A little more than a week after becoming the largest hotel company in the world, Marriott International is already expanding internationally.
The company officially opened its first Marriott Hotel in Rwanda on Tuesday, the first time it has ventured into Sub-Saharan Africa in its 90-year history.
The 254-room Kigali Marriott is among Rwanda’s largest properties and will include meeting spaces to attract business travel.
Marriott just completed its purchase of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a move that the company partly made to be able to expand its presence in regions such as the Middle East and Africa.
The acquisition has doubled Marriott’s presence in those areas. The combined company now has 229 total properties and 49,455 rooms in the Middle East and Africa. In Africa alone, the company has 125 properties and 15,907 rooms.
Starwood has “got a platform that is additive to what we’ve got,” Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said during an interview with USA TODAY. “I think what we’ll end up with is that much more local expertise and tremendous opportunity going forward.”
The new Marriott now operates or franchises more than 5,700 properties and 1.1 million rooms in more than 110 countries.
“There are about 30 countries that are brand new to us with the Starwood acquisition,” Sorenson said. “How many of those would we have gotten into without this? I would think as a theoretical matter, most of them would be markets we would have had a shot at anyway but this obviously accelerates that global expansion which is one of the advantages of the deal.”
Sorenson says that Africa is an important market for Marriott because of its growing middle class, which is expected to drive tourism and business travel.
The company expects to add properties to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and to Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya. Other countries of interest are Mozambique and Ghana.
“These are all places that seem to have some opportunities available and some stability and capital and commerce that allows that development to happen,” Sorenson says.
This is not the first time Marriott has made a bold move into the African market. In 2013, Marriott purchased Protea Hospitality Holdings Ltd., one of the largest hotel companies on the continent that is based in South Africa.
Protea Hotels by Marriott will continue to operate in conjunction with other Marriott brands.
Africa has become a target for other major U.S. hotel chains.
Hilton Worldwide announced on Monday that it has struck a deal to bring a modular build hotel in Accra, the capital of Ghana. The process involves assembling portions of the hotel, including guest rooms and hallways in China, then transporting them to the final site for completion. The process is supposed to reduce the time taken for construction.
The Accra property will be a Hilton Garden Inn set to open in 2018.
Hilton also has deals to introduce a 255-room Hilton in Nairobi in Kenya in 2020 and a Curio, the Legend, at the Lagos Airport in Nigeria in 2017.
“We remain hugely committed to Africa across our portfolio of world-class brands, continuing to introduce our hotels to new markets across the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa in the coming years,” Patrick Fitzgibbon, senior vice president development for Hilton Worldwide said in a written statement.
Hilton plans to nearly double its footprint in Africa from its existing 39 hotels to more than 80 hotels in the next 3-5 years.
Marriott chose Rwanda as its first foray into Sub-Saharan Africa partly because of the country’s efforts to get past its troubled history of civil war, which ended 20 years ago.
“When you open a hotel like this in a country which has had as difficult and stark recent history as Rwanda has, it is among the most special things we do,” Sorenson said.
The hotel will employ about 500 locals. The company has partnered with local organizations to staff the jobs. For instance, it is working with the Akilah Institute for Women to recruit and train Rwandan women to be supervisors.
Marriott has ambitions to grow in other foreign lands.
It is in discussions with possible investors to take over or open six properties in Cuba. U.S. hotel companies have only recently been able to invest on the island, which only became a possible destination for a wider range of U.S. citizens in the last year. Starwood was the first to take over a hotel there, converting an existing property into a Four Points by Sheraton.
So far, Marriott has 250 properties in China. Over time, Sorenson said, he hopes to have 1,000 properties there.