WITH the opening of its first hotel in Cote d'Ivoire, Rezidor would have the largest chain of hotels in sub-Saharan Africa, the company said yesterday.

The Rezidor Hotel Group, which is a member of the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the 10th-largest hotel group worldwide, operates the brands Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson and Hotel Missoni.

"The African continent is one of our key focus areas for future business development," Kurt Ritter, Rezidor president and CEO, said.

The Radisson Blu Hotel Abidjan Airport, which will open in September 2014, will have 252 rooms.

Andrew McLachlan, Carlson Rezidor's vice-president, business development: Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, said the group had geared itself to be the first mover in new and emerging markets.

"Even though these markets are challenging, they provide good returns due to the supply and demand imbalance," he said.

The company joins a host of hospitality players turning their attention to Africa, as growth slows in mature markets.

Europe's largest hotel group, Accor, has an aggressive expansion plan for its ibis economy brand and development projects for the Mercure and Novotel mid-scale brands, and for the Pullman upscale brand in cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Accra, Luanda and Nairobi.

JSE-listed City Lodge plans to invest as much as R1,5bn over the next five to 10 years building up to 20 hotels in Africa.

Meanwhile, Christine Engelbrecht, head of tourism at the Industrial Development Corporation, said last month that hotel industries in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Rwanda offered growth opportunities for South African investors.

Rezidor has a presence in 21 countries across the continent, with 47 hotels. It plans to grow this number to 150 over the next 10 years.

"Each of Africa's 54 countries can house one Radisson Blu in its capital or financial hub. Nigeria has the ability to have multiple hotels," Mr McLachlan said.

The scramble in the hospitality sector in Africa can also be pinned on an undersupply of quality hotels on the continent.

And while land titles are easily obtained, Mr McLachlan said the major challenge in Africa was building a hotel within an acceptable time frame and budget.

mooradz@bdfm.co.za