Tourvest East Africa, a member of integrated tourism group Tourvest’s Accommodation and Activities division, says it plans to invest in two further properties in Tanzania over the next five years and to extend its presence to Kenya, given the tourism potential of the East African area.
Tourvest East Africa owns the Lemala Collection in Uganda and Tanzania which comprises the Ngorongoro, Ewanjan, Mara and Ndutu tented camps, Mpingo Ridge, Kuria Hills and Lemala Nanyukie Lodge, all of which are located in Tanzania; as well as the Wildwaters Lodge in Uganda.
Tourvest entered East Africa in 2007 with the acquisition of a majority shareholding in one of the region’s premier ecotourism businesses, Vintage Africa, while at the same time being awarded a prime concession for a new luxury tented camp in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, called Lemala Kuria Hills. Vintage Africa would later be incorporated into Tourvest’s Destination Management division, trading under the iconic brand Sense of Africa.
Then, in 2013, Tourvest acquired a controlling interest in the Uganda-based Nile rafting company Adrift and a majority share in the unique Wildwaters Lodge, situated on an island in the Nile surrounded by the Kalagala Falls. In 2015, it took full ownership of the business, having acquired the remaining shares in the business.
However, according to Leanne Haigh, chief executive of Tourvest East Africa, plans then to upgrade and further invest in Tourvest’s newly acquired East African assets were scuppered by the Westgate Mall terrorist attack, fuelling safety concerns in the area. In the following year, tourism throughout the continent would be impacted by the localised incidence of the Ebola virus in West Africa, despite the vast geographic distance between the two coasts.
Thanks to Tanzania’s peaceful election in 2015, an easing of safety concerns in the area and increased direct flights to Kilimanjaro, trading in East Africa picked up significantly for Tourvest, allowing it to continue with its intention to build up its East African assets to world class standards.
Haigh says, since then, Tourvest has spent about US$14 million on an aggressive campaign to uplift the quality of its properties, including replacing the canvas and refurbishing the amenities of its tented camps. At the same time, it has expanded the Lemala portfolio through the addition of Lemala Mpingo Ridge in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park and Lemala Nanyukie in the central Serengeti, while adding eight new game drive vehicles to its existing fleet and refurbishing the Wildwaters Lodge. It is also in the process of constructing a new tented and overland camp within an offset area of a conservation bloc in the Kalagala Falls area in Uganda.
Haigh says that Tourvest’s investment in East Africa has been a labour of love but one that is starting to bear fruit. “It’s been hard work building the Lemala brand to a high standard since Tourvest first acquired it but now it enjoys a very well defined circuit of quality tented camps and luxury lodges in many of the region’s most sought after destinations.”
Gary Elmes, chief executive of Tourvest Accommodation and Activities, says he is very happy with the contribution of the group’s East African portfolio to the division’s performance. “When we acquired Vintage Africa in 2007, we were aware that the purchase was strategic rather than turnkey and that we would have to invest in and grow the properties to a Tourvest standard. Despite the external setbacks, our East African assets have outperformed our expectations and we are actively looking for further investment opportunities,” he says.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Tanzania was among the African countries expected to score the highest growth in tourism arrivals (1 346 000 international tourists estimated for 2018) and tourism GDP contribution (9.5% on 2017’s numbers), with more room to grow.
According to Sean Joubert, Tourvest group chief executive, the company enjoys a commanding position within each of the travel and tourism sectors it operates in Southern Africa and that continued growth for the group will have to be sought in new destination markets. “East Africa is a quality destination offering an array of attractions and activities and we firmly believe in its tourism potential,” he says.