Marriott courting a Kigali ‘millennial’ guest list

Julius Mbaraga

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are those born between 1980 to the early 2000s. As the Millennial generation’s global hotel spend continues to raise, hotels brands must adapt to this growing market. Millennials are taking over the world, literally. In Rwanda the youth (aged 14 to 35 years according to the ministry in charge of youth) constituted 40 percent of the resident population by 2013. Millennials are now the largest demographic on earth.

There are a few things that are different about the millennial-aged population make them quite different from their predecessors. They like to spend money on experiences but not things; they seek immediate gratification and are considered the most tech-savvy generation yet. To draw in this large group of consumers, you must appeal to their preferences.

Rex Nijhof, the new General Manager of Kigali Marriott is aware that with the growing influx of competition hospitality brands in Kigali, providing amenities/ packages that resonate well with the country’s millennials is crucial to their business. The hotel opened last year and is ready to fend off existing players. Our Inspire Rwanda Magazine editor Julius Mbaraga caught up with him. Below is the excerpt.

Tell us about the Marriott brand
The Marriot brand is built on a legacy of hospitality and tradition known worldwide. It’s a leading global hotel company with nearly 6,000 properties in 120 countries. We never stop searching for inventive ways to serve our customers, provide opportunities for our associates, and grow our business. Today, we are recognized as a top employer and for our superior business operations based on five core values: put people first, pursue excellence, embrace change, act with integrity, and serve our world.

What’s your impression of the hospitality industry in Rwanda?
There’s no doubt that the industry has witnessed unprecedented growth in the last few years. Rwanda’s business-conducive climate and several recent reforms of the government’s travel and tourism policy have contributed materially to the significant growth experienced recently. This is why there’s now an influx of global hotel brands.

Do you think Rwanda was ready for big global brands like Marriott and Radisson Blu?

The country’s strong economic growth in recent years has opened doors for Rwanda to become a very promising international travel and tourism destination. The growing middle class, youth population, as well as the expansion of international flights by the country’s airline Rwandair are also crucial factors. The fact that Rwanda is positioning herself as a conference increasingly destination in the East African region also bodes well with global brands like us.

How do you intend to fend off competition?
Marriot Kigali is a big, fast-paced and contemporary hotel that boasts an unbeatable location in the City Center, which is why we attract a wide range of guests both foreign and local. We also offer the perfect base for our guests to explore our wide range of modern amenities. The defining factor though is staying true to Marriot tradition and values. I think for us, it’s really continuing to stay fresh as a brand and continuing to identify customers for the brand. We’ve got to keep our customers happy, our associates happy and the hotel performing well. We are competing against other brands so we have to stay smart, and sharp.

Does the Marriott brand resonate well with the Rwandan consumer?
In the past, hotels have been predominately looked at as lodging facilities. Not anymore. Hotels aren't just places to sleep, they're places to experience. They’re lifestyle providers.  Guests expect us to inform them of the things that are happening at a particular location, which includes food and drink, and obviously shopping. We are very local-centric and we bring out the best in each local environment that we go into so we try to care of our guests in that way.

Some market segments in Rwanda might not be easy for you to attract!
The days of being ostentatious are long gone. We need to cater to our guests today. Whether that’s a multi-millionaire staying with a person or someone who just comes in for a cup of coffee, their priorities are good quality and fair price.

We are paying more attention to the millennials and have positioned ourselves as the ideal go-to place for them by providing that balance between work and leisure with our wide variety of modern amenities ranging from different cuisine restaurants (Cucina, Soko, Sarabi Grill and Iriba Bar Terrace), superb leisure facilities like the lobby bar, outdoor pool, fully-equipped gym and Saray spa to great packages like family lunches on Sundays and pool parties with great music and good food. Between millennials and the growing middle class, we have the opportunity to take a product and give it the feel of a midscale or upscale product at an affordable price. Our target is to have more outside guests than inside guests and millennials are a big part of this.

What’s the nature of your engagement in Rwanda?
Marriot Kigali is owned by New Century Development Ltd. With Marriot its purely a management contract. 

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