In the past few years there’s been a bit of news coming out of new hotel projects taking place on the African continent. From the Hilton Hotels Group to the Rezidor Hotel Group it seems there’s a lot of interest in Africa as a luxury travel destination. Some will say that the shift is part of the overall change in the world’s political climate, where stories of terrorist attacks come out of former tourist “safe havens”. Whether that is the case or if it’s a result of the increased marketing and advertising efforts by African countries such as Tanzania, the fact is that developers are looking to Africa as a premiere destination for luxury travel. But it’s not just the large developers who are jumping onto the trend. Recently Charlotte Bobcats owner and BET founder Robert L. (Bob) Johnson along with a delegation of African American businesspeople announced an agreement with the government of Liberia to build a villa-style, four-star hotel in Monrovia. The project falls under Bob Johnson’s Maryland-based firm RLJ Companies, which with some 135 hotels valued at more than $3 billion, is the largest Black-owned hotel investment company in the United States. The Liberian hotel project is the result of a “commitment” made by Bob Johnson, Debra Lee, Chairman and CEO of BET, and actors Chris Tucker, Cicely Tyson, and actor Jeffrey Wright among others to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative Annual meeting. In addition to the hotel, which is scheduled to break ground in March 2008 and open in February 2009, Bob Johnson also donated $3 million to open a new fund which will “provide Liberian entrepreneurs and businesses with the financial and technical resources they need to rejuvenate the country’s economy and foster long-term stability in the wake of two decades of civil strife”.
What makes this story interesting, besides the kind of project the group chose to launch, is also the fact that – as I’ve reported numerous times on this site – African Americans are increasingly putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to Africa’s business development. And with Liberia being a country which was established as a place to send freed African-American slaves, what better place for a serious businessman like Bob Johnson to invest in. Black Enterprise Magazine quotes Andy Ingraham, President and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers saying, “Itâ€™s important to note that this is part of an overall philanthropic effort by Robert Johnson, and you will see more African Americans not only doing increased business with the Caribbean and Africa, but also entering into philanthropic ventures….African American investors have been in talks with developing countries in Africa such as South Africa and Ghana, to build hotels.”. This is certainly a story to watch.
(photo: RLJ Cos.)