, business leaders, global leaders and other high calibre people who will contribute to future growth of the region. I would say Rwanda’s and the general EAC growth outlook is promising, which is crucial to attract more investors.
How does Rwanda stand to gain from hosting events like AHIF?
The conference was been an informative forum and it was good for the African continent to showcase its opportunities and learn from others. I believe Rwanda is one of the models on the continent of how the hospitality industry can be developed.
The AHIF platform presented for Rwanda, in particular, to sell itself to potential investors from across the globe. Remember, hospitality contributes 10 per cent of the global GDP and 10 per cent of the global employment. This is, therefore, a huge market that Rwanda should promote and tap into to benefit fully.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu