It started in 1927 in Washington, when J. Willard Marriott and his wife Alice set up the A&W root beer stand with just 9 stools. 90 years later, Marriott International is a leading global lodging company with more than 6,100 properties in 124 countries and territories across 30 major hotel brands.
One of the latest pieces in the Marriott puzzle is Kigali Marriott Hotel, officially opened in October last year, which surprisingly is Marriott’s first hotel in sub-Saharan Africa. The choice of Rwanda also doesn’t seem obvious, compared to better known and bigger tourism destinations on the continent such as Kenya, South Africa or Senegal.
Yet according to Vanessa Delgado, Marketing and Communications Manager at Kigali Marriott, setting up shop in Rwanda was a well-considered move.
“One of the reasons that Rwanda was chosen is because there’s a lot of potential in this market,” she explains. “There’s a lot of effort by the tourism industry and the government to make Rwanda a proper space for business and leisure travel. And what made Marriott a good fit with that is the type of clientele that will be coming, and is already coming, into Rwanda – if you look at the Transform Africa or the African Union summits, those guests and attendees fit the profile of Marriott.”
“There is so much in Rwanda: it’s got beautiful landscapes, a great culture, warm people – it’s a stable, safe and lovely country, but it seems not too many people know that yet. There’s an effort to change that, and Marriott wants to grow along with that,” Delgado adds.
And according to her, Marriott can lend a hand.
“We have our Marriott Rewards members, a group that is loyal to Marriott and who can use their rewards points around the world. This is a group that we can communicate to that Rwanda is a fabulous place for business or leisure,” Delgado says. “So it’s an interesting way that we can work together.”
We are delighted to begin the journey in Rwanda. Our doors are open to all Rwandans and we hope to make the Kigali Marriott a new home that they can enjoy with their friends and families
Rex A.G. Nijhof, General Manager
Kigali Marriott hotel
Rwanda is also supposed to be a springboard to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa where, the marketing manager admits, Marriott still lacks presence.
“We have a presence in 30 countries on the continent [in part through mergers with groups like Starwood and Protea Hotels, ed.], but we have a strategy to increase that with a projected growth to 38 countries and 150,000 rooms by 2022,” she says.
Obviously, Marriott is not the first big hospitality group to come to Rwanda, but Delgado is confident that the hotel can make a distinctive proposition to potential customers.
“Marriott Hotels is a premium full-service brand offering sophisticated spaces and experiences, and there’s a particular type of guest we’re looking for,” she points out. “It’s an ambitious traveller, distinctive in the way they operate and who aspire to make their mark through original, inventive thinking. They travel a lot, they’re generally in business but they also want to spend some time here to think and relax. Our spaces are beautifully designed so that people like to spend time there.”
Delgado points out that they also have a clear strategy for local customers.
“We want to be part of the community, not just to be a hotel that comes and caters for the conferences,” she says. “The local market is our bread and butter, so we want to use our restaurants and spa to attract the local market, and we’re coming up with different kinds of events so that people feel they can come to visit the hotel like any other bar or restaurant.”
Being part of the community also means recruiting locally, which is something that is essential to the Marriott approach.
“We believe hotels are a really important space for economic growth and employment opportunities, so we want to contribute to Rwanda’s development in that sense,” Delgado remarks. “Our human resources team works with local universities to identify people with the right attitude for working in the Marriott. That is really key when it comes to employment with us: having a personality and attitude that fits with the Marriott brand, and training comes afterwards.”
“We provide a great deal of training on site, and also have an extensive e-learning program where any employee can take courses online,” the marketing manager says. “There’s room for development and growth here, which is really attractive to the employees. If you look at the executives across Marriott, many have held positions across various departments. For instance, one of Rex Nijhof’s first positions in the Marriott was as a minibar supervisor.”
Equally important for Marriott is working with local suppliers.
“Marriott has its own supplier standards, so we have to make sure they are met, but it also has to be local,” Delgado observes, adding that they like it even better if the company also has a social aspect about it, such as their coffee supplier, Question Coffee, which works closely with women smallholder farmers.
“It’s not just about looking for local suppliers; if they are socially responsible and make sure that what they’re producing helps their community and environment, that grabs our attention,” she says.
What is more, for a relatively young member of Rwanda’s private sector, Kigali Marriott already has an impressive number of corporate social responsibility activities under its belt.
Last year, they organised charity events and fundraising around fistula and breast cancer awareness, and they work closely with their local associates to identify worthy causes – which can be visiting a school or orphanage (or inviting these children to the hotel for lunch and a chat), tree planting or anything else that allows the hotel’s employees to get physically involved, rather than just giving a sum of money.
At 90 years old, it seems Marriott is rejuvenating itself in Rwanda, and giving Africans an exquisite experience in return.
Kigali Marriott Hotel at a glance
254 rooms including 25 luxury suites (from junior to Presidential)
Saray Spa + fitness centre
Outdoor swimming pool
Cucina Italian restaurant
Iriba Bar Terrace
Soko International restaurant
Read this article and more in issue n° 75 of Hope Magazine.