Travel & Tourism

RAMSAY RANKOUSSI: Hospitality offers lifetime opportunities to impact people, communities

Background
Ramsay Rankoussi is an hotelier par excellence with vast knowledge and experience in the hospitality business and in acknowledgement of this, Radisson Hotel Group recently appointed him as head of development for Africa, with a mandate to lead the group’s strategic growth across the Middle East, Turkey and Africa.
With his team based in Dubai and Cape Town, Rankoussi, an expert dealmaker, leading transactions from sourcing through to execution, is tasked with increasing the group’s hotel portfolio and footprint in his assigned markets, the group’s largest geographical area.

A Belgian national, Rankoussi was born in Athens, Greece to a Belgian mother and a Lebanese father, describing himself as ‘‘a true example of globalisation but also a true world citizen.’’ He grew up in Belgium where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and an MBA with specialisations in hotel, real estate finance and asset management from the ESSEC Business School (IMHI) in Paris.
After his studies, he moved to Dubai where he worked for Millennium Hotels, leading the investment arm for the Middle East and Africa and in 2014 he joined Radisson Hotel Group with responsibilities for the Middle East development until recently when he took over the leadership across Africa, which represents almost 100 hotels in operation and under development, with the aim of growing to more than 150 hotels within the next five years.

Growing up and influences
I was born in Greece, lived in New York at a young age before relocating to Belgium, where I spent most of my teenage years. Eventually studied in Paris then relocated to Dubai for almost 10 years now. In the meantime, I had the chance while growing up to travel every summer to Lebanon, given my father’s origin.
I think embracing diversity is essential in today’s world, and having had the privilege to often travel, I discovered that tolerance and curiousity are values we gain by looking beyond our borders and learning from everyone.

Philosophy and motivation in life
I often say we will be remembered for whom we were as a person and the values we stood for rather than what we achieved. I think it is essential to always remember the priorities of setting clear values as a guiding principle in our individual life.
Integrity is what drives me in both my personal and professional life. Doing the right thing has much more merit, especially as you encounter more challenges and obstacles.

Attraction for hospitality sector
I have always felt that the hospitality industry is one of the very few industries where you can have a lasting effect on people. You not only bring employment opportunities directly and indirectly to local communities, but you also participate in their growth and development, sharing best practices and providing a bridge to their education.
Reciprocally, you also have the opportunity to further educate tourists, guests, the public sector and other active stakeholders of the importance of our industry and its environment. We, therefore, act also as a catalyst of change to everyone, and it is this aspect of instilling positive changes that brought me to the sector.

African hospitality: Development and prospects
Africa has always been at the centre of our growth strategy and we now wish to further accelerate our presence, across all our brands, across the continent, as the region evolves and diversifies.
We have succeeded in having a flagship hotel under our Radisson Blu brand in most of the key capital cities across Africa, and we now seek to leverage this success with the introduction of newer brands such as Radisson RED and Radisson, but also Park Inn by Radisson and Radisson Collection.
We also wish to diversify our portfolio across all segments, covering every type from resorts to urban hotels, as well as serviced apartments and boutique hotels. We’re witnessing tremendous growth and potential in serviced apartments as well as upscale properties, which we are responding to with our core Radisson brand.

Challenges to growing African hospitality
Funding remains the biggest challenge across the continent, as our industry is still not a regional priority and banking institutions require a lot of securities, which can create complexity in structuring the right deal.
The costs of financing are usually high and therefore, an operational burden that must be carried by projects. This may lead to early questioning by initial investors about the viability of pursuing the project. Many individual investors are willing to walk through each step, but the lack of accessibility and absence of a large financial support network often creates further obstacles to seeing a project through to completion.
Also, in order to ensure a quality outcome, each project requires a professional design team. But not every country in Africa has the local structure that’s necessary, which means costly foreign assistance must be contracted.
Usually, construction costs across Africa are the highest globally due to those factors. But as we see hospitality becoming a national and regional priority for many African countries, we can expect increased professionalisation within the sector and the reduction of the associated costs over time.

Our journey in Africa has just started
Radisson Hotel Group has grown across Africa thanks to its asset-light strategy which has been driven by management agreements and, to some extent, franchising.
We may expect franchising to become more and more relevant to the region as more independent hotels wish to benefit from a wider network without losing control of their operations.
We are mid-way through our five-year plan which is driving our group’s transformative journey, and which necessitated a full review of our tools and offerings.
We believe this helps us greatly in terms of remaining relevant to owners in Africa, but also allows for better agility in adapting to the needs of the markets.
Our journey in Africa has just started and we are committed to delivering unique guest experiences, tremendous job opportunities for every community, as well as positive financial contributions and returns to every single economy in which we participate.

Knowledge of Africa continent and travelling experience
I had the opportunity to grow my exposure to the continent over the last few years prior to my role as the head of development for Africa. I was previously in charge of North Africa and then expanded the responsibility across French-speaking Africa until recently.
Africa is a very broad continent, where the specifics of doing business and the cultural aspects are different from region to region, and country to country. I have, therefore, embraced my contribution to the continent with a lot of humility, but also with a strong curiosity about learning and respecting those differences and unique aspects of each market.
I have probably been across over 50% of the continent and certainly seek to see the remaining part as the opportunity arises. As a team we have visited every market and every single country. As a broader company, we have a presence in over 32 countries across Africa, the largest presence of any hotel group across the continent.

Africa offers enchanting and uniqueness experiences
I think many places hold many great memories, either from work visits or leisure. I had the chance to witness the beauty of the Victoria Falls in Zambia, the unique landscape of Cape Town but I also went on a safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya, saw Kilimanjaro from Amboseli, walked with the gorillas in Rwanda, trekked in Ethiopia, watched the sunset on the pyramids of Giza in Cairo, went diving in the Red Sea, walked on the beaches in Mauritius and Seychelles, got stuck in traffic in Abidjan, and missed a connecting flight in Tunis or Casablanca.
Those are many memories from many trips, but what they all have in common is the unique environment Africa offers. It has, without doubt, the most diverse and breathtaking landscape, fauna and flora which, along with its people, make the continent a unique place to visit and experience.

Nigerian market is top priority
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had the chance to visit Nigeria at this stage, given the travel restrictions that were imposed just as I took on my new role. But I certainly look forward to visiting the county as it remains one of the top priorities for Radisson Hotel Group.

Post COVID – 19: We expect leisure and domestic demand to be the first elements of recovery
We expect a period of 24 months in terms of recovery before reaching our 2019 performance levels. This will be determined by issues such as infrastructure and the ease of movement – from airlines to other means of transportation.
We have played a pivotal role in the creation of safety and hygiene protocols across all our hotels, and we believe that this will become the norm across the industry, so helping to reassure guests as they begin travelling again, but also alleviating the risk of further spread of the virus.
COVID-19 has reinforced our priority on the conversion of existing properties as owners seek ways to improve and secure their performance with stronger and more established brands like Radisson Hotels.
We have a long history of successful takeovers and this is likely to become a priority approach for us, considering that the challenges posed by the pandemic will force many to revisit their best business model, including affiliation to a wider network such as ours.
We will certainly continue to develop new hotels in key markets, but these could be delayed until the market recovers its liquidity levels. We expect leisure and domestic demand to be the first elements of recovery.

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