Ten years ago Yonas Moges and Neway Birhanu founded Calibra Hospitality Consultancy to meet what they saw as an unmet need in the market. After gaining experience as part of the Hilton Addis Ababa managerial team they decided to create a business that would give advice to hotel owners and brand operators. They wanted to bring Ethiopia’s hotel experience up to international standards. Thanks to Calibra’s efforts there are over 25 brand name hotels in the country. Twenty years ago there were only two. Calibra has also brought in the South African based chain steakhouse Spurs to Addis Ababa. Calibra persuaded the African Hospitality Investment Forum (AHIF) to come here in 2015. It was the first time they held their event in sub-Saharan Africa. Neway Birhanu, the Managing Director of Calibra Hospitality Consultancy and Business PLC sat down with Capital to discuss Ethiopia’s hospitality industry.
Capital: How did Calibra hospitality consultancy begin?
Neway Birhanu: Calibra is the result of close observations. We saw gaps in the Ethiopian hotel industry. Working as part of the high level management team at the Hilton Addis Ababa exposed me to a real understanding of the hotel sector. I started Calibra with the goal of approaching local investors to open up international brand hotels by providing professional advising. At first, the hotel industry was not widely known. Even the government at the time did not have an awareness about the sector.
Capital: How has Calibra contributed to the Ethiopian hospitality industry?
Neway: We can see it in several ways; Calibra Hospitality Consultancy is an eye opener in hotel consultancy services. This allows the Ethiopian business people to invest in the sector. We work with international hotel brands. Calibra collaborates with the investor, from deciding on the hotel through the negotiation process.
Capital: How would you evaluate your journey so far? Do you think Calibra has been successful?
Neway: Definitely yes, you know when Calibra began operation back in 2011; there were only two international brand hotels. After we engaged ourselves in the industry and worked with local hotel developers, Calibra managed to bring more than 25 international brand hotels. Some are already open for business while others are waiting for foreign currency. This is a huge success for the industry and the country. Calibra also successfully brought the African Hospitality Investment Forum (AHIF) to Addis Ababa. AHIF was held four years ago in Addis Ababa for the first time making Calibra instrumental to the growth of hospitality industry in Ethiopia.
Capital: What does AHIF do?
Neway: AHIF is a continental event in the hospitality industry. It’s just like an economic forum for the hospitality industry. It’s an event where policy makers, CEO’s of huge private companies, investors, finical institutions, project management companies, consultants and high level government officials meet to consult and decide on the fate of the hospitality industry. It’s a conference where more than 700 hundred participants all over the world will stay for three days, which has its own advantage for foreign currency gain.
Capital: What are the challenges in Ethiopian hospitality industry?
Neway: Access to land. For any hotel developer the size and location of land is pertinent; professionals in the city’s land administration should consult stakeholders in the area while they are preparing a local development plan (LDP) as it goes with ratings and other standards. We also need to improve human capital. Hotel professionals graduating from colleges and universities are performing at an entry level so we should pay attention to this sector as Ethiopia is growing in the hospitality industry. The other area may be access to finance there are hotel developers who wait for foreign currency to finalize some of the international branded hotels.
Capital: Access to finance is one of the challenges hotel developers face. Does your company do anything to solve this?
Neway: Calibra does its part to find financial access for some hotel developers. We have acquired over 100 million USD from international financial institutions such as International Financial institutions (IFC) for construction.
Capital: Why has the forum returned after years of absence? Is that related to the instability in the country?
Neway: No! It has nothing to do with that. AHIF is a big event for the hospitality industry. I said earlier it’s just like the World Economic Forum for the hospitality industry. Therefore, other African countries ask to host the event as they know the impact and return for their country. After we hosted AHIF in 2014, Rwanda, and Kenya were lobbying.