PORT Elizabeth based tourism group Mantis Collection has announced a bold expansion into West Africa with a landmark, multi-million US dollar deal signed in PE yesterday (July 25 2011) to roll out a sumptuous suite of boutique hotels in Nigeria. Mantis founder Adrian Gardiner signed the deal at Shamwari Townhouse in Summerstrand with highly respected Nigerian businessman Nze Chidi Duru, who is the chairman of Abuja-based Grand Towers Plc. The Nigerian company has interests in the pension, banking, retail, communications, IT and hospitality sectors.
Grand Towers is aiming to design and build “20-plus” boutique hotels in state capitals around Nigeria. Mantis is contracted to advise its partner through this process, and will also be managing and marketing each unit, as well as doing some joint development work. The deal is structured around a 50-50 profit share.
Senior Mantis man Laurie Ward, who is due to fly out of PE next week to take up his post as COO officer of the project, said the combination of the home-grown West African Grand Towers brand and Mantis’ international flair was a winner.
“The are possibilities for rolling out the model even beyond Nigeria to elsewhere in West Africa like Gambia, Gabon and Angola.”
Duru said that while South Africa’s Protea Hotels’ group is already in Nigeria and doing well, there are no examples of the more intimate luxury “boutique” hotels, and there is significant demand for this product.
“It’s an exciting venture for us.
“We could have looked anywhere in the world for a partner, but we wanted Mantis.
“My previous dealings with South Africa has shown me that the people here know how to move in the African space. At the same time, the intellectual capital, the expertise and experience in our sectors – all this is here.”
Having studied law, corporate governance and economics in Nigeria, Spain and then at Harvard University in the US, Duru first connected with SA five years ago when he was looking for a partner to help him establish an assurance company in Nigeria. He linked up with Novare in Cape Town and then established First Guarantee Life in Nigeria.
Since then he has been on regular visits not least to link up with Shoprite, which is now the anchor tenant in Grand Tower’s shopping mall development in Abuja. The mall is only the second in a country of 160-million people and there is potential for many more, he said.
The project with Mantis is meanwhile underway with the first boutique hotel due to be completed in December, at a cost of about R25-million. The intention is that they will all be 5-star affairs but with the emphasis on intimacy and also the environmental conservation ethic that Mantis has pioneered in SA and which it has shaped or helped shape in 40-odd tourism enterprises around the world from Rwanda to Antarctica. Both the construction and management of the new Grand Towers/ Mantis hotels will be informed by green energy, water and waste management practices and eco-friendly products.
Gardiner said he had been immediately, hugely impressed by Duru’s presentation when he and his partner Frank Nweke, who is also the director of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, tracked him down in Port Alfred.
“Within a couple of hours, my perception of Nigeria had totally changed.
“Things are going to be a bit different as all almost all our guests, to start with at least, will be from the business and government sectors, as opposed to leisure tourists. But we have already set up a team there and we are getting to work to establish best practice.”
Gardiner, 68, said Mantis’ expansion into Africa with ventures now in Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique and Rwanda was partly personal.
“I was born in Zambia and grew up in Zimbabwe so I suppose in this last chapter of my life I do have a wish to take the Mantis model, which we have created down here, back to where I come from.”
However, having spent so much of his time visiting exotic locations all over the world either alone or with his wife Shirelyanne, “there is always a nagging wish to get back home to PE, he said.
“It’s to do with the accessibility of everything, and the cleanliness. It’s unique.”