Covid 19 wreaked havoc to the economy and no sector was worse hit than the tourism and hospitality sector. Air travel restrictions, mandatory quarantine of arrivals and the shutting of businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors along with crumple of demand have led to an unprecedented shock.
So bad was the situation that last year, tourism operators in Tanzania forecast revenue contractions of 80% or more while the World Bank’s 14th Tanzania Economic Update (TEU) showed that Tanzania’s economic growth slowed down to 2.5% from the 6.9% growth reported the previous year.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel, with eased travel restrictions, Tanzania is witnessing a revamp in both the tourism and hospitality sectors. Global top brands like Onomo Hotels have opened shop in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.
Meet ONOMO General Manager Mark Soderlund as he gives us an inside perspective of the hospitality industry, the devastating impact of Covid-19 and the recovery process.
The Exchange (TE): You have vast experience of the hospitality industry around the world, give us a little professional background leading to this most recent assignment as General Manager of ONOMO Hotel Dar es Salaam.
Mark Soderlund (MS): I’ve worked within the Hospitality Industry since the early 1990’s across multiple continents with various industry leaders gaining the necessary experience and understanding required to face the challenges we have today. From trainee to GM it’s been a journey of learning from and sharing with my colleagues in order to reach the level of General Manager. Adaptability is critical to succeeding in this business and now more so than ever.
TE: With 116 designer rooms and suites, elegant restaurant, gym, business center and conference rooms, ONOMO has set up quiet an investment, is this a sign of recovery of the hospitality sector?
MS: ONOMO has confidence in the sector throughout Africa and there are many exciting developments happening recently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a whole, as well as the East African Economic Community as a region. While the past 18-month period has indeed been extremely challenging, we are seeing a recovery with positive market indicators allowing us to be more confident for the remainder of 2021 and 2022.
TE: Many businesses, especially hotels were forced to let go of staff or at the very least to cut on salaries, was ONOMO affected?
MS: We took ownership of the Hotel from the previous operator literally days before being forced to close due to international travel restrictions. This obviously had an impact on the approach we needed to adopt and we did so with transparent dialogue with all affected parties. Through our ability to adapt accurately we have emerged stronger from this and our Team is focused on the future and welcoming our guests to live the ONOMO experience in Dar es Salaam.
TE: With reduced travel, a lot of businesses that traditionally focused on foreign markets turned to local markets, tell us about your clientele.
MS: Our core clientele are predominantly from the East African Community as well as Southern Africa. That being said, with the current developments happening at a significant pace, we are expecting a broader base to develop during the remainder of the year and into 2022 as new markets emerge and travel increases into the Region.
TE: Tanzania’s Gross National Income per capita increased from $1,020 in 2018 to $1,080 in 2019, and with that, the World Bank classified the country as lower-middle income status. Is this increased income reflected in the type of clientele you receive i.e. are you seeing increased local clientele?
MS: It’s vital for all businesses to appreciate the value of local clientele and what they contribute to our sustainability and growth. We make every effort to appeal to local clientele and to attract them to be part of our industry and experience possibilities perhaps previously not available. We are happily seeing a positive response to these efforts.
TE: In an effort to observe social distancing, there is increased use of virtual conferences how has this affected businesses at ONOMO ?
MS: We are still experiencing demand for traditional conferencing events at a local level which is encouraging; however the numbers and frequency are reduced. Ultimately we need to adjust to the market and offer something attractive to encourage a return to personal interaction post-pandemic.
TE: Global Hospitality Brands like ONOMO have a positive impact on a country’s economy including increased number of tourists, increased employment, catalyzing complimentary businesses like food suppliers, contractors etc In your opinion, what can the country do to attract more investment in the hospitality industry?
MS: My experience strongly leads me to believe that investors respond well to deregulation with a core focus of reducing obstacles to conduct productive business. This coupled with investment security and transparency of Business Governance will lead to stronger development and interest in the sector.
TE: Tanzania has invested a lot in expanding its road infrastructure. Located in the heart of the commercial port city of Dar es Salaam, Onomo is perfectly placed to host international business clients, is transportation a deterrent or can you see the infrastructure works paying off?
MS: Traffic in Dar es Salaam, like in all major cities worldwide, is a challenge however the infrastructural developments are definitely a benefit for the City and the businesses relying on ease of movement in the City.
TE: In a few words, what are the best amenities and/or attributes of Onomo that make it standout?
MS: We are an urban oasis perfectly catering to the needs of the business traveler. This coupled with our ‘People Centric’ approach offers an inviting & welcoming environment for our clientele.
TE: With properties across several locations including South Africa, what should we expect of Onomo’s expansion in Tanzania and else where in Africa?
MS: We have strong market presence across North, South, East and West Africa and will be opening our 22nd Hotel in Kampala in July which is an exciting expansion for the group. I think it’s a very positive move in the stressed market we are operating in and shows the confidence as well as the durability of the ONOMO Brand.